With the Tigers closing in on Opening Day -- two weeks from Thursday -- some players are more ready than others. And one player looks more ready than ever: Spencer Torkelson.
"Where Tork’s at right now, you just wanna bottle him up and get to Tampa in a couple weeks," A.J. Hinch said Tuesday on 97.1 The Ticket.
The Tigers were in Tampa on Monday, where Tork continued his spring-long routine of lashing line drives. The first ball he hit this spring left the bat at 105.6 miles per hour with an expected batting average of .830 and landed 415 feet away ... in the center fielder's glove. It would be a sign of things to come. In consecutive at-bats last week, Torkelson ripped a pair of 105-plus mph missiles with expected batting averages over .900 that were mere line-outs in the box score.
On Monday, he was finally rewarded. He smacked a hanging slider 100.1 mph for an RBI double in the first, then scorched an up-and-in heater 102.6 mph for a single in the sixth. Of the 21 balls Torkelson has hit this spring (in games with Statcast data), 12 have left the bat at 100-plus mph. Torkelson's average exit velocity was 90.5 mph last season, when Aaron Judge led the majors at 95.9. His average exit velocity from the sample above is 96.2
So he's yet to homer. So his average is .258. So his OPS is below .700. Hinch throws those numbers to the wind. The numbers that matter say Torkelson is a much-improved hitter, who could help fuel a much-improved offense this season for the Tigers.
"I don’t think we’re going to be a huge home run team, but I think we can be a better, more selective team and do damage on the pitches that we choose," said Hinch. "Someone who hasn’t homered a lot but who’s been doing that is Spencer Torkelson. He’s crushing the ball. Even early in counts he’s getting good pitches to hit and hitting the ball over 100 miles per hour very, very often. It doesn’t always translate to homers, but I think those are byproducts of a good approach."
Torkelson endured a brutal first season in the bigs. The spotlight he arrived with as a former No. 1 pick turned into a glare, until the Tigers were forced to send him back to the minors. He admitted this winter he had lost his swing. But he found it again in Toledo and returned to Detroit in September looking more like the hitter the Tigers have seen this spring.
Over the course of last season, Torkelson said he learned to trust his daily process and to live with the results. He stopped leaving his confidence up to outcomes. Instead, he started "stepping into the box knowing (he was) going to get a hit," whether or not he had gotten one last time.
"Even when you’re 0-4 and you (stuck to) your process, that’s a win," said Torkelson. "Don’t panic and try to change something up because you’re 0-12."
Much like this spring, Torkelson made a lot of hard contact without much to show for it at the end of last season. Rather than fretting the outcomes, he went into the offseason knowing he had improved. He enters year two with the Tigers ready to prove it.
"It definitely gave me some positives from a lot of it felt like negatives in that season," he said. "It gave me reassurance that I do belong in this league."
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