Logistically, they’re only 75 miles from Detroit.
From a baseball-skills perspective, they’re a bit farther. But that promotion to Triple-A Toledo that came Sunday for Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Ryan Kreidler, and Brady Policelli, was about the Tigers’ plans for 2022 and beyond, and where they see at least three of the above as spring camp convenes in February.
“It really hit me, just sitting on the couch: ‘Wow, we’re one more step to the big leagues,’” Greene said Tuesday morning during a Zoom interview that also featured Torkelson. “It makes you hungrier, makes you want to make it that much more.”
Greene is a 20-year-old center fielder who so demolished Double-A pitching that he had little more to prove at Erie. Same with Torkelson, last year’s first overall draft pick, who is playing third base and first base and whose right-handed bat was showing he needed an instant dose of Triple-A competition.
Kreidler, a 6-foot-4 shortstop with major power, had also shown that his bat was at least moving closer to his sublime glove in terms of inviting a promotion. Policelli, a 26-year-old Swiss Army knife who can catch, play outfield, or infield, also will help Mud Hens manager Tom Prince and, perhaps eventually, a manager in Detroit named AJ Hinch, who famously loves multi-position help. Policelli, a right-handed batter, was hitting .303 with an .885 OPS at Erie.
The four all got their notifications following Sunday’s game at Erie. And then it was on to immediate business: loading up Greene’s big, white Ford pick-up with clothes and gear destined for a trip up the Ohio Turnpike to Toledo.
“Riley’s kind of like the U-Haul for the guys,” Torkelson said, with a half-chuckle. “That truck’s full to the max with my stuff and the other guys’ stuff.”
They’ll be seeing some “stuff” at Toledo, as well. Triple-A pitching is notorious for its ability to make hitters sharper, more savvy, all because so many Triple-A pitchers have big-league experience and guile.
“I talked to one of my old hitting coaches,” Torkelson said, mentioning a conversation he had with Mike Earley, a White Sox farm veteran who had played at Triple A before joining the Arizona State staff. “He grinded his way through the minor leagues and he said (Triple A) is the same game, but they’re good, and some are angry at the world that they’re not in the big leauges and they’re going to show you.
“I’m really looking forward to playing against guys with that kind of talent.”
Greene wasn’t giving Triple-A pitching hosannas he would first offer the Double-A arms he and his Erie cast have seen in 2021.
“In Double A, we saw a lot of it,” he said, speaking of “junk” pitches and off-speed stuff that’s known to be a central part of Triple-A repertoires. “There was always one or two guys a week who threw sliders, or a heavy curveball or heavy change-up, so I feel we’re pretty prepared for that.”
Torkelson added: “I’ve heard that some of the guys in Triple A aren’t as young anymore, but they used to throw harder, and now they’ll do whatever it takes, trying to crawl their way back. You’re going to get off-speed stuff even in hitters’ counts.”
Their formal Triple-A baptism was to come Tuesday evening at Fifth Third Field where the Mud Hens were set to play Indianapolis in a 7:05 p.m. game.
It will not be new trappings for Greene, or for Torkelson. They were part of last summer’s Tigers taxi squad that trained at Toledo as potential back-ups for the COVID-threatened big-league rosters.
“I feel like it takes a lot off our shoulders, just knowing our way around town, knowing where the field is, and where the clubhouse is, and having been around this coaching staff, already,” said Greene, who until Sunday had been with Erie the entire season, batting left-handed, often blistering the ball: .298 batting average, .381 on-base percentage, .525 slugging, for a .905 OPS, and 16 home runs. “It’s just being familiar with everything.”
Kreidler and Policelli will be less acquainted with Toledo, but no less accustomed to the challenge of minor-league games, anywhere, any time.
It’s about hitting your way to Detroit. The newest phase of Comerica Park preparation was to begin Tuesday night.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.