DETROIT -- The slam of Spencer Torkelson’s bat on home plate was loud enough to be heard on the television broadcast, his bat seemingly cracking. He had chased an Aaron Bummer slider out of the strike zone after taking back-to-back pitches in the zone following a 2-0 count, striking out as the potential tying run with two on and one out in the bottom of the ninth.
Torkelson was the second of three consecutive strikeouts recorded by Bummer after he yielded back-to-back singles that ignited a potential Tigers rally in what ended up being a 5-2 loss to the White Sox on Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park. It was one of the few times through two games against the reigning American League Central champions that Torkelson looked like a rookie.
Though Torkelson is 0-for-6 for his brief big league career, he drew a pair of walks on Saturday. After fanning on a Dylan Cease fastball off the plate to end the second inning -- making him the second of Cease’s eight strikeout victims -- Torkelson declined to chase any of Cease’s four pitches out of the zone for a fifth-inning walk to give the Tigers their first runner in scoring position on the day. Torkelson, ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect, drew another walk against Reynaldo López to lead off the seventh, though he was quickly erased on an Akil Baddoo double-play grounder.
When asked prior to the game about his MLB debut the previous day, having had a chance to sit on the emotions, Torkelson said he simply felt comfortable. A game later, there’s nothing to seemingly change that sentiment. His defense at first base remained strong, though this time his diving attempt at a grab fell just short on Andrew Vaughn’s seventh-inning RBI single.
Considering Torkelson’s track record, his wait for a hit isn’t a shock. With each step up the Tigers’ farm system, he had an adjustment period to a new level of pitching before he heated up. He began his pro career with a 9-for-50 start at High-A West Michigan last year before he hit his first home run in a three-hit performance. Torkelson fanned 18 times, but he also drew 14 walks.
From there, Torkelson batted .424 (25-for-59) over 17 games before being promoted to Double-A Erie, where he went 2-for-11 before hitting his first home run. He went 4-for-28 over his first seven games at Triple-A Toledo before clubbing his first Mud Hens homer.
Torkelson could get the day off in Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox, manager A.J. Hinch warned, but it’s more about finding a start for Harold Castro than finding a break for Torkelson.
“I've gotta get these guys into games," Hinch said. "Otherwise, I've wasted a three-week spring where we played Harold two out of every three days."
Torkelson’s initial comfort level should bode well for Riley Greene, the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect, whenever he gets the call once his fractured right foot heals. Like Torkelson, Greene was notably not pressing in Spring Training, taking solid at-bats, working pitchers and looking for a pitch to hit. Greene chased a little more often in stretches, but he also fouled off difficult pitches, which is one reason why his right foot is now in a boot.
Depending on Greene’s recovery, he could be the next Detroit prospect called up for good. Or it could be Ryan Kreidler, the club’s No. 7 prospect, whose two-homer game for Toledo on Wednesday essentially picked up where he left off with the Mud Hens last fall. The former fourth-round Draft pick entered Saturday 7-for-17 with three RBIs, two walks and four strikeouts.
On the pitching side, Joey Wentz (No. 12) could make his Major League debut this summer if/when the Tigers need starting help. The lefty reportedly reached 97 mph with his fastball in his Triple-A debut on Wednesday, yielding two runs on two hits and a walk to go with four strikeouts over three innings.
Former first-round Draft pick Alex Faedo could work his way into consideration later this season as he continues his first season back from Tommy John surgery; he’s currently at Single-A Lakeland, but he is expected to join Wentz in Toledo.
Torkelson is the first in what the Tigers hope is their next wave of prospects to contribute in Detroit. This is the impact general manager Al Avila hoped to create out of the rebuild, not just from high Draft picks, but from revamping the farm system and instruction to utilize analytics and sport science.