Detroit Tigers aren’t ready to send slumping Spencer Torkelson to Triple-A — not yet

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, raised his bat above his head.

Then, the 22-year-old tomahawked the lumber into the ground.

His bat exploded into two pieces, with the smaller, broken portion shooting near the home plate umpire. The bigger chunk Torkelson dropped in front of home as he jogged to first base.

“I’m actually fine with that,” manager A.J. Hinch said of Torkelson’s frustration on display Tuesday afternoon for the 13,844 fans at Comerica Park. “If it’s not coming out at some point, it could boil a little bit.”

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The broken-bat moment occurred because of a pop out in foul territory in the fifth inning of Game 2 in Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics, with 25-year-old right-hander Adrian Martinez on the mound for his MLB debut.

Torkelson entered Wednesday hitless in his past 11 at-bats, and hitting .059 (2-for-35) with three walks and 15 strikeouts in his past 11 games.

As for his rookie season, 27 games in, Torkelson owns a .155 batting average, one double, three home runs, eight RBIs, 12 walks and 33 strikeouts. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage is .549.

“From a confidence standpoint, I think he’s doing fine,” Hinch said. “From a frustration standpoint, I think it’s growing. … He expects a lot out of himself. I think the hardest thing is getting him to realize he doesn’t have to be perfect. He doesn’t have to do everything. He doesn’t have to cover every pitch. We’ve got to move the ball forward a little more consistently.”

The Tigers won’t ship Torkelson to Triple-A Toledo for a reset during the current homestand, which ends Sunday, and he should see favorable matchups against a few left-handed pitchers when the Tigers travel to St. Petersburg, Florida, for a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning Monday at Tropicana Field.

But if Torkelson wants to avoid a demotion after that, he must adjust and find success at the plate. The Tigers aren’t satisfied, but they’re staying patient with the organization’s top prospect.

“It’s tough. It’s all individual-based,” Hinch said. “Right now, we feel like he’s still being competitive.”

Certain attributes and situations have earned Torkelson a longer — but not without limits — leash in his first big-league stint. He is an above-average defender at first base and completes an improved infield, with Jeimer Candelario at third, Javier Báez at shortstop and Jonathan Schoop at second.

He also has a calm demeanor, for the most part, and always displays a positive attitude. He is eager to develop as a player, too, based on his constructive interactions with Hinch, hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman.

“I don’t think he’s shaken, which is key,” Hinch said. “We’ve got to find that fine line between pushing him but not accepting the lack of performance. I do trust him still to get a hit every time he gets up there.”

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Torkelson’s 12.2% walk rate is an encouraging takeaway from his first 27 games, but his 33.7% strikeout rate is among the worst in baseball. He has a first-class 20.9% chase rate, meaning he rarely swings at pitches outside the strike zone. His plate discipline is considered elite.

The problem: Torkelson is missing fastballs (and everything else) inside the strike zone.

“His swing decisions are still pretty good,” Hinch said. “If anything, he’s trying to hit everything, and that as a young player is a recipe for struggles. If you’re trying to hit everything and you’re not hitting anything consistently, that’s a bad combo.”

Torkelson played 40 games for Triple-A Toledo last season, hitting .238 with 11 home runs, 23 walks and 36 strikeouts. He hit .312 in 31 games for High-A West Michigan and .263 in 50 games for Double-A Erie.

He isn’t tabbed to wear a Mud Hens jersey in 2022.

Not yet.

“I think we can take a lot of stress off of him if everybody starts trending up like Jeimer (Candelario) is and like (Jonathan) Schoop is,” Hinch said. “Getting our guys around him to hit, then the focus won’t be on him, and he can continue to learn at this level.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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