Detroit Tigers spring training observations: Spencer Torkelson gets work at … first base

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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LAKELAND, Fla. — When the Detroit Tigers drafted Spencer Torkelson with the first pick in the 2020 draft, they made it clear he was being drafted as a third baseman.

He focused exclusively at third base last summer at the Tigers’ alternative training site in Toledo as well as during instructional ball in Lakeland.

But Torkelson took some grounders at first base on Saturday morning. He didn’t throw the ball because he is recovering from a cut on his right index finger.

Still, the sight of Torkelson doing any work at first was interesting, considering Torkelson said he worked exclusively at third base over the winter.

There is no indication that the Tigers have backed off on their desire to have him play third. Most of his work has been at third base throughout this camp. And there is no indication that he was doing the work at first because of his injured finger.

But it makes sense to have him do some work that first, even in small bits.

First of all, manager AJ Hinch loves versatility because it gives him flexibility in the big picture.

[ Miguel Cabrera’s chase of history is something we haven’t seen often in Detroit ]

In addition, giving Torkelson some time at first base could keep him on the field more during the minor league season as well as create another pathway for him to reach the big leagues.

There is one other factor at play. In the short term, the Tigers are missing first baseman Renato Nunez, who has not arrived because of work visa problems.

So the Tigers don’t have a ton of first base options right now.

Hinch had several players working at first on Thursday, including Niko Goodrum.

“We had almost everybody in camp work out at first base today,” Hinch said Thursday, “so that should tell you exactly my thought process on making everybody an option.”

Manning vs. Miggy

Matt Manning faced Miguel Cabrera in a live batting practice session on Saturday.

Cabrera made some contact and he screamed playfully after a Manning threw a nasty pitch.

Cabrera was in midseason form, pointing to an imaginary first-base ump after a check swing.

Manning was asked if Cabrera said “Bueno!” as he did earlier in camp.

“Yeah, I got a bunch,” Manning said.

He said he appreciates feedback from Cabrera.

“Those are some trained eyes,” Manning said. “He’s seen a lot of pictures. So any feedback he gives me, I take and kind of run with it.

Manning was able to get Cabrera to hit some routine ground balls.

“Anytime you can get some weak contact on him, it’s, it’s amazing,” Manning said.

Greene vs. Skubal

One of the most interesting pitcher-hitter matchups in live batting practice was left-hander Tarik Skubal against outfielder Riley Greene. Unlike the last couple of days, the 20-year-old Greene took swings. He was paired with fellow outfielder JaCoby Jones.

Skubal’s fastball looked sharp, but he struggled with his command a bit. 

Still, he struck out Greene swinging with a filthy pitch — either his slider or his new splitter. 

“It’s a new pitch, but I think it’s going to be effective for him,” Manning said about Skubal’s splitter. “His fastball is so lively that it looks the same. The arm action is the same, but it comes out a little bit slower and has dive on it. If he just throws it a couple of times per game, it’s going to make his fastball better.” 

During his break, simulating the change of an inning, Skubal spoke at length with catcher Wilson Ramos. Assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves was in on the conversation, too. 

Hinch said adjusting a pitcher’s arsenal is an open topic between the player, Nieves and pitching coach Chris Fetter. Also, he doesn’t think Skubal’s splitter will cause possible elbow injury concerns.

“We’ll talk about usage,” Hinch said. “We’ll talk about the correct way to do things. He’s got some people on the staff that have splits (Casey Mize). Obviously, we want him to be healthy and utilize him, but we want him to be good. If that weapon can help him, then we want to train him to use it.”

Slip, sliding away

A large group of players practiced sliding drills, yet Cabrera, preparing for his 18th season, did not participate. He stood in the back of the line and chatted with his teammates. Most of them went through one or two slides before wrapping up and shifting to infield work.

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