| Detroit Free Press
Casey Mize and Spencer Torkelson face off in batting practice. Here’s a video
In a battle of the Detroit Tigers’ two No. 1 overall picks, Casey Mize and Spencer Torkelson faced off in batting practice at Comerica Park on Tuesday
The Detroit Tigers top prospects are back it with face-to-face baseball activities in the organization.
Since early October, the Tigers have been running their instructional league camp in Lakeland, Florida, and will continue through Nov. 8. Games against other teams begin Wednesday, as well as a series of intrasquad scrimmages starting Saturday.
The instructional league roster is 49 prospects deep; players from the 40-man roster cannot participate. The group includes 16 of the Tigers’ top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, including five 2020 draft picks: Spencer Torkelson, Daniel Cabrera, Trei Cruz, Gage Workman and Colt Keith.
Many players — such as Cabrera, Cruz, Workman and Keith — have been training on their own since the COVID-19 pandemic halted baseball’s activities in March and the minor leagues were canceled. Only 60 members were allowed in each team’s player pool for the 2020 season.
“You want to be cautious and not have anybody get hurt,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said Monday. “You’re kind of holding the reins on them, just making sure that they work their way into it at the right pace. … They’re shaking the rust off, there’s no doubt about it.
“With young players, in particular, they’re anxious, they’re aggressive, they want to attack, they want to show what they can do and compete. We’re all for it, but you just go to do it at the right time and keep an eye on them health-wise. We want to make sure they’re healthy and can use the time to get some more reps.”
Along with five of the six draft picks, and fourth-ranked prospect Riley Greene, Littlefield is looking out for catcher Cooper Johnson, third baseman Ryan Kreidler, shortstop Alvaro Gonzalez, outfielder Parker Meadows (No. 13), shortstop Wenceel Perez (No. 16), outfielder Bryan Packard (No. 18), third baseman Nick Quintana (No. 24) and third baseman/second baseman Andre Lipcius (No. 27).
“There’s a list of guys that are kind of the next phase,” Littlefield said, “after the guys we saw in Detroit and Toledo this year that we’re very high on, but it’s a little challenging right now, because of the odd year, to say which guys are jumping out more than others.
“We feel very good about the talent level of the position players right now. We feel like we’ve got a really good group.”
Here is what Littlefield said about top prospects who were at the alternate training site in Toledo:
3B Spencer Torkelson
Acquired: 2020 draft, No. 1 overall.
Organization rank: No. 1.
Buzz: Torkelson was in July’s summer camp as a member of the 60-player pool. As expected, he didn’t make the big-league team and was sent to the alternate training site in Toledo.
He is now in Lakeland, where he continues to hone his skills at third base.
“He’s doing well,” Littlefield said. “We’re continuing to get him work at third base and move forward with that. More experience is the key and game action is the most important part. He’s getting a lot of work with ground balls, but there’s nothing like game action for learning. We’ll get him in the number of games that we have here along with a bunch of intrasquad games, too. So, everything is good. Made nice progress in Toledo, and I think it will continue here.”
Littlefield is confident Torkelson will hit well in the majors once he gets more experience, which will come from instructional league, spring training and, if it happens, the minor league season.
“Torkelson is as advertised,” Littlefield said. “He works the count well. He’s got power. He can hit. We’re trying him out at third base. He’s an athletic guy, great makeup, ballplayer.”
OF Riley Greene
Acquired: 2019 draft, No. 5 overall.
Organization rank: No. 4.
Buzz: When the Tigers demoted Christin Stewart to the alternate training site in September, now-retired manager Ron Gardenhire hinted at a “fun” replacement. Of course, that opened the idea that Greene would make his MLB debut.
Greene, who is at the instructional league, might be the next outfielder to get his chance in the majors.
“We all saw Riley Greene in Detroit for those three weeks, and then many in Toledo,” Littlefield said. “Certainly, we’re very high on him. He’s advanced. It won’t surprise me if he moves fast with the way he’s swinging the bat and the overall package, as well.”
C Dillon Dingler
Acquired: 2019 draft, No. 38 overall (second round).
Organization rank: No. 8.
Buzz: Dingler appeared at Comerica Park in July with the Tigers for summer camp before being sent to Toledo for the 2020 season. He earned praise for his athleticism and offensive progression. And he projects to be a solid defender.
“Very unusual to have been a center fielder to now be a catcher, but he’s big, strong,” Littlefield said. “Looks like a good receiver, a smart guy. That gives you a good feeling as far as working with pitchers. He’s got a really good arm. He was a very good-looking player as time went on.”
Dingler is not on the Tigers’ instructional league roster. Littlefield said the rising catcher was encouraged to attend, but he chose not to make the trip to Lakeland.
“At the end of the day, it’s ultimately their call,” Littlefield said. “Each person’s going to decide. There are other guys, too, that didn’t come for a variety of reasons. It does happen.
“We’re in touch with him. I’m sure he’ll be in great shape heading into spring training 2021. He’s a hard-working guy, very conscientious about wanting to be a big-league player.”
RHPs Matt Manning, Alex Faedo
Acquired: 2016 draft, No. 9 overall (Manning); 2017 draft, No. 18 overall (Faedo).
Organization rank: No. 3 (Manning); No. 10 (Faedo).
Age: 22 (Manning); 24 (Faedo).
Buzz: While Manning pitched during the entire summer camp, Faedo couldn’t get out of his hotel room until the final day because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Both players went to Toledo and were shut down in September with right forearm strains. Neither injuries are considered serious. Manning and Faedo aren’t on the official roster for the instructional league, but they are each working out and training in Lakeland to prepare for spring training.
“Right now, strength and conditioning, training is the main focus,” Littlefield said, “and they won’t throw competitively, but they’ll be around, be involved.”
Each pitcher should be in the mix to get a major-league opportunity in 2021, especially Manning.
Here is what Littlefield said about the 2020 draft picks in instructional league camp:
OF Daniel Cabrera
Acquired: 2020 draft, No. 62 overall (competitive balance).
Organization rank: No. 11.
What Littlefield said: “He’s an advanced hitter, hard-nosed guy, smart guy. … We’ve been very impressed with Daniel Cabrera here in a short time.”
Notes: He hit .285 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs in the 2019 season for LSU. His power as a left-handed hitter is expected to develop throughout his professional career.
SS Trei Cruz
Acquired: 2020 draft, No. 73 overall (third round).
Organization rank: No. 27.
What Littlefield said: “Just got ballplayer written all over him. Doesn’t take someone long or much experience to see that he’s been around the bloodlines and that sort of stuff. Smart guy. I’m anxious to see how the tools look. He’s a switch-hitter and looks like he’s got a good chance to hit from both sides of the plate. That’s a good thing from where we’re at.”
Notes: Cruz is getting most of his work at shortstop. He played second base as a freshman at Rice before transitioning to the left side of the infield. His father, Jose Cruz Jr., played 12 years in MLB for nine games; his grandfather, Jose Cruz, played 19 years in the majors for the St. Louis Cardinals (1970-74), Houston Astros (1975-87) and New York Yankees (1988).
3B/SS Gage Workman
Acquired: 2020 draft, No. 102 overall (fourth round).
Organization rank: No. 22.
What Littlefield said: “Workman is a really good looking athlete: tall, lanky baseball-type body. He has been taking some balls at short and is not overmatched. Still only 20 years old, will be 21 later in the month. There’s still more room to grow there. He’s got some leverage with the bat.”
Notes: Workman is splitting his reps at shortstop and third base. He played with Torkelson at Arizona State. He is a switch-hitter but excels from the left side of the plate.
3B Colt Keith
Acquired: 2020 draft, No. 132 overall (fifth round).
Organization rank: No. 21.
What Littlefield said: “Young, high school hitter. Big, strong, physical kid. He’s got a great baseball body, lean and strong. He’s got some thumb in the barrel. Obviously, he’s at a much more advanced level right now than where he’s been. But he has a lot of potential, no doubt about it.”
Notes: Keith is working primarily as a third baseman in the instructional league. He pitched in high school but is unlikely to continue down that path because of his potential to hit. If needed, he can hit the mid-90s with his fastball.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.