Jeff Seidel | Detroit Free Press
LAKELAND, Fla. — There is one persistent, dominant question hanging over the Detroit Tigers’ future.
How fast could Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, their top two position prospects, reach the majors?
It depends on how they perform in the minor leagues, of course. That is the most important factor.
But there is another, more subtle, clue that will indicate if they can handle a rocket from the minors to the majors.
“Their reaction to everything is very important,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said in general terms while talking about how he evaluates all prospects. “You can tell a lot about how they breathe, the look in their eye, the demeanor, the communication and the clear thinking.”
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Hinch is not afraid to have young players get to the big leagues fast and develop under the bright lights.
In fact, he has experience doing it.
Just look at what he did while managing the Houston Astros.
Hinch took over the Astros in 2015. When they broke camp in Hinch’s first season, a young shortstop named Carlos Correa started out in Double-A. Correa played just 29 games at Double-A, where he hit .385 with seven home runs.
Correa was quickly promoted to Triple-A, where he hit .276. After just 24 games, Correa was promoted again and made his MLB debut on June 8, 2015, at 20 years old and 259 days.
Now, consider Greene, who was drafted out of high school in 2019, just like Correa was in 2012.
Greene also happens to be 20 this spring, just like Correa was in 2015.
And Greene is expected to start this season at Double-A … just like Correa in 2015.
But there are some differences.
Greene has only played 59 games in the minor leagues due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s shutdown of the minor leagues in 2020. That cost both Greene and Torkelson a year of development, which could delay their advancement.
“I think I was asked about Riley Greene about 24 hours after I got this job,” Hinch said. “Listen, it doesn’t matter where he starts, it matters where he finishes in terms of this season and in terms of the future.”
So where could he finish this season? That’s the big question.
[ How the 2021 Tigers could look like the 2015 Astros under AJ Hinch ]
Tork vs. A-Breg
In many ways, Torkelson’s situation is similar to another young prospect that Hinch managed in Houston: Alex Bregman.
Bregman, a college star at LSU, was drafted No. 2 overall in 2015. He signed quickly and finished the 2015 season in High-A.
Torkelson, a college star at ASU, was drafted No. 1 overall in 2020. He signed quickly, but, again, didn’t get a chance to play minor league ball because of COVID-19. But Torkelson did see action at the Tigers’ summer camp in Detroit and then played in the alternative training site in Toledo.
The year after he was drafted, Bregman started out with 62 games in Double-A, then moved up to Triple-A for 18 games. The Astros called him up in late July, and he spent the final 49 games of the season in the majors, hitting .264 with eight homers.
Torkelson is expected to start out at High-A West Michigan.
Bregman made his debut at the age of 22 years, 117 days.
A little math tells us that is amazingly close to the age Torkelson would be next summer.
Also of note: Bregman was drafted as a shortstop, but made his debut at third base because that’s where he fit.
Along the same lines, the Tigers drafted Torkelson at third base but he has started working at first base.
Which could give him another path to the big leagues.
Just as Bregman took a different path.
It’s the little things
Ultimately, the Tigers will evaluate all of their prospects by how they produce.
But how will the Tigers know if either Greene or Torkelson can handle being moved quickly?
They will be looking for small clues.
[ What Torkelson’s No. 3 prospect ranking means for his future ]
“It’s their perspective, the questions they ask, their reaction to failure,” Hinch said. “They’re all little keys that tell you a little bit about: A.) What kind of learner this guy is? And, B.) how they process information and how they process success and failure. All really key for us moving forward.
“So the best time to really learn about them is not in a meeting… it’s out in the middle of competition. I’ll tell our players when the games come around, we watch everything, we see everything and, and I expect our coaches to pick up on little cues that tell us more and more about the player.”
There is another significant difference between Greene and Correa, which will have a big impact on Greene’s arrival date.
The Astros were fighting for a playoff berth when they brought up Correa as a 20-year-old; they needed all the talent they could get.
[ Why Riley Greene slimmed down over the offseason ]
The Tigers, however, likely will not be in the playoff hunt, eliminating a pressing reason to start Greene’s service time clock this season.
Besides, several things would have to fall into place for Greene to be brought up this season. He would have to fly through Erie and Toledo — obviously, no certain thing — and there would have to be a reason to promote him all the way to Detroit.
One potential scenario: There could be an opening if the Tigers traded some outfielders, or if several were hurt.
So let’s get back to that big question.
Could Torkelson make the big leagues this year? It doesn’t seem likely under any scenario, not even if his prodigious bat shows he has little to prove in the minors.
Greene, though? It’s not likely. It’s not even probable … but it’s possible.
So what is the most likely earliest possible arrival?
The best guess, if everything comes together perfectly, is at some point in 2022. For both of them.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.