Tigers pitching director calls Torkelson 'special'

May 26th, 2020

DETROIT -- Dan Hubbs jumped into pro baseball as the Tigers’ new director of pitching development after two decades in college coaching because he saw the philosophies from the college game working their way into the pros, from analytics to development.

“Before, it was two diametrically opposite games,” Hubbs said during an interview in February. “The knock on college was that they're always trying to reinvent the wheel. And now pro ball is becoming that, where now it's more progressive. It's more [about] what can we do to make every single guy better. That appealed to me.”

He also saw an opportunity to develop young pitchers and shape an organization.

“You have a chance to make an impact,” Hubbs said. “You see what they're doing with the rebuild and the kids that they've been drafting, and you see the excitement of what's on the verge. I wanted to be [in] a place that I felt like I could be part of something on the ground floor.”

If the Tigers needed any insight on a hitter who could jump-start their rebuild from a former opposing manager, Hubbs could help with that, too.

Before Hubbs joined the Tigers last fall, he was the head coach at USC, where he spent his final two seasons getting an up close look at Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson, projected by many to go to the Tigers with the top pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.

For two years, Hubbs and his staff tried to come up with game plans for how to get Torkelson out, how to prevent an emerging young slugger from finding that one swing to change a game.

USC took two out of three from Arizona State in 2018 and '19, but Torkelson still inflicted his damage: 6-for-12 with a home run and three RBIs as a freshman in '18, then 5-for-14 with two home runs, two doubles, five RBIs, five runs scored and one walk during his sophomore season last year.

“In his first year as a freshman, it's like, 'Well, he's a freshman. I know he's having a great year, but you're still going to try to do some things,'” Hubbs said. “I think you've seen he was way more patient last year than the year before. You could still get him to chase every now and then as a freshman, but if you made a mistake he made you pay.”

Hubbs and his staff saw that the last time they faced him last year. Torkelson hit an opposite-field three-run homer off a 3-2 pitch, having fouled off the previous offering, then added an RBI single later in an 11-8 win to avoid a series sweep at USC’s Dedeaux Field.

“He's a special player. He just is,” Hubbs said. “And it's hard to believe that him and [former Cal first baseman and White Sox first-round pick Andrew] Vaughn both hit like one homer each in high school, and then they hit a stupid amount in college. But they're similar types of player. They can do damage to any part of the park. Very rarely as a coach do you see a foul ball to the opposite side, off to the first-base side, and go, 'Man, that ball went a long way.' The ball coming off the bat, it's pretty special. And those two are two of the best hitters I've seen in 20 years in college.”

Hubbs didn’t see Torkelson enough in the field to know whether he could move to third base or a corner outfield spot, as some have suggested.

“I think there's no question he can play first base,” Hubbs said, “and he has enough power to play first base, because there isn't any part of the park that's safe.

“I've seen him hit the ball a really, really long way. And the thing that impressed me about Spencer is he hit homers in the Cape [Cod League], he hit homers with Team USA [and] he hit homers in college. So it's not just the aluminum bat.”