1 hit, lots of lessons for Torkelson this spring

Detroit Tigers

The sound off the bat was loud, the volume that Spencer Torkelson is expected to make when he connects with a pitch. It carried toward the berm in left-center field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., an estimated 409-foot drive according to Statcast, before Rays center fielder Miles Mastrobuoni caught it on the warning track.

With that, Torkelson’s first Spring Training as a professional player ended Tuesday with a ball fitting of the top prospect’s frustrations. There were no Tork Bombs, but there were plenty of learning experiences. He went 1-for-27, his lone hit a single on March 13 against the Phillies, with four walks and 16 strikeouts. His most famous cut came from his makeshift attempt at opening a can while making dinner, a mishap that would be a footnote for most prospects but a story for baseball’s most recent top overall Draft pick.

Torkelson, MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect, earned high marks through it all, not only for his work ethic, but his humility and sense of humor. Still, his frustration was evident after his at-bats. He didn’t chase many pitches, which was good, but he was caught indecisive on pitches in the zone.

Manager A.J. Hinch showed similar humor when asked how to make sure it doesn’t affect Torkelson’s confidence.

“Well, first off, we’re going to leave,” Hinch said Tuesday. “We’re going to leave Spring Training behind us, both us as a team and him as a player.

“We’ve been relatively light-hearted about it. This doesn’t count. No one’s ever going to really think about this after today, and I hope he takes that mindset to flush the bad down the toilet and move on and get to his season.”

Torkelson will likely open his pro career at High-A West Michigan, general manager Al Avila said; the Whitecaps begins their season on May 4. Until then, he’ll be staying in Lakeland to take part in Minor League camp.

“Psychologically, I think it’s OK for him to struggle a little bit and have to remember that this game is hard and you’ve got to continue to develop,” Hinch said. “He’s got things to work on. … The longer he carries this spring with him, the less productive it’s going to be for him.”

On the flip side, several lesser-known Tigers prospects can take solace in making a big impression on Hinch, coaches and even the front office:

Second baseman Kody Clemens (No. 18 on MLB Pipeline’s Tigers prospect list): The Tigers weighed whether to put him at the alternate training site in Toledo before opting to keep him in Lakeland for Minor League camp and a likely assignment at Double-A Erie. The non-roster invitee batted 7-for-21 with a double, a triple, three walks and eight runs scored.

“I think what he’s done this camp is open eyes that we might be able to fast-forward that [timetable] a little bit,” Hinch said. “The camp that he had probably means he can handle a little bit higher level at a faster pace, putting up pretty good at-bats throughout the entirety of big-league camp.”

Shortstop Zack Short (No. 26): The Tigers didn’t know much about Short, who jumped from his couch to the alternate training site last September after coming over from the Cubs in the Cameron Maybin trade. They know now that his hitting looks legit. Four of his five Spring Training hits went for extra bases to go with five walks and seven strikeouts. Defensively, the shortstop showed solid instincts anywhere he played.

“I think he’s a big leaguer at some point, could even be this season sometime,” Hinch said. “He’s one injury away from being an option for us.”

Shortstop Ryan Kreidler (No. 27): The former UCLA shortstop, a fourth-round pick in 2019, was added to minicamp a few weeks ago and immediately jumped into games for infield depth. He went 3-for-8 with a home run and a double, showing power to all fields after overhauling his swing last summer, but also showed very good defense as a 6-foot-4 shortstop with a strong arm.

“I think this spring has been a good sign for me that I’m doing some of the right things,” Kreidler said. “So I’m hopeful that in the coming months and this season, I can hopefully contribute at some point.”

Right-hander Alex Lange: The 2017 first-round pick out of LSU was acquired from the Cubs two years ago in the Nick Castellanos trade. He was a non-roster invitee, but he made a big impression in relief. With a 97 mph fastball, a sharp curveball and a slider, Lange put himself in position for a potential big league callup this summer. He tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings with three walks and four strikeouts before giving up runs in his final two outings.

Right-hander Logan Shore: Avila mentioned Shore, a minicamp participant, twice in his end-of-spring remarks Tuesday as a prospect who could reach Detroit this season. He made just two appearances this spring, allowing one run in two innings with three strikeouts. “He’s making tremendous progress now,” Avila said. “It’s exciting to see him.”

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