Why Spencer Torkelson looks different: Detroit Tigers prospect may be starting 1B in 2022

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers prospect Spencer Torkelson took his position at first base. He is no longer a third baseman. That experiment is over.

“All right, here we go!” Alan Trammell said.

Trammell, the Tigers Hall of Fame shortstop, held a fungo bat in his right hand, a baseball in his left.

Trammell celebrated his 64th birthday in the only place that seemed right — on a back field at TigerTown, hitting ground balls to Torkelson on Monday morning during the first full practice of the Tigers minicamp.

“I don’t want to do too much today,” Trammell said. “You’ve got training wheels on today.”

It was like seeing the past meshing with the future in the most poetic way.

“There you go!” Trammell said.

Torkelson fielded a ball and froze, holding his form, emphasizing his footwork and body position.

“It’s awesome, you know, the Hall of Famer is hitting you ground balls and showing you how he did it, so you’re going to listen,” Torkelson said.

Even though Torkelson is one of the most important pieces of this organization’s future,  he finally has a real, legit chance to be part of the present. He has a great opportunity to make the Opening Day roster, which wasn’t the case last year when he went through his first spring training camp.

“The mindset is, pretty much, it’s similar, and it’s a lot different because there’s a chance,” Torkelson said. “I just work hard every day, grind it out, show them that you can play at the Big League level and let the big guys make the decisions.”

‘Like riding a bike’

The best case scenario, which would give the Tigers the most talented lineup possible, would be Torkelson making this club and playing everyday at first base, Jonathan Schoop holding down second and Miguel Cabrera at designated hitter.

That’s the goal, at least.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Why Tigers prospect Josh Crouch is ‘gonna make some waves’ as a catcher

Torkelson just needs to have a solid spring, assuming, of course, the lockout ends and they have a spring training.

A year ago, Torkelson struggled in spring training, getting one hit in 27 at-bats, with 16 strikeouts.

But here is bright side  from those struggles: it turned into a tremendous learning experience for him.

“I got a little more perseverance than I thought, battling through the first couple months or a month,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but looking back, I’m glad it happened and it made me a stronger and better player.”

Torkelson already looks different than a year ago. Not just because he’s back to his natural position.

After he was the first overall pick in 2020 out of Arizona State, the Tigers tried to make him into a third baseman.

“I was comfortable,” he said. “I was getting more comfortable at third base but first base for me is like riding a bike.”

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Torkelson hit 30 home runs last season, climbing from High-A West Michigan to Triple-A Toledo. During the offseason, he focused on getting stronger and being short to the ball.

“When I struggled, I noticed myself coming around it or pulling off,” he said. “That just goes to mental toughness, keeping that approach even if it’s the 120th game, staying through the middle and being short and quick to the ball. So that was the big emphasis.”

He has lost weight and his face looks thinner.

“Probably about 10 pounds lighter, and I feel really good,” he said. “I have to give credit to my girlfriend. She cooked a lot in the offseason so I wasn’t Door Dashing as much, so I ate a lot cleaner and I put a gym in my garage so whenever I got the itch to workout, I was in there.”

Torkelson suffered a sprained ankle in the fall league. But seems to have fully recovered.

“So after the ankle, I couldn’t do anything baseball for about four or five weeks, and then as soon as I could I was itching to to start back up again,” he said. “Just a lot of excitement to be back with the guys on the field. And, you know, be on the baseball field again.”

CAMP OBSERVATIONS: How Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson looked on first day

A face of the franchise

After the workout, after crushing several hard line drives during batting practice, Torkelson walked across the field toward the Tigers’ facility.

A group of fans saw him coming. They were allowed to watch the practice for the first time in two years.

Torkelson put down his two bats and started signing autographs for several minutes.

“Thank you so much,” somebody said.

“No problem,” he said, clearly understanding his role in this organization.

He will soon become the face of this franchise, along with several other youngsters.

“How was practice today?” a fan asked.

“Fun!” Torkelson said. “It was great to be out there today.”

“Thank you, appreciate it.”

He picked up his bat and helmet.

“Thank you, Spencer!”

He waved.

“No problem!”

And he walked toward the clubhouse.

His day was done. I’ve seen Torkelson at every level as a professional. I saw him at instructional ball and watched him in spring training last year. But this seemed different.

This felt like a true beginning because the opportunity is so real.

Now, it’s up to him to grab it.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Why this Tigers prospect says he’s ‘the steal of this draft’ already

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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