He is following daily, from close and afar, as the next wave of players climb through the minor leagues. He checks on Spencer Torkelson, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, in High-A West Michigan, and keeps tabs on Double-A Erie’s Riley Greene, who may be the best prospect of the bunch.
And Avila has driven to see Matt Manning pitch for Triple-A Toledo, whom the Tigers picked No. 9 overall in 2016. Avila is also pleased with catcher Dillon Dingler, a Round 2 selection a year ago. Daniel Cabrera, too, might have a bright future roaming the Comerica Park outfield.
“Pretty excited what’s going on there,” Avila said Friday, standing outside his team’s dugout at Comerica Park.
Torkelson is crushing the High-A West Michigan competition.
His spring training woes carried into his first professional season, but plenty has changed. The 21-year-old is hitting .307 with eight doubles, one triple, five home runs, 24 RBIs, 24 walks and 27 strikeouts in 29 games. He has a .447 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage.
On Friday, Torkelson finished 3-for-3 with four RBIs in West Michigan’s 9-4 win over the Lansing Lugnuts at LMCU Ballpark in Comstock Park. He came a double shy of the cycle. In the sixth inning, Torkelson and Dingler crushed back-to-back home runs.
The Tigers also love what they’re seeing from Dingler, who has contributed offensively and defensively for West Michigan. The 22-year-old came from Ohio State and was the No. 38 pick in last year’s draft.
Dingler has a .307 batting average, six doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 24 RBIs, 13 walks and 34 strikeouts in 30 games. He carries a .398 on-base percentage and .588 slugging percentage. He hit .500 (11-for-22) with two homers and eight RBIs in a six-game span, from May 31 to June 6, to win the High-A Central Offensive Player of the Week.
“We’re very excited about Dingler and Torkelson at this point,” Avila said. “They were struggling, in particular Torkelson. Now he’s bounced back and showing why he was the first pick and Dingler was our second pick.”
It might be time for Double-A Erie.
“We’ve actually been already talking about (a promotion),” Avila said. “It’ll come. We’ll let you guys know when we make that decision. But at some point, if they continue to do well, it’s just a natural progression. I would even include Daniel Cabrera on that one. He’s also coming around and putting together a pretty solid season.”
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Cabrera — the third Whitecap being considered for a promotion — was the No. 62 pick (competitive balance round) in the 2020 draft. The 22-year-old is building on his success from his LSU career. He is hitting .254 with seven doubles, two triples, three home runs, 25 RBIs, 11 walks and 31 strikeouts in 32 games.
West Michigan has an 18-15 record. Erie has been paced to a 22-11 record by Greene, who is hitting .260 with six home runs, 21 RBIs, 18 walks and 48 strikeouts in 32 games. He was the No. 5 overall pick in 2019.
Not everything is perfect, though.
Manning, 23, has an 8.07 ERA over 32⅓ innings in seven starts. He has been tagged for 11 home runs, with 10 walks and 36 strikeouts. The home-run ball and the inability to execute his pitches are the main reasons for his alarming results.
“He’s had a little bit of a struggle at the beginning of the season,” Avila said. “We believe that these are things that can be fixed. As a matter of fact, they are (being fixed) as we speak. We do believe that he’s on the right track.”
For Manning’s most recent start, Jim Leyland was in attendance at Fifth Third Field in Toledo.
Avila watched from his iPad.
Manning gave up two runs in six innings Wednesday against the Louisville Bats, picking up the first win of his Triple-A career. He struck out eight, allowing four hits — all singles — and two walks. He threw 54 of 93 pitches for strikes.
“His last outing was good,” Avila said. “He pitched very well. There were a few small things that if he would’ve avoided them, then it would have been even better for him in that game.”
It sounds like Manning’s MLB debut is coming soon.
“There’s a lot of confidence in him. There’s a lot of optimism there. We’ll let you know in due time when that (promotion) is going to happen. But I would be paying attention for sure.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.