Why so much hinges on what the Detroit Tigers youngsters do over the next month

Detroit Free Press

Spencer Torkelson, the rookie first baseman, moved into his new locker in the Detroit Tigers‘ clubhouse.

“Thank God,” he joked.

The old one? Against the other wall? It’s got bad memories from his first stint in Detroit when he hit .197 in 83 games before he was sent back to Toledo.

And besides, the old locker was taken by Kerry Carpenter, a rookie outfielder selected in the 19th round of the 2019 draft.

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Carpenter is now sitting near Riley Greene, a rookie centerfielder taken in the first round of the 2019 draft.

Greene sits across the room from Ryan Kreidler, a rookie infielder taken in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, and he’s expected to make his Tigers debut on Friday.

Which makes it official: The youngsters have taken over the Tigers.

“It’s the coolest thing,” Carpenter said.

A year ago, Torkelson, Greene, Kreidler and Carpenter were playing together at Double-A Erie. They would hang out and dream about one day playing together in Detroit.

“It was in the back of our minds,” Carpenter said.

But after Kreidler and Torkelson were called up to the Tigers this week, the gang is back together; and nobody was happier that Greene.

[ Starter or backup? What Tigers want to learn about Ryan Kreidler in 2022 ]

“I’ve had a smile on my face all morning,” Greene said. “It was like, we went our separate ways and then we finally found our way back to each other. It sounds weird, and now we’re back. It’s awesome being here with them. We all came up together through the system, grinded through it, and we’re all here.”

Far from an ‘attaboy’ from Tigers

“What can these young players get out of this last month?” I asked Tigers manager A.J. Hinch.

“I want to win the game,” Hinch said.

Boom.

In one sentence, Hinch set the tone for the youngsters.

Hinch is trying to create a comfortable atmosphere, giving these rookies the best possible chance to succeed, while stressing winning.

Stressing that this is a competition.

Stressing that production is all that matters, starting in the win column.

“This is all fun that these guys get to come up here and it’s new,” Hinch said. “But it’s not success. The success is winning, winning the games and winning series and winning at a more faster clip.”

At the same time, these players have to perform.

“I wanted them to understand the urgency that has to happen individually,” Hinch said. “So there’s a comfortable environment we’re trying to create for them to learn and grow. There’s a reality that we don’t just try hard at this level, you have to compete and have success to be in the big leagues and have a successful team. That’s a tough balance.

“We don’t want to put so much pressure on them that they can’t breathe in an environment they’ve never been in. But you can’t just sit back on your heels and make it nice and cozy and comfy and be okay with failure. … We can’t lose sight of the objective of the day; and it’s not to gain experience, it’s to gain experience while winning.”

So many questions to answer

While this season was lost a long time ago, there are lots of questions that will get some clarification over the rest of the season.

Can the Tigers count on Torkelson to hit enough to start at first base on Opening Day in 2023? To this point, while he showed power last year in Toledo, he has never hit for average above Double-A.

[ A new grip suddenly gave Matt Manning his best pitch for Tigers ]

How about Akil Baddoo or Kody Clemens? Can they be counted on in the future?

If Kreidler can hit consistently, could he take over an infield spot? He is a natural shortstop but he is penciled in to make his debut at second base on Friday night. He does so many little things right that he could stick just from his overall play.

If Carpenter can show that he can handle big league pitching, could he make the club as an outfielder next season? Or could he be the future designated hitter, assuming Miguel Cabrera hangs it up or his role is diminished even more in 2023?

These are not easy, light-hearted questions.

In many ways, the rebuild — this one or the next, ugh — hinges on this group of youngsters. And the answers will shape what the Tigers do to fill out the club in free agency.

The Tigers need Torkelson to reach his potential. But what will they do this offseason if they think he needs more time in Toledo?

And that is why the next month is so important.

It sets up everything.

“I think 30 teams try to develop homegrown talent that kind of matures together and gets to the big leagues,” Hinch said. “Shared experiences, the trust, the reliability, the enjoyment they have playing together has to help in some regard.”

So the gang is back together.

They youngsters have appeared in Detroit, even though they have yet to arrive.

But they’ve got a month to make an impression. To adjust and learn and prove they belong and can play at this level.

It’s a fun story. A reason to watch again. But it’s also crucial.

How they do over the next month will affect everything.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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