Tork, Greene show begins at Minor League camp

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. — It’s the Tork and Riley show.

OK, maybe we’ll let the Tigers marketing folks come up with something catchier, and yes, there’s much more to this restocked farm system than Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. But there’s no question the dynamic duo is at the front of everyone’s minds as they get into a Spring Training groove to prepare for a 2022 season most feel will be full of big league door-knocking.

It’s the early stages, with the Tigers just starting intrasquad scrimmages at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, but seeing Torkelson and Greene, easily the best prospect hitting tandem in one organization in all of baseball, in one lineup has to get everyone in Tigertown thinking about the immediate future, from AJ Hinch and his big league coaches down to new farm director Ryan Garko and the player development staff.

Both reached Triple-A in 2021, with Torkelson starting the year in High-A, joining Greene in Double-A, going to the Futures Game together and getting promoted to Toledo together to close out the year. The numbers speak for themselves: Torkelson finished with 30 homers and a .935 OPS in his first year of pro ball. Greene had 24 homers and a .921 OPS, while hitting .301 and stealing 16 bases.

So when the pair came to camp this spring, it was with an organizational knowledge that it would be when, not if, they got called up to the big leagues. For now, they’re preparing for the Triple-A season and showing in the early stages of camp that they’re not resting on their laurels or relying on their combined advanced offensive skills to get them there.

That’s even more apparent with Greene. Once upon a time, there were some question marks about where he might fit defensively, with some amateur scouts feeling he was destined for left field. Greene heard those concerns and even in high school worked to address them, getting in better shape, improving his speed and his defense. He still might end up in a corner, mostly because of the size of Comerica Park and he will eventually slow down as he continues to fill out, but he plays a solid center field. Even this spring, he’s worked to improve his arm stroke so his throws have more carry. He cares about his defense.

Both he and Torkelson want to be complete players, even if the latter ends up exclusively at first base, as it seems like he will. Not only do they push and complement each other, but they fit right into this camp that’s a combination of advanced players like them and much younger prospects just getting started. There is no doubt their professionalism is trickling down throughout the system.

Jobe learning about being a professional
One of those new Tigers is Jackson Jobe, the Tigers’ top pick from 2021, taken No. 3 overall. The second pitcher taken in the Draft, and the first high school arm selected, Jobe didn’t face any live competition last summer with the Draft now in July, so as much as this spring is about the right-hander working on his stuff, it’s also about him learning about routines, how to prepare, how to be a professional.

It might sound a bit obvious, but the socialization piece is an important part of the development process. This spring was really the first time Jobe was in a locker room with professionals, and being around the higher-level guys is an invaluable experience. Because there are no questions about how good his stuff is.

His breaking stuff has been as good as advertised in the early going in camp and his changeup, which he focused on a lot during the offseason, has looked good. The ball comes out of his hand easy from an athletic and repeatable delivery that should allow him to throw plenty of strikes. There’s plenty of velocity with the fastball, but if there’s one thing in his early throwing sessions that’s popped up, it’s that he does need to work on the shape of it and how he wants to deploy it.

That will come in time and the Tigers staff has worked to help the perfectionist in Jobe pump the brakes. He wants to be in Detroit yesterday, and the Tigers welcome that competitiveness, but with a healthy dose of realism.

Camp standout: Gage Workman
Workman was Torkelson’s teammate at Arizona State and the Tigers double-dipped with the Sun Devils, taking him in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft. He’s a tall, athletic switch-hitter who had an up-and-down offensive career at ASU, then did some things very well in his first full season as a pro across two levels of pro ball. On the plus side, he hit 12 homers and stole 31 bases while drawing a solid amount of walks. On the other side of the ledger, he struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances.

He’s always had a better left-handed swing and he’s worked this spring on his approach from the right side, but he’s impacting the ball more consistently overall. And he keeps impressing with his defense. Workman played third at ASU in deference to defensive whiz Alika Williams, now with the Rays. But there was a thought that Workman had the tools to play shortstop, despite his size, and he’s looked very good there. It’s the only spot he played in 2021 and the Tigers believe he has every chance to play there long-term.

Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2023: Eliezer Alfonzo
With Hinch in the big leagues and Garko running the farm system, not to mention High-A West Michigan manager Brayan Pena, the Tigers better be able to develop catching prospects. The club’s 2020 second rounder Dillon Dingler is clearly the top young backstop in the organization, but Alfonzo might not be that far behind him.

Alfonzo has gone into the family business as his father, also named Eliezer, spent parts of six years in the big leagues. The younger Alfonzo will be 22 for all of the 2022 season and is coming off a year where he played his way from Low-A to High-A. The switch-hitter makes a ton of contact and almost never strikes out. And he can really catch and throw, having thrown out 35 percent of potential basestealers through 2021.

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