Here’s how Spencer Torkelson is obeying the Detroit Tigers’ top command: Practice at 3B

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Tigers made their message pretty clear to Spencer Torkelson.

So clear that the 2020 No. 1 overall pick hasn’t taken a single ground ball at first base this offseason, three-quarters of which he has spent in Arizona. In fact, he hasn’t even put his first base glove on.

“The Tigers told me to work on the third-base glove,” Torkelson said Friday, “so that’s what I’ve been doing. … Extremely happy over at third base. Just want to get more repetitions at game speed. As much as possible.”

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Torkelson’s mission to play third base began during summer camp in July and at the alternate training site in Toledo in August and early September. He also worked exclusively as a third baseman in the instructional league this fall in Lakeland, Florida.

That’s the position he’ll play when he makes his minor-league debut in 2021.

General manager Al Avila expects him to start the year in High-A West Michigan. If all goes well, he should reach Double-A Erie — where close friend and fellow top prospect Riley Greene is slated to begin — by the end of the season.

“I’ve heard great reviews about West Michigan,” Torkelson said. “Riley Greene said, to this day, it’s his favorite place to play. He’s probably played in some pretty cool places. I’m looking forward to wherever I start, but West Michigan is not a bad option.”

Torkelson will be with the Tigers for big-league spring training. The first full-team workout is Feb. 22. He is scheduled to arrive in Lakeland on Feb. 5 and has already booked an Airbnb, along with Greene and catcher Jake Rogers.

[ Detroit Tigers spring training: AJ Hinch breaks down position battles, closer, prospects ]

Before long, Torkelson will play spring training games. Then — after waiting a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — comes the minor leagues, where he will face MLB’s top pitching prospects.

“The mindset remains the same,” Torkelson said, adding he is working out this winter at Push Performance in Arizona. “Go about your business, work hard, be a good teammate and be obsessed with winning. That’s all you can control. Just win and have fun doing it. Everything else will follow.”

[ Why Spencer Torkelson’s real development for Tigers is a secret to many ]

Ex-ASU teammates step up

Awaiting spring training, the Tigers’ future face of the franchise is training daily with his former Arizona State teammate, right-hander Dom Cacchione. The Sun Devils typically finish their practice around 3 p.m. And by 4 p.m., Torkelson sneaks his way into the team’s facilities.

They toss the ball around to start.

Then, Torkelson takes a few swings. Cacchione, who is on a throwing program, is limited to helping with underhand soft toss and tee work. Once or twice, the righty has pitched Home Run Derby-type batting practice.

“The one thing I have noticed is his work ethic, working on the smallest details of his swing when he’s in the cage,” Cacchione told the Free Press on Friday. “It’s inspiring to me, even as a pitcher. With each drill that he goes through for each part of his swing, he’s paying such close attention to his hands, his load.”

[ Spencer Torkelson smashed Barry Bonds’ college HR record. Now he is a Detroit Tiger ]

Once Torkelson is done swinging, he focuses on the Tigers’ main request. Cacchione stands near home plate with a bucket of baseballs and a fungo bat.

Another Arizona State right-handed pitcher, Brady Corrigan, does his best impression of a first baseman.

Torkelson, all 6-foot-1 of him, stands near third base. Cacchione connects with the fungo bat, giving Torkelson opportunities for backhanded plays down the third-base line, bare-handed snags while charging a slow-roller and the average grounder. Whatever Torkelson needs, he sends it.

“His arm is a lot better than I thought it was,” Cacchione said. “His ability to get around balls and make the harder plays, it was super surprising. Seeing his progression, it’s huge. I think he’s taking it super well.”

[ The problem with Tigers overthinking Spencer Torkelson’s move to third base ]

That’s not all. Implemented by Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith, Torkelson often takes a machine, puts it on the ground and forces it to spit out a baseball in the motion of a curveball.

The drill, to Torkelson’s liking, challenges him.

“Those top-spin ground balls are in-game-like ground balls and what you’re going to see,” Torkelson said. “So I’ve been taking a lot of those and trying to do the most with what I can.”

Reflecting on Trammell

The relationship between Torkelson and Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell, who played for the Tigers from 1977-1996, is well-documented.

Think of Trammell as a personal trainer and a trustworthy mentor, even though he is officially a special assistant to the general manager. He helped Torkelson get used to the left side of the infield during summer camp, at the alternate site and in the instructional league.

“It’s unbelievable to have a guy of that stature be so selfless and give his time to people like me and other guys in the organization,” Torkelson said. “He has no idea how much he’s actually doing with his time. I really appreciate it.”

[ Why Tigers’ Alan Trammell is sold on Spencer Torkelson: ‘No ballpark’s gonna hold Tork’ ]

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Watch: Alan Trammell teaches 3rd base to Detroit Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson

Tigers Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell instructs No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson at third base during summer camp at Comerica Park, July 8, 2020.

Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press

Throughout Torkelson’s offseason training, he has kept two points of emphasis from Trammell in mind.

Rule 1: Catch the baseball.

Rule 2: Make an accurate throw.

[ Tigers’ Alan Trammell likes what he’s seeing from Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene ]

“With that in the back of my mind, it makes training a little bit easier,” Torkelson said. “But you definitely want to work on the footwork drills, like taking a backhand and keeping your feet moving toward third base so you don’t lose arm strength against a fast runner.

“Little things like that Tram has taught me that I can do on an everyday basis.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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