ERIE, Pa. — Dillon Dingler had just wrapped up an 0-for-4 game as the designated hitter at High-A West Michigan last Sunday when he and fellow Tigers prospect Spencer Torkelson were called into Whitecaps manager Brayan Peña’s office.
Like everyone else, they’d heard general manager Al Avila’s comments a few days earlier about a potential promotion. But they didn’t know how quickly that might happen.
“You hear about some movement going on, so after the game it didn’t [take me] too much by surprise,” Dingler said. “But it was still a little bit of a surprise.”
A few hundred miles away, Riley Greene had just finished his game for Double-A Erie, having recorded one of four SeaWolves hits in a 2-0 loss to Somerset, when he got a text from Torkelson.
The trio had become friends last summer during baseball’s abbreviated season, first at big league camp at Comerica Park, then at the alternate site in Toledo. Torkelson and Greene were roommates in Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla. They were about to become teammates again.
“Tork texted me,” Greene said, “and he just said, ‘See you soon, brother.’ So I was like, ‘Let’s go.’”
With that, the most impressive lineup the Tigers have had in their farm system in years was about to come together.
Two years after Erie boasted a rotation of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, all MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects, the SeaWolves now have an offensive equivalent.
Detroit’s top three position prospects are among the top four batters in the order. Leadoff man Greene and No. 3 hitter Torkelson are 15th and third respectively on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. Cleanup hitter Dingler is fittingly the Tigers’ fourth-ranked prospect, and could well join the Top 100 overall by midseason.
“You try not to think about the prospect rankings,” Dingler said. “But we do have a great offense and pitching staff here, and it’s kind of cool to come right into that and kind of see the difference in the level. All these guys are great hitters, and as we progress week to week, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Add in shortstop Mark Kreidler (No. 21) and infielder Andre Lipcius (No. 27), and five of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Tigers prospects comprise the top half of Erie’s batting order on most nights. All of them were drafted within the last two years. All of them could push to crack the big league roster within the next two seasons.
“It looks good on paper,” SeaWolves manager Arnie Beyeler said.
Through a week of action, it hasn’t disappointed. The SeaWolves split last week’s six-game series against Altoona, averaging five runs a game. Lipcius fueled a game-winning rally in Tueday’s series opener by doubling in a run and scoring on Josh Lester’s walkoff single. Torkelson’s first Double-A homer was a go-ahead two-run shot Friday off Erie Insurance Arena beyond left field. His second homer was an opposite-field liner to put the SeaWolves up for good on Sunday. Greene came within a single of the cycle on Saturday with an opposite-field homer, triple and double to left-center.
Individually, the hitters play off each other. Greene has been a table-setter at the leadoff spot in Erie all season, though it hasn’t impacted his approach.
“Arnie was like, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to be the leadoff hitter. Just keep doing what you’re doing,’” Greene said. “I mean, I swing at the first pitch almost 100 percent of the time. If it’s a strike, I’m going to swing at it, because that could be the only good pitch you get.”
Greene hit 10-for-23 with four walks and five strikeouts last week. He has scored six runs in as many games since Torkelson and Dingler arrived. Aside from Greene’s two home runs, Torkelson drove him in for his other four runs, accounting for four of Torkelson’s seven RBIs for the week. Add in Torkelson’s final weekend at West Michigan, and he has 15 RBIs over his past nine games.
“It’s awesome,” Torkelson said. “You’ve got runners on base all the time. You’ve got a lot of studs in that lineup.”
Nearly as important as the individual production, however, is the value of chemistry and success. Mize, Skubal, Manning, Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz pitched Erie to the Eastern League’s best record in 2019. The SeaWolves missed the playoffs because berths were determined by half-season records. The friendships built within that group remain strong as Mize, Skubal and Manning try to keep the Tigers improving in Detroit.
Instead of pitchers trying to build off each other’s outing and top each other, hitters play off each other’s at-bats, move runners around and keep innings going. The common denominator is team success and the standard that sets for the future on the path to the big leagues.
“The lineup’s one thing,” Kreidler said, “but just being able to see those guys hit and pick Tork’s brain, pick Dillon’s brain, Riley’s brain about what they’re feeling, what they try to do at the plate, I think that’s important. I think any good club has internal dialogue like that.”
As impatient as fans might be to see them in Detroit, each game together in the system is an investment in chemistry. Even Greene admits to thinking about this group being together at Comerica Park.
“We just try to focus on getting better each day,” Greene said. “We’re here just trying to win baseball games, and all that stuff will take care of itself.”
Already, they’re having fun with expectations. Before Torkelson and Dingler arrived, SeaWolves players had a ritual where the player of the game wears a pair of sunglasses for his postgame interview.
“I think the quote was, ‘Our future’s too bright,’” Kerry Carpenter said.
Fitting, then, that Torkelson donned the shades after his first Double-A homer Friday.
“The first thing they said to me when I got to Erie was, ‘We win here,’” Torkelson said.