Could Detroit Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson debut in 2020? Al Avila breaks down his roster

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila began Thursday’s news conference in a serious tone.

He announced the organization decided to shut down right-handers Matt Manning and Alex Faedo because of forearm strains. He commented on the postponement of games stemming from teams and players protesting racial injustice.

And then, Avila chuckled.

“Torkelson, bringing him up this year?” he said, laughing. “Well, that would be …”

He didn’t finish his sentence about third baseman Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, because there’s no chance the organization’s top prospect will be in the big-leagues until at least 2021.

But it was worth asking.

Especially after former Washington Nationals general manager and Torkelson-advocate Jim Bowden said Torkelson is a “better hitter with more power” than Ryan Zimmerman, who he drafted No. 4 overall in June 2005 and allowed to make his debut that September as a 20-year-old. 

[ Al Avila supports player protests: ‘The world needs a lot more love’ ]

Yet the Tigers are in an unusual situation without the minor-league season, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prospects don’t get a chance to showcase much at the alternate training site in Toledo — outside of opportunities in intrasquad games that last anywhere between two and five innings, live batting practices and simulated games.

“Actually, we’re very pleased with his progress there,” Avila, now back to his serious tone, said about Torkelson.

He said the same about outfielder Riley Greene (No. 3 prospect) and catcher Dillon Dingler (No. 8). The Tigers selected Greene with the No. 5 overall pick in 2019, and they took Dingler from Ohio State with their second-round pick (No. 38 overall) in 2020.

[ Spencer Torkelson, Dillon Dingler show progress after wild draft year ]

“They’re all doing very well in the circumstances that we have,” Avila said. “Right now, the games that we’re playing are sometimes five innings, sometimes two innings. With having (Casey) Mize and (Tarik) Skubal up here, the innings are not as much now, and particularly having Manning and Faedo not throwing in those games at this point, either.

“But, you know, they’re going through a lot of drills, doing a lot of sim games. They’re doing good within the tools we have to develop them with.”

Avila gave numerous updates, as well as discussing the development of a few prospects:

Utility man Harold Castro: He is “not too far away” from returning to the Tigers. He left an Aug. 18 game against the Chicago White Sox and was placed on the 10-day injured list the next day with a left hamstring strain.

Right-hander Ivan Nova: He is “pretty close” to his return. He was placed on the 10-day injured list Aug. 15 with right triceps tendinitis. His injury forced the organization to bring Skubal to the majors with Mize.

Six-man rotation: When Nova comes back, he will return with a rotation that already consists of five pitchers: Mize, Skubal, Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer. Avila said a six-man rotation has not been discussed, “but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.” The team is contemplating three options: putting Nova in the bullpen, adding him back to the starting rotation or making a different move.

Adding to the player pool: Because of the season-ending injuries to Manning and Faedo, there’s a chance the team will add a maximum of two prospects to the 60-man roster and send them to Toledo. Avila said: “We do have a list of players outside the organization who if we needed to in an emergency (could) go out and sign.” There could be additions by the end of the week.

Doubleheader vs. Cards: The Aug. 13 doubleheader, which already had been rescheduled once because of COVID-19 concerns within the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, was postponed again amid further positive tests. Avila has not heard when those games will be made up, saying, “I’m going to assume, and this is just me, not an official statement, we’ll make them up at the end of the season if it’s necessary. I have not heard anything official.”

C.J. Cron’s knee surgery: The first baseman, on a one-year contract, left an Aug. 10 game with a knee injury and, after some thought, elected for season-ending knee surgery. Avila said he had “successful surgery” and will begin his rehab program. He finished the season slashing .190/.346/.548 with four homers in 42 at-bats. Avila added: “It will take several months to rehab it, and he’ll start working toward getting ready for next year. He’ll become a free agent.”

Furloughs and cuts to departments: The Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners are three teams that have made cuts to their scouting and player development departments. As of now, Avila said that won’t happen with the Tigers: “Because we didn’t let anybody go, because we didn’t furlough, we’re a better organization today.” He thanked team owner Christopher Ilitch.

More on Torkelson: “Quite frankly if we had the opportunity to play minor-league games, and you’re seeing him in real action against other clubs and things of that nature, who knows? But to bring a guy that we just drafted up from the alternate training camp where there are simulated games, live BP type games and even the intrasquad games are, you know, it is what it is. It’s a hard place to evaluate.

“And I’m not saying we’re trying to evaluate Torkelson or Greene or any of those guys. What we’re trying to do is just give them a lot of work, give them a lot of drills and go through a development process so they can get better as baseball players. But when you’re looking at an overall evaluation of the future, it’s totally different than going into a regular season and being able to go see games over several months. It’s a totally different atmosphere.”

More: Torkelson’s dream comes true in ‘cool moment’ at Comerica Park

Avila on Daz Cameron: “Well, he needs more at-bats (because he missed summer camp with an undisclosed injury). Obviously, he’s a great athlete. We like him a lot. He missed a lot of time this season, unfortunately. But he’s healthy now. He’s playing in (intrasquad) games. His rehab process, per se, is coming to an end now, probably by the end of this week, if not this weekend. He’ll come off the injured list. He’s already in games and getting at-bats. He needs more at-bats, basically. That’s the bottom line. We’ll get him as many at-bats as we possibly can in Toledo at the alternate training site for the remainder of this year.

“If there’s an instructional league to be played in this fall, he might go there. If there’s a winter-league opportunity, I’m hearing there’s a possibility in the Dominican Republic, that there might be a shortened type of winter league. That’s going to be tougher too because it’s going to be shortened, and they’re going to probably have way more players, especially young players. So that’s probably a pipe dream at this point, but we’re trying to get him as many at-bats as we can this year, and then get him ready for next year.”

More: Cameron confident he has learned what not to change

Avila on Jake Rogers: “Jake is doing what everybody else down there is doing. He’s working very hard. Unfortunately, we don’t have Triple-A games for him to play in at this point. And I’m not sure if we’re going to bring him up this year, depending on if we’re going to be able to expand rosters or we’re going to leave them at 28, the way it is right now. If it remains the way it is right now, then it’ll be tough, unless there’s an injury.”

More on the Tigers: They still believe in catcher Jake Rogers. Here’s why

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content. 

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