| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers’ Riley Greene homers in instructional league game
Detroit Tigers prospect Riley Greene homers during an instructional league game in Lakeland, Florida, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.
AJ Hinch always made sure to pay attention to the MLB draft, as a player, a front office member, a manager and even while serving a suspension for his role in the Astros cheating scandal.
So when he was hired to manage the Detroit Tigers last month, he already knew who he was inheriting:
Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft.
And Riley Greene, the No. 5 pick from 2019.
“Those are dudes,” Hinch said Thursday.
Torkelson and Greene are the big bats in the Tigers’ farm system, a pair of prospects who are expected to one day supercharge the offense for years to come.
Both players should move through the minors faster than most prospects. And yet, while Hinch is giddy to get them to the big leagues, he isn’t making any promises to either prospect about when that could happen.
“No promise has been made to them or me on when they arrive,” Hinch said. “All I really want is when a young player arrives to the big leagues, we want them ready for the moment and ready for this level. And then, obviously, we will continue that development.”
Hinch’s experience with star prospects dates to when he was the director of player development for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006. The next year, he watched Justin Upton — the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft — make his debut.
By 2009, when Hinch took over as the team’s manager, Upton was a regular in the lineup. He played 138 games, hitting .300 with 26 homers and 86 RBIs, and was an All-Star.
“They’re not finished products when they graduate,” Hinch said, comparing his previous experiences to Torkelson and Greene. “They’re exciting. … A lot of coverage nowadays for these young prospects, and I think it’s great for them. They’ve been exposed to pressure, expectations, notable experience time with the media.”
During Hinch’s first season as the Houston Astros’ manager, in 2015, shortstop Carlos Correa — the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft — won the American League Rookie of the Year with 22 homers and 68 RBIs in 99 games.
And in 2016, Hinch had to help Alex Bregman — the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft — through a 1-for-32 slump to begin his big league career. The third baseman evolved into a two-time All-Star and finished No. 5 and No. 2 in AL MVP voting in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Hinch hopes Torkelson and Greene can become the Tigers’ versions of Correa and Bregman, if not better.
For Arizona State in two-plus seasons, Torkelson hit .337 with 54 home runs and 130 RBIs in 129 games. Greene played in three levels of the minors in 2019, reaching Single-A West Michigan for 24 games. He hit .271 with five homers and 28 RBIs in a combined 57 games.
“The experience that I’ve had in the past will help me handle their transition from uber-prospect to major leaguer when the time comes,” Hinch said. “The players, when they come, they’re going to be impact players quickly.”
Torkelson and Greene are “franchise-type players,” Hinch said. And yet for as much as he would like to have them in 2021, that might not happen. Neither of them played against real opponents last season because the minor league seasons were canceled.
Torkelson and Greene started in summer camp with the Tigers, then worked out at the alternate training site in Toledo before transitioning to the instructional league in Lakeland, Florida, this fall. Based on their success in the instructional league, the organization already knows they can handle the lower levels of the minors.
“I love the trash talk that went on in instructional league, which guy was the better leader of each team,” Hinch said. “I’ve read a few articles about them because I want to get to know them.
“But Tiger fans are going to be anticipating both of those guys arriving at their own pace.”