As the former top overall Draft pick puts a lid on his first pro season -- a year that began with Torkelson looking a bit out of his comfort zone, and not simply for adjusting to third base -- the slugging corner infielder is looking like the first baseman in waiting for Detroit.
In between were home runs -- a lot of them. Torkelson entered Triple-A Toledo’s season finale Sunday with 29 home runs among the Mud Hens, Double-A Erie and High-A West Michigan, then slugged HR No. 30 in the fifth inning against St. Paul, reaching a milestone that is unheard of for a Tigers prospect in his first pro campaign, at least in this era. It’s even more impressive considering he didn’t hit his first professional home run until May 22, 2 1/2 weeks into the season for West Michigan.
Torkelson hit 30 home runs in a 103-game stretch. There were memorable ones along the way, like the two-homer game for the Whitecaps on May 29 against Lake County, or the three-homer, 7-for-7 doubleheader for Erie against Altoona on Aug. 12. Not only did he homer in three consecutive games for the Mud Hens in Louisville last week, he did it to different parts of the field, oppo for one, straightaway center for another, then a classic pull shot.
After waiting until close to Memorial Day weekend for his first home run, Torkelson hit at least six homers in every month from June on. He had his best month for power in September, a month when most Minor Leagues would be done in previous years, and a month when most players in their first full seasons would be running out of energy.
“I feel great,” Torkelson said a couple of weeks ago. “It is a first full season, but I feel good, and I’m really happy with everything this year. I think really you’ve just got to focus on your nutrition and your sleep and keep working out, even if you are tired, to stay strong and kind of trick your brain into telling you you’re fresh.”
Just as important as the power has been the plate discipline and the pure hitting. While Torkelson ended his season with a .238 average at Toledo, he supplemented that with 23 walks in 40 games for a .350 on-base percentage. Add in 20 extra-base hits out of 35 hits total, and he closed with an .881 OPS.
In arguably a microcosm of his work, Torkelson battled Triple-A veteran Heath Fillmeyer for a 10-pitch walk two weeks ago against Columbus, fouling off four consecutive 3-2 pitches to stay alive. In his next at-bat, Torkelson fought out of an 0-2 count for a 12-pitch at-bat against Fillmeyer, fouling off five consecutive pitches before lining an RBI single to right for the Hens’ first hit.
“I’d say his approach has gotten a lot better,” said Riley Greene, Torkelson’s Toledo teammate and best friend. “He’ll keep improving on his approach, and that really makes him a better hitter.”
In that sense, Torkelson said, Triple-A pitching has made him better, concentrating on every pitch.
“You get 10, 12 pitches doing that, and he’s due to make a mistake,” Torkelson said. “That’s kind of in the back of your head, but you also can’t get in swing mode. You have to be hunting strikes and just battling.”
Those experiences should help him next Spring Training, but he’ll likely be competing for a job in Detroit – if not on Opening Day, then soon after.
Grossman relishes 20-20 season
Robbie Grossman was well aware he had 23 home runs and 19 stolen bases when he reached first on a leadoff single in the fourth inning Saturday. He also knew what it meant to get a 20-20 season, something just six Tigers had done.
Two pitches later, he had his 20th steal, swiping second off Yasmani Grandal. With that, he joined Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Chad Curtis, Damion Easley, Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield as 20-20 Tigers.
It’s a feat that wasn’t even a concept until this year. While Grossman’s uptick in power caught notice last year, leading to the Tigers’ interest, his running game was under the radar. He swiped eight bases in last year’s abbreviated season to go with eight homers.
“It’s something that has evolved in my game over the last two years,” Grossman said, “just picking my spots to go. It’s something that I want to keep working on.”