Torkelson feeling ‘at home’ in AFL

Detroit Tigers

PEORIA, Ariz. — Spencer Torkelson feels comfortable hitting in a loaded lineup. He certainly feels comfortable hitting in the Phoenix metro area.

His early days in the Arizona Fall League certainly represent that.

MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect picked up three hits (all singles) in his third AFL game Friday night to help lead visiting Salt River to a 2-1 win over Peoria at Peoria Stadium.

Torkelson was the only member of the Rafters starting nine to pick up multiple hits in the victory. He is 5-for-11 (.455) with a double, three walks and only two strikeouts through his first three Fall League games.

“I feel at home here,” the Arizona State product said. “I went to school here, and it’s good to be back for sure.”

Underlining how comfortable Torkelson feels is the approach he showed in picking up his three hits Friday. All three were driven the other way toward right field, and the latter two came on 0-1 counts. They were hit with varying degrees of authority — the third hit was a flare just above the diving head of Peoria second baseman Luke Waddell — but it speaks to the Tigers prospect’s ability to show more than just plus-plus raw power and to contribute to any lineup in multiple ways.

“I like to be simple up there,” Torkelson said. “Yes, I can hit a home run, but I also pride myself on being a good hitter. Shooting some the other way every now and again is what good hitters do.”

Torkelson is widely considered the top prospect in this year’s Arizona Fall League. Detroit made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 after he slugged .729 with 54 homers over his three years as a Sun Devil. He was as solid as expected on the pro side this summer, hitting .267/.383/.552 with 30 homers in 121 games across the top three levels of the Tigers’ system. Instead of resting its top prospect, Detroit decided to give him one final challenge in the Arizona Fall League.

In doing so, Torkelson was placed on a Salt River roster that features arguably the most loaded lineup of this year’s AFL. Batting third on Friday, Torkelson hit behind fellow Top 100 prospect Brett Baty, who is off to his own killer start with a 1.370 OPS through three games, and ahead of 2019 first-round pick Michael Toglia, who went deep for the Rafters’ first run of the night.

Playing with Riley Greene for much of 2021, Torkelson is no stranger to featuring alongside top talents, but it may be some time until he’s in a starting nine that goes deeper than this one.

“A lot of great dudes in this lineup, a lot of great players,” he said. “We’re having fun out here. We’re here. We might as well win. We’ve had that mind-set. We’re learning each other and feeling each other out, but I really like this team. This lineup is a lot of fun to hit in.”

If Torkelson can remain this consistent offensively this fall, perhaps the biggest storyline to follow with him in the weeks ahead will be on the defensive side. He split time between third base and first base for much of the summer until he reached Triple-A Toledo, where he moved to first exclusively. He played back at the hot corner Friday — his first third-base start since Aug. 12 — and said afterwards that he expects to see additional time there, in part to give Baty some days off or to DH.

It’s still likely that he moves back the other way at the Major League level with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch saying “there’s no secret that the first baseman of the future is going to be Spencer Torkelson” back in September, but the extra versatility in the AFL can’t hurt.

No matter which corner of the diamond he’s playing, Torkelson wants one thing to be clear. Everyone should expect the same player that doesn’t look far from being one of the game’s next big stars.

“It doesn’t really affect how locked in I am at the plate,” he said of switching positions. “It’s baseball. I’m a baseball player. It’s what we do. You have to focus on defense and in the batter’s box to be a great player.”

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