Lakeland, Fla. — A ballplayer never knows what he’s going to get when he’s summoned to the manager’s office.
Still, imagine the thoughts going through Spencer Torkelson’s head when he walked into AJ Hinch’s office Saturday morning and saw not only general manager Al Avila, but Miguel Cabrera in there, too.
The tension was broken when Cabrera handed Torkelson a first baseman’s glove. Words were not necessary after that. Torkelson is the Tigers’ new first baseman.
“Our intention is to have Torkelson on our team moving forward,” Avila announced just before the Tigers played the Orioles at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Were it not for an unfortunate foul ball on Friday, this might’ve been a dual announcement, that the Tigers top two prospects – Torkelson and Riley Greene – had made the squad.
“It was heading that way,” Avila said. “And Riley wasn’t doing anything to discourage it.”
Unfortunately, that foul ball broke a bone in Greene’s foot and put him on the minor-league injured lists for Opening Day. Which is why Avila announced Torkelson’s arrival with a qualifier.
“He’s on the team baring anything happening between now and Opening Day,” Avila said.
Torkelson, 22, the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, has had a short but unusual path to this moment. He missed most of his final season at Arizona State and essentially his full year of pro ball because of COVID-19. He was invited to big league camp last spring and endured a miserable 1-for-27 stretch.
Then he caught fire. He ended up jumping three levels of the minor leagues, finishing at Triple-A Toledo. In all, he produced 30 home runs, 91 RBIs and a .935 OPS.
“We were fully expecting him to come in and compete for a job this spring,” Avila said. “That’s what our expectation and hope was, that he’d show us he can do this…His day-to-day preparation, every at-bat he’s battling, he’s not overmatched. And at first base, he’s handling it very well.
“He just looks like a guy who can handle anything that comes his way.”
His perseverance the last two years, too, gave a window into his readiness.
“What a brutal spring he had, and a brutal start,” Avila said. “And he overcame that and had a great year. That tells you something about his makeup and character.”
About the timing of the announcement, Avila said it was to end all the speculation and external noise.
“We want him t relax and to put all that behind us,” Avila said. “Things still have to go well between now and Opening Day with no setbacks to make it happen. But this a good time to let him settle in and get ready for the season.”
Torkelson, who was not in the starting lineup Saturday, was expected to speak to the media after the game.
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