How Detroit Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson adjusted his mindset to find his confidence

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson demolished a pitch to the deepest part of center field in his first at-bat of spring training. It would have been a home run in the new dimensions at Comerica Park, but not at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The center fielder tracked the fly ball for a 415-foot out.

In Wednesday’s game, Torkelson blasted a pair of high-velocity fastballs inside the strike zone to deep center, but those swings ended in a pair of outs. He didn’t get his first hit until his third game, remains in search of his first home run after eight games and hasn’t been rewarded for several hard-hit balls.

But Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, acts differently these days. He isn’t slamming his bat, he isn’t dropping f-bombs out of frustration, and he isn’t obsessed with the numbers on the back of his baseball card.

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From him, it’s never been about the swing.

“We’re all gifted physically,” Torkelson said. “We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t. What separates the good from the great, and the great from the legends, is their minds. Everyone’s got it, but it’s just how consistent you can be.”

Every Friday, Torkelson opens his computer, joins a Zoom meeting and spends an hour talking to a mental performance coach. He hired the coach, whom he previously worked with as an elite college player at Arizona State, during the offseason. They lost touch for a couple years but reconnected and engage in weekly conversations.

Torkelson takes notes during their sessions.

He plans to continue working with the mental performance coach throughout the upcoming season, his second in the big leagues and third as a professional. The 23-year-old, under immense pressure because of his draft status and signing bonus, is coming off a disappointing rookie season. He hit .203 with eight home runs in 110 games and endured a midseason demotion to Triple-A Toledo.

“The great hitters come out if it,” Torkelson said, “and they realize what they need to do to get back to themselves. I feel like I did that.”

Torkelson expects to bounce back.

He expects to be a great hitter for the Tigers.

“If I stick to my plan, I can live with the results,” Torkelson said. “I think last year, in general, I was really pressing and trying to make a good impression, just putting way too much pressure on myself rather than going out there, being myself, trusting it and letting whatever happens happen.”

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Torkelson, who installed a weight room in his garage this offseason, arrived to spring training looking bigger and stronger. He sounded relaxed when interacting with a group of reporters for the first time in four months, even cracking a joke about his new-look chest and biceps.

“I’m not flexing, I swear,” he said.

Advice from Mike Trout and Carlos Correa, among other top players in the big leagues, inspired him to change his bat specifications to 33½ inches in length and 31½ ounces in weight, a half-inch smaller and a half-ounce lighter than the bat he used last season. The new bat, which he tested in the offseason, is helping his bat control and acceleration.

Small tweaks to his swing mechanics, while almost unnoticeable, have helped him strike the ball at the front of the plate with the barrel of his bat. Eight of his balls in play this spring have registered an exit velocity of at least 101 mph. Only three of them have results in hits. He hasn’t reaped the rewards in the box score yet, but he finally appears on time for fastballs.

“That’s me as a hitter,” Torkelson said. “That’s right where I want to be in spring training. I’m seeing the ball well, taking good pitches, swinging at good pitches. Those are wins, whether you’re 10-for-20 or 3-for-20. If I’m doing that, I’m going to be successful.”

In 2022, Torkelson particularly struggled against four-seam fastballs (.175 batting average) and middle-middle pitches (.212). This spring, those offerings from opposing pitchers don’t seem like significant problem areas anymore, likely because his mindset has changed.

During the offseason, Tigers hitting coaches Michael Brdar and Keith Beauregard — two newcomers to the coaching staff — visited Torkelson more than once at Arizona State’s baseball facility, where he would spend his weekday mornings training.

“They gave some things to where we could get back to my old self and my old swing,” Torkelson said. “But I don’t think it was ever a swing thing. It was more a confidence, trust-in-the-process thing.

“Other than that, the biggest difference would be not being results driven, just being super process driven. Yes, it is a results-driven industry, but if you constantly focus on results, you will never get the results. I’m buying into my process, my approach and my plan. I know that will pay off in a long season.”

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A lot of positive signs, but Torkelson remains the biggest question mark on the Tigers’ roster. That won’t change until he displays consistent success in the batter’s box. This could be the start of his evolution into a franchise player, or he could become overwhelmed and struggle again.

Two years ago, Torkelson launched 30 home runs in his first minor-league season. Last year, he failed to keep his head above water in the majors.

Nobody knows for certain what will happen this time around, but Torkelson is confident in his process and believes his offseason work — including the addition of a mental performance coach — is already making a difference in spring training.

It’s too early to give up on Torkelson.

“This year, he’s doing a pretty good job of not getting too frustrated with the results not being there,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s swinging at the right pitches, barreling up a few balls, being a little unlucky here and there and keeping it in perspective that we’re talking about 10, 15, 18 at-bats. The microscope is not on Spencer Torkelson. This is a good player.”

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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