Rising Torkelson hammers first Triple-A HR

August 26th, 2021

TOLEDO, Ohio -- already has been through a slow start at a new Minor League level this season, only to break out of it with help from a home run. His first Triple-A homer might be a sign of things to come.

One day before his 22nd birthday, Torkelson crushed a line drive to left field Wednesday night for his first Toledo homer and an eighth-inning insurance run in a 4-2 win over St. Paul.

Torkelson, ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball’s No. 4 overall prospect, entered the game batting 4-for-28 with a double, triple, two RBIs, a walk and nine strikeouts through seven games for Toledo, his third stop in the Tigers’ farm system this season. He’d made solid contact without much to show for it.

Statistically, at least, it looked somewhat similar to his introduction to pro ball at High-A West Michigan in May, where the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 MLB Draft batted 6-for-41 over his first two weeks before breaking out to start his climb up the organizational ladder.

Torkelson believes those earlier struggles were a benefit to him, forcing him to trust himself and his preparation rather than focus on results. It helped his transition in Double-A Erie go easier.

“I’d say in that early season struggle, I found myself,” Torkelson said on Wednesday afternoon. “And in finding myself, I trusted, and I think that’s the biggest thing when you do go through a little bump in the road. You can go back to your roots and go from there.”

Hours later, Torkelson had a power display reminiscent of the midsummer tear at Erie that earned him his latest challenge. He was 1-for-3 with an infield single, having beaten out a ground-ball to short, when he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning against St. Paul lefty reliever Jovani Moran, who entered the night with 97 strikeouts over 60 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Moran entered the game an inning earlier with the bases loaded to face , who ranks behind Torkelson as the Tigers' No. 2 prospect. Greene won the lefty-lefty matchup with an opposite-field grounder through the left side for a go-ahead two-run single. Moran stayed in the game for the middle of the order in the eighth, beginning with Torkelson.

The at-bat was a snapshot of the difference Torkelson faces in Triple-A pitching and his adjustment to it. Moran fell behind in a 2-0 count but got back into it by flipping a breaking ball on the inside corner. He tried to stay with offspeed stuff with his 2-1 pitch but left a ball over the plate for Torkelson to crush.

“Guys are pitching with a chip on their shoulder,” Torkelson said earlier about Triple-A pitching. “They’re not going to give in, even if it’s a hitter’s count. Some would say there’s no such thing as that.

“Guys are going to try to get you out. They’re not going to just serve it up. And I think the biggest difference [from Double-A] is just being more mature at the plate, being patient, sitting on a pitch that you’re not used to normally sitting on and just doing damage with the mistake you do get in the at-bat, because you’re not going to get many.”

The line drive had plenty of exit velocity to get out to left. The only question was whether it would have enough altitude, which it did, just carrying over sign denoting the Mike Hessman Home Run Alley -- named for the Minor League career home run leader and current Tigers big league assistant hitting coach.

Monica Bradburn/MLB

It was Torkelson’s 20th home run of the season across the Tigers’ system. He has played first base in all eight of his games with Toledo after splitting time between first and third base at Erie and West Michigan.

“He’s got enormous power,” Mud Hens manager Tom Prince said. “It’s going to play. It’s just going to take a little time.”

One thing helping the adjustment, Prince said, is that Torkelson and Greene spent much of last summer at Fifth Third Field playing intrasquad games when it served as the Tigers’ alternate training site. They know the ballpark, and they faced some experienced pitching, albeit from their own organization, as well as then-top prospects , and .

“I love this ballpark,” Torkelson said. “It’s beautiful. Toledo’s beautiful. It was a ghost town last year, but this year seeing the people around, seeing people in the stands, it’s really a great park.”