'There's a reason he's here': Ron Gardenhire likes what he sees, hears from Spencer Torkelson
Detroit — With so much going on in the first few days of Summer Camp at Comerica Park, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire hadn’t had much opportunity to talk to Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Torkelson did his part to get acquainted with Gardenhire — and Comerica Park — with a sizzling display in the batting cage in his first workout in Detroit on Saturday afternoon. In the midst of Torkelson’s stretching, hitting and initial work with grounders at third base, Gardenhire made his way over to talk with the rookie.
“I was asking for a loan, to see what he had,” Gardenhire joked Sunday morning. “I just talked about being calm, and that there's a reason he's here, because he's a really good player. I don't want him going out trying to prove this or prove that. Just go out and have fun and play.
“He did that pretty good yesterday and he handled himself very well. I just wanted to kind of reassure him that he doesn't have to kill himself trying to do things around here. We're happy to have him, excited to have him, and that type of stuff, so just take it easy, relax and enjoy the game of baseball like he has.”
Torkelson seemed to have joie de vivre in the batting cage, and he unleashed it on the practice balls, launching them off his bat into the stands with relative ease, once he got into a good rhythm.
In the previous group, Miguel Cabrera displayed a mix of power and control hitting the ball to all fields. Torkelson also hit a few to right field, but when he barreled the ball to left field, it started to pop.
In his first round, Torkelson was just getting loose, but by his fourth and fifth rounds in the cage he was flashing some of the power that has Tigers fans excited about his future. In his final round, Torkelson took only three swings but blasted one to the wall in center field and two more into the seats in left field, approximately 10 or 15 rows up.
Torkelson’s hitting display was a welcome sight for Tigers general manager Al Avila, who had a front-row seat behind the cage to observe his latest acquisition.
Torkelson signed an $8.4 million deal this week, with a record, above-the-slot signing bonus, but there isn’t pressure for him to come in and be an immediate savior. He’ll garner attention because of his status as a top pick, but he won’t be pushed to the big club until he’s ready.
The Tigers will get a good look at Torkelson in Summer Camp, though. They put him in the 60-man player pool, which will allow him to, at worst, work with the other prospects on the taxi squad. That group will work out at Toledo after the rosters are split into 30-man groups later this month.
In his time with the Minnesota Twins, Gardenhire saw another No. 1 overall pick, Joe Mauer, make the transition, but noted some differences with Torkelson.
“It's a lot bigger thing now than it was back then, with a lot more media, the whole package and social media, so Tork's probably going to have a little bit more of that (attention) than Joe did. But I think from what I've seen — and I've only talked to him one time out on the field so far — he seems like he's got it.
“He's been there and done it and Joe was the same way. Joe made time for everybody and was a class act and the whole package and I think we got Tork in about the same situation.”
Torkelson’s power performance in the batting cage was augmented by his work at third base, where he handled the grounders with relative ease, though he wasn’t making throws to first base just yet. He made only one bobble on the grounders and looked comfortable in his footwork and handling ground balls in his first go at it.
Gardenhire liked the initial signs of what Torkelson can do at third base, though there will be some continuing work with coach Ramon Santiago to smooth out some of the rough edges. Although he played first base in college, Torkelson was announced as a third baseman when he was drafted, a clear sign of where his future will be in the Tigers organization.
“(Torkelson) is going to get plenty of work there (third base)," Gardenhire said. "We saw him yesterday and there’s going to be technique stuff that (Santiago) is going to be able to help him with, like he does all of our infielders, but (Torkelson) looked fine. I don't think he was too worried about it. I think he's just going to roll right along.
“He's got a great swing — we all saw that and putting the ball out there a long, long way, so he'll be fine at third base. It's just going to be a process. He's been playing first but he has done a little third and we'll just run him through the gamut here and, hopefully, he'll figure it out. But he's a pretty good player, pretty good athlete, got a good head on his shoulders, so that'll help.”