Torkelson on cusp of rare feat for Tigers

Detroit Tigers

LOS ANGELES — Spencer Torkelson fouled off a couple of close pitches from Dodgers lefty Caleb Ferguson to get to the pitch he wanted. It was a 2-2 cutter over the outer half of the plate, where Torkelson wanted the ball to avoid Ferguson jamming him. He crushed it, pushing it through the California evening air and into Dodger Stadium’s left-field seats.

The first-inning solo homer wasn’t a majestic Tork Bomb, but it was effective, paired with Parker Meadows’ third-inning solo shot for an early lead that held until the Dodgers rallied in the eighth and ninth innings to hand Detroit a 3-2 defeat. It also puts Torkelson on the doorstep of another significant mark, at least for the organization.

In a year when all the milestone talk has justifiably focused on Miguel Cabrera passing Hall of Famers on MLB’s all-time offensive leaderboards, Torkelson’s flight towards the 30-homer club is important in different ways. For one, no Tiger has homered 30 times in a season since Cabrera and Justin Upton in 2016, Detroit’s last winning season.

Add in the fact that the Tigers drafted and developed Torkelson, and the feat goes from a curiosity to an oddity. No homegrown Tiger has come through the system and produced a 30-homer season in Detroit since Curtis Granderson hit 30 in 2009, his final season as a Tiger. The only other player to do it in the Comerica Park era is Bobby Higginson, who hit 30 in 2000.

To be fair, the Tigers built their offense around free agents and trade acquisitions for a long stretch during those years. In addition to Cabrera and Upton, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder had 30-homer seasons in that stretch. Meanwhile, former Tigers prospects Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suárez and Willy Adames had 30-homer seasons after being traded away, while Isaac Paredes is one homer from doing the same this year for the Rays.

Still, the Tigers’ struggles to produce impact power hitters helped harden the team’s fall once the glory days ended, and lengthened the rebuild, leaving Castellanos without much of a supporting cast for his final couple of seasons in Detroit. For all the talk about Detroit needing help on the market to build out the lineup, the Tigers have found a core to build around with Torkelson, fellow former top prospect Riley Greene and former 19th-round Draft pick turned 20-homer slugger Kerry Carpenter. In a year when the Tigers have talked about organizational wins through the system, this is one of them.

Just as important, the Tigers have signs of more power coming up through the system. Torkelson’s homer gave him the organizational lead over No. 4 prospect Jace Jung, who finished his regular season with 28 between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie. No. 2 prospect Colt Keith, currently at 27, still has five games left in Triple-A Toledo’s season to make a run for 30; he homered in three consecutive games last week. No. 9 prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy has 23 homers with the Mud Hens this season.

Not that Torkelson is particularly worried about getting to 30.

“To be honest, I stay away from the statistical goals,” Torkelson said. “I like where I’m at, I feel good, and whatever [the total] ends up being at the end of the year, I’ll be happy with, move forward and work hard and see what I can do next year. It’s just a work in progress.”

Torkelson almost hit his 30th later Tuesday night. He slugged another drive deep to left but barely foul in the sixth inning off Ryan Pepiot before striking out. His eighth-inning drive off Brusdar Graterol took left fielder David Peralta to the warning track in the corner.

“Gosh, really close to being fair,” Torkelson said of the first. “That felt good, hanging breaking ball, first one I saw from him in the strike zone. Just a little early. And then my last at-bat, [Graterol] throws 99, so when he throws something 89, it looks a lot slower and I just got out in front. Just a timing thing, but I like where I’m at.”

Torkelson finished 1-for-4 but was a dangerous bat the entire game. The Tigers like where he’s at as well.

“It’s nice to see Tork come off an off-day and get a homer and then put some other good swings on it,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

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