Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch has a message for Spencer Torkelson, the first-round draft pick who has struggled throughout spring training:
Just forget it. It doesn’t count.
“We’re gonna leave spring training behind us, both us as a team and him as a player,” Hinch said Tuesday morning, before the Tigers’ final spring training game. “The longer he carries this spring with him, the less productive it’s going to be for him.”
The Tigers drafted Torkelson out of Arizona State with the first pick in the 2020 draft and signed him to a record $8.4 million contract.
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Torkelson didn’t look comfortable last summer when the Tigers held Spring Training 2.0 at Comerica Park. The media was not able to watch him at the team’s alternative site in Toledo, so we don’t know how he did. But I was told by several players and members of the front office that Torkelson became more comfortable. And more productive.
Torkelson was invited to the Tigers big league camp and played in more than a handful of games. There was a minor hiccup early in camp when he cut his finger, but that hasn’t slowed him at all.
Heading into the final game of spring training, Torkelson, who will likely start the regular season with Single-A West Michigan, had just one hit in 26 at bats.
Most alarmingly, he had 16 strikeouts.
So is it time to freak out about Torkelson?
Hinch says no.
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“We’ve been relatively lighthearted about it — this doesn’t count,” Hinch said. “No one’s ever going to really think about this after today, and I hope he takes that mindset to flush the bag down the toilet and move on and get to his season, wherever that’s going to start. Obviously, it’s given him some baseline on things that he needs to work on. And he was just never really able to get underway and get some success back to back to back days and things like that. So the change of scenery will do him fine.”
Many of Torkelson’s strikeouts have followed a routine: He has seemed tentative early in the count, taking a strike and falling behind. He has shown his power in batting practice, but not in games, where just making contact has been difficult.
“If I was to be critical of them, he didn’t pull the trigger as much on early count fastballs, as I would have expected of him as an offensive force coming out of the draft,” Hinch said.
Hinch has a degree in psychology from Stanford. He is a master communicator. And he planned to talk with Torkelson on Tuesday, trying to help him get his head right and put everything into perspective.
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“I’m going to convince him today when I see him that I won’t remember the least bit of this spring training for him, so he shouldn’t either,” Hinch said. “But struggles are okay. Psychologically, I think it’s OK for him to struggle a little bit and have a reminder that this game is hard, and you’ve got to continue to develop, he’s got things to work on.”
More than anything, Hinch saw a young player who got off to a slow start and could never find his footing.
“I just saw a guy who got mired in an uncomfortable setting and couldn’t get himself out of it for one spring training that no one cares about anymore,” Hinch said. “We all want these players to be perfect. And I certainly wish he would have enjoyed a little bit more success, but I don’t think it will have any reflection on his career, or his season this year, or our thoughts on him or anything.”
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Torkelson struck out 104 times in 129 games at Arizona State but he balanced that with a .463 on base percentage, a .337 batting average and 54 home runs. It is hard to decipher his true strikeout to walk rate in college, considering he had such a home run reputation and was walked 110 times (though many were intentional).
Then again, what he did in college really doesn’t matter anymore.
“I’m not worried about Tork in the least bit,” Hinch said. “He needs to work on some things like every player does, but I’m not sure that we need to put a microscope on him in his spring training games in Lakeland and label him as anything other than any young player who’s trying to find his way.”
Because of the importance of the first overall pick and the signing bonus, Torkelson carries expectation and scrutiny.
“I understand the hype that comes with being picked like that,” Hinch said. “But that’s bestowed on him. It’s nothing that he can control or nothing that he needs to worry about moving forward. He is a really good player.”
A really good player still trying to find his way.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.