What Detroit Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson’s No. 3 prospect ranking means for his future

Detroit Free Press

Ryan Ford
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The big-league Detroit Tigers may be in for another rough season, as the franchise’s rebuild rolls on, but there’s hope for the future — no, really! — with a quintet of top prospects rising through the farm system.

The depth in the system has drawn notice, too, with five Tigers farmhands making MLB Pipeline’s top 25 prospects for the 2021 season. Leading that charge is third baseman Spencer Torkelson, who checked in at No. 3 in MLB Pipeline’s most recent 2021 rankings. It’s the second time in 11 editions of the preseason rankings that a Tiger has cracked the top 10 — Casey Mize, who ranks No. 11 this year, was ranked No. 7 in 2020.

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While prospect rankings can be hit or miss, making the top three of MLB Pipeline’s list is a reasonably good predictor of future success. Here’s a look at the previous six No. 3 prospects and how they fared soon after.

2020: OF Luis Robert, White Sox

Ranked behind: Wander Franco (1), Gavin Lux (2).

The buildup: Signed as an amateur free agent in 2017 a couple months before he turned 20, the athletic Cuban rocketed through the White Sox’s system, starting at High-A Winston-Salem and making it to Triple-A Charlotte in time for 47 games at age 21. He produced like a star at the minors’ highest level, with a slash line of .297/.341/.634 in 202 at-bats, plus seven steals. (He had 29 steals in his other 75 games.) After the season, the Sox signed him to a six-year, $50 million deal, all but ensuring he’d start 2020 in the majors.

The result: Consider it money well spent, as Robert hit 11 homers and added eight doubles and nine steals in 202 big-league at-bats. His slash line — .233/.302/.436 — took a hit though, with a .136/237/.173 September in 22 games. Before that month, he hit .298/.348/.612 in his first 32 games, locking up a runner-up finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

2019: OF Eloy Jimenez, White Sox

Ranked behind: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1), Fernando Tatis Jr. (2).

The buildup: The Cubs signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 and shipped him across town in a July 2017 deal for Jose Quintana. They probably wish they had him back. Jimenez split his 2018 season between Double-A and Triple-A, with 228 plate appearances in each. He hit in both with a .337/.384/.577 line as a 21-year-old that included 50 extra-base hits in 108 games. Any worries of service-time manipulation by the Sox was ended by a six-year, $43 million deal signed about a week before the start of the 2019 season.

The result: Jimenez’s first two months in the majors were rough, as he hit .220 with six homers in his first 33 games. But from June 1 on, he hit .295 with 25 homers in his final 89 games to finish fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. He didn’t cool off in 2020, either, posting a .296/.332/.559 line and winning a Silver Slugger award in the outfield.

2018: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

Ranked behind: Shohei Ohtani (1), Ronald Acuna Jr. (2).

The buildup: “Son of a nine-time All-Star” was a nice line to have on the resume even before Guerrero signed with the Blue Jays out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2015. He then needed just 71 games as an 18-year-old in Class-A Lansing — where he posted a .888 OPS — before moving to High-A Dunedin for 48 games. There, he hit .333 with a .450 OBP, the result of 36 walks and 28 strikeouts in 209 plate appearances.

The result: Still, he was only entering his age-19 season when MLB Pipeline put him in its top three, and thus, the Blue Jays kept him down on the farm. He spent the majority of the 2018 season in Double-A and Triple-A, mashing 46 extra-base hits in 344 at-bats. The next season was more of the same — at least in April — as Guerrero hit .333 with three homers and two doubles in 13 minor-league games before getting called up April 26. In 61 games before the All-Star break, Guerrero posted a pedestrian .249/.328/.413 line — at age 20. During the break, he became a household name by setting a record for homers in a single round of the Home Run Derby, and that heat continued through the second half of the season: 62 games, .293/.349/.452, 44 RBIs. His 60-game run in 2020 wasn’t much different, either — .262/.329/.462 — as the Jays made a surprise AL wild-card run while paying the 21-year-old just over $550,000.

2017: SS Gleyber Torres, Yankees

Ranked behind: Andrew Benintendi (1), Yoan Moncada (2).

The buildup: Continuing a theme of “lol Cubs,” Torres signed for $1.7 million as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2013, and hopped onto prospect lists with a 119-game stint in Class-A South Bend in which he hit .293 with 43 walks in 514 plate appearances. The next season, he hit .275 with nine homers as a 19-year-old in High-A to establish himself as the prime prospect in the Cubs’ July trade for closer Aroldis Chapman. (The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, so don’t feel too sorry for them, but they only got 42⅓ innings in the regular season and playoffs combined from Chapman before he hit free agency.) Torres finished 2016 with a disappointing 31 games for the Yankees’ High-A affiliate in Tampa — and then crushed the Arizona Fall League, hitting .413 and winning league MVP.

The result: Torres rocketed up through the Yanks’ system, with a month in Double-A and another month in Triple-A as a 20-year-old before Tommy John surgery ended his 2017 season in June. In 2018, a .903 OPS in three weeks of Triple-A — and a rash of injuries on the big-league roster — earned Torres his big-league debut. With 24 homers in 123 games, Torres was an All-Star and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He followed with a 38-homer season (and another All-Star berth) in 2019, before struggling in 2020, with a .243/.356/.368 line.

2016: RHP Lucas Giolito, Nationals

Ranked behind: Corey Seager (1), Byron Buxton (2).

The buildup: It’s tough to ID a first-round pick out of high school as a long shot, but Giolito was the seventh pitcher selected in 2012, and the second pitcher from his own high school (Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles). But he missed most of his senior year with a UCL tear, getting Tommy John surgery after he signed with the Nats. Once healthy, he dominated Class-A as a 19-year-old with a 2.20 ERA in 20 starts, then cut through High-A and Double-A at 20 with a 3.15 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 117 innings.

The result: Giolito continued his rapid rise, making his big-league debut two weeks before he turned 22. His 2016 time in the majors wasn’t stellar — 11 strikeouts in 21⅓ innings, including four starts — but it was enough to make him the centerpiece of the Nats’ trade with the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton in December 2016. His 2017 was another year split between Triple-A and the majors with middling results, and he might have been the worst pitcher in the majors in 2018, with 90 walks issued in 173⅓ innings. But something clicked in 2019, as he posted a 3.41 ERA and 228 strikeouts in 176⅔ innings with the ChiSox. And of course, in 2020, he led the Sox to the playoffs, with a no-hitter and a seventh-place finish in AL Cy Young voting along the way.

2015 SS Carlos Correa, Astros

Ranked behind: Byron Buxton (1), Kris Bryant (2).

The buildup: An unexpected No. 1 pick by Houston based on his signability out of Puerto Rico, Correa was so-so as a 17-year-old in Rookie ball, then dominated the Class-A Midwest League at 18 in 2013 and the High-A California League in 2014, before a broken leg ended his season after 62 games (with a .325/.416/.510 line).

The result: Correa needed just 53 games in Double-A and Triple-A in 2015 to prove he belonged in the majors, hitting .335 with 27 walks, 10 homers and 18 steals in 246 plate appearances. The Astros — and manager AJ Hinch — didn’t regret the June 8 call-up, either, as Correa had monthly OPSes of .852, .919, .836 and .827 during their first playoff run since 2005. Correa finished the season as AL Rookie of the Year after 22 homers, 22 doubles and 14 steals in 99 games. He has one All-Star nod since then, though, as injuries have limited his production and playing time.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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