Tigers call up No. 6 prospect Malloy, option Torkelson

June 3rd, 2024

DETROIT -- While Justyn-Henry Malloy’s long wait for his Major League debut will soon be over, Spencer Torkelson’s search for his 31-homer form from last year continues, now at another level.

Malloy, the Tigers’ No. 6 prospect and the first prospect acquired by president of baseball operations Scott Harris, is being promoted from Triple-A Toledo, his first call-up to the big leagues. He made his MLB debut as Detroit’s designated hitter in their 2-1 victory over the Rangers on Monday at Globe Life Field. Though, he's still looking for his first Major League hit, as he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

Malloy takes the roster spot of Torkelson, who was optioned to Toledo. Detroit designated Triple-A Toledo infielder Buddy Kennedy for assignment to create a 40-man roster spot.

Torkelson did not play at all in Sunday’s 8-4 win over the Red Sox, his second game out of action in three days. When Detroit needed a right-handed bat to pinch-hit in the 10th inning against Red Sox lefty reliever Cam Booser, manager A.J. Hinch went with catcher Jake Rogers, a sign of how far Torkelson has dropped in the pecking order.

Malloy has played the outfield corners exclusively in Toledo this year after splitting last season between the outfield and third base. But the Tigers started Gio Urshela at first base twice in Boston, and were mixing in Mark Canha there before a psoas strain sidelined him for two days in Boston. Canha returned to action on Sunday at DH, going 1-for-4 with a single, an RBI, a walk and a steal of third base, a good sign for his mobility going forward.

What Malloy provides is a right-handed bat with a patient approach at the plate and respectable power. The 24-year-old has hit .255 (38-for-149) with 15 doubles, six home runs and 27 RBIs for the Mud Hens, but his 39 walks -- seventh among Triple-A hitters -- bolster his on-base percentage to .412 and his OPS to .883.

Malloy, acquired from Atlanta in the Joe Jiménez trade in December 2022, batted .277 with 25 doubles, 23 homers, 83 RBIs and an .892 OPS in 136 games at Toledo last year and went into Spring Training as a non-roster invite competing for a roster spot. The Tigers ultimately decided he could benefit more from everyday at-bats in Toledo than part-time outfield play in Detroit.

Malloy will start at designated hitter for all three games at Texas, manager A.J. Hinch said, then transition into some outfield work when the team returns home next weekend against the Brewers. The Tigers went lefty for lefty in bringing up Akil Baddoo to fill in for injured Kerry Carpenter earlier this week, and Malloy slots in similarly for Torkelson from the right side.

“He’s going to get a lot of at-bats,” Hinch said. “He’s a good offensive player. He deserves at-bats to get a foundation at this level and see how he does.”

The organizational view through Torkelson’s struggles had been that the former No. 1 overall pick would get little benefit from a return to Toledo, where he spent a month and a half midway through the 2022 season amidst similar struggles before being recalled that September. However, Torkelson’s struggles have only deepened, leaving the club with little choice but to give him a lower-pressure setting as Detroit continues to work to grind out runs.

Torkelson ended an 0-for-19 slump by going 3-for-5 with a double and a home run in last Sunday’s 14-11 win over the Blue Jays, then went 0-for-16 with nine strikeouts this week, including both games of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Pirates and two games in Boston. The latest slump dropped Torkelson’s OPS to .596, his lowest since May 7, and his batting average to .201, his lowest mark since April 9.

Torkelson’s swing shows signs he can recover. His average bat speed of 73.7 mph ranks in the 80th percentile among MLB players according to Statcast, and his average swing length of 7.4 feet ranks barely longer than the MLB average -- and the same as red-hot teammate Matt Vierling. However, Torkelson has struggled to execute his best swing consistently, ranking last among Tigers regulars in “squared-up” swings -- attaining at least 80 percent of maximum attainable exit velocity, per Statcast. His average bat speed has actually improved since May 1, but his squared-up rates are lower, signs of a timing issue.

Thus, despite above-average bat speed and a low chase rate, Torkelson sits near the bottom among Major Leaguers in expected batting average (second percentile), expected slugging percentage (seventh percentile) and barrel rate (18th percentile). He’s hitting .179 against fastballs, down from .270 last year despite an identical 17.7 percent whiff rate.

“We hope that we find some consistency with his swing, his setup, his approach, quality contact, just his overall offensive contribution,” Hinch said. “We felt like that’s going to be the best place for him to find it, just settle down and collect himself a little bit to be a better player.”