How Spencer Torkelson’s injury will affect his debut and Detroit Tigers’ position battles

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The injury to Spencer Torkelson not only delays his long-awaited debut, but it could also open an opportunity for a few young Detroit Tigers prospects.

Torkelson, the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect, was supposed to play Sunday when the team opens Grapefruit League competition in spring training vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Not anymore. Torkelson — the 2020 No. 1 overall pick from Arizona State — sliced his right index finger, part of his throwing hand, Wednesday night at his rental home near the Tigers’ spring training facility in Lakeland, where he lives with fellow prospects Riley Greene and Jake Rogers.

He needed at least one stitch.

For “a couple of days,” Torkelson isn’t going to take at-bats or throw the baseball, manager AJ Hinch said Thursday. The injury is “very mild,” so he can still handle fielding work at third base.

Torkelson was seen Thursday fielding ground balls, but he did not throw to first base.

“I’m glad he wasn’t at a restaurant,” Hinch said. “If he did it at a restaurant, we’d have a problem with that with the (COVID-19) protocols. But he was following the rules. Maybe part of his development is going to be opening a can.

“It’s unfortunate.”

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The Tigers are awaiting the arrival of six position players: third baseman Isaac Paredes, first baseman Renato Nunez, first baseman Aderlin Rodriguez, outfielder Nomar Mazara, outfielder Victor Reyes and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

To combat the infielder delays, Hinch planned to give Torkelson plenty of in-game experience at third base during the first couple of Grapefruit League contests.

“This morning when I talked to him, he wasn’t concerned,” Hinch said, “which made me not concerned. It’s just we’ve got some at-bats early that he’s going to miss. Once it heals, we’re going to get him in there again.”

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Hinch wants him to get acclimated to high-level pitching even if Torkelson is likely to head to the minors once the season begins.

During parts of three seasons at Arizona State, Torkelson registered a .337 batting average, 54 home runs and 130 RBIs in 129 games. He hit .351 and 23 homers across 57 contests in 2019.

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Torkelson is the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, and is expected to start the 2021 campaign in High-A West Michigan.

“I was going to give Torkelson a start in the first couple of games,” Hinch said. “Kind of get that almost out of the way from him and just let him get to playing and preparing. That time will come when he gets back.”

Who steps up?

Without Torkelson being considered for the early spring training games, Hinch is going to give more reps to Zack Short, Harold Castro and Greg Garcia — three utility players competing for an Opening Day spot.

For now, it seems Short is destined for Triple-A Toledo, with Castro leading Garcia in pursuit of a bench role in Detroit. Once Nunez and Paredes complete the COVID-19 intake screening process, they’ll be engaged in another roster battle.

“We have a number of guys we’re going to want to play across the field,” Hinch said. “It’s probably going to make them play a little longer, maybe a couple of seven-inning complete games.”

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Torkelson’s injury allows second baseman Kody Clemens, the team’s No. 18 prospect, to play in “every game at some level, at some position,” Hinch said, adding “the rest of the group will pick up the slack.

It’s unlikely both Nunez, a power-hitting first baseman, and Paredes, a 22-year-old third baseman, make the team together. If Nunez makes it, Jeimer Candelario will be the everyday option at third base. But if Paredes breaks camp with the Tigers, Candelario should be more of a mainstay at first base.

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Either way, Hinch plans to give 37-year-old Miguel Cabrera one or two games per week at first base, a position he hasn’t played since June 2019, throughout the season.

Putting Cabrera at first base gives Hinch the luxury of keeping the designated hitter open, allowing him to slide in Nunez, Paredes, Candelario, Mazara, Schoop, outfielder Robbie Grossman and catcher Wilson Ramos.

But Hinch isn’t going to use Cabrera at first base early in spring training games.

“We’ve got a plan,” Hinch said. “I’ve laid it out for him. I’m going to have a calendar for him. We are watching and going to him every day with what he’s doing. We usually have two defensive stations. … The second station, I’ve taken away from him to make sure we control the volume.

“You have to strike that balance of preparing him to be on his feet, whether that be in the DH position or at first base. I found out quickly that if you don’t lay it out for him, he’s going to try to do everything. He wants to be out there and enjoy everything.”

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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