Detroit – As Casey Mize was waiting for the elevator at the hotel the Tigers’ are using to house players during training camp, the door opened and out stepped Spencer Torkelson.
One-One 2018, meet One-One 2020.
“We kind of just touched elbows,” Torkelson said, laughing.
“I just told him congrats, it’s something to really be proud of,” Mize said. “It’s going to change his life forever. I am really happy for him.”
Once they get to know each other a little better, Mize could be a valuable touchstone for Torkelson. He’s got a two-year head start on dealing with the pressures and expectations that come with being the first overall pick in the MLB Draft.
“My advice is just to have internal expectations and do your best to fulfill that,” Mize said. “Everybody, externally, is going to have different thoughts or different expectations of you and you’re not going to make everybody happy.
“Somebody is going to be wrong, a lot of people are going to be wrong. But why should you feel that burden? Obviously, you want to exceed your good expectations, but just set internal goals, both short-term and long-term and do your best to achieve those. If you do that, you will make a lot of people happy, you will make yourself happy – which is the most important thing – and you will help your team win a lot of games along the way.”
And that’s only a sample of the sage advice Torkelson has been absorbing in the week since he flew from Phoenix to Detroit, connecting in Seattle, signed his $8.4 million contract, passed his physical, passed the subsequent COVID-19 tests and smashed baseballs into the seats at Comerica Park on Saturday in his first professional batting practice.
“It was just a cool moment in my life to be able to hit batting practice on a big-league field,” Torkelson said. “It’s every kid’s dream to do that and now to be able to do that every day is incredible. It’s very special.”
Earlier on Monday, Torkelson passed Miguel Cabrera and Matthew Boyd in the hallway between clubhouses. Torkelson and the prospects are staying in the visitor’s clubhouse, while Cabrera and Boyd are in the Tigers’ home clubhouse.
“Miggy started yelling at him, ‘Get on this side soon, we need you,’” Boyd said.
Which, of course, blew Torkelson’s mind.
“It’s nothing but awesome,” he said. “Miggy is the man. I met him once and he’s been so nice. For a Hall-of-Famer to say that, it’s just special, something I will never forget. My second day in the organization and Miggy is saying that. It’s really cool to have guys like that backing me up.”
If any of this is going to his head, it’s not showing. Already, it seems, he’s put the advice manager Ron Gardenhire gave him – you are here for a reason, act like it – to good use.
“I don’t worry about (the hype) too much,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re playing baseball and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. And that’s what I am going to keep on doing. You know, see ball, hit ball, and let people say whatever.”
'Taking it all in'
Boyd was asked how the hype surrounding Torkelson – “the Torkelson effect” – was affecting the veterans on the team?
“Gosh, I wouldn’t even put that tab – the Torkelson effect – on him,” Boyd said. “That’s doing him a disservice. He’s just one of the guys. He was drafted first overall, but all our jerseys say the same thing on them – they all have the Olde English D on the front, right?
“Whether you are Miguel Cabrera, Ty Cobb, Alan Trammell or anyone in between, we all wear the same uniform.”
That kind of humility and awareness, if you believe the testimonials from his coaches, past teammates and those who scouted him, is part of the package Torkelson brings into the Tigers’ organization.
“Everyone has been great,” Torkelson said. “Everyone is happy to have me here and everyone has been amazing and welcoming. And they all have advice to give and I am taking it all in.”
His humility, though, is delightfully tinged with a 20-year-old’s swagger.
Legions of long-ball hitters, from Juan Gonzalez to Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos to Cabrera himself, have cursed the spacious dimensions of Comerica Park. Torkelson experienced them for the first time Saturday and was, well, undaunted.
“I didn’t have an initial reaction,” he said. “The 420 feet to dead center, I knew about that already so it didn’t really faze me. It’s about hitting. Hitting comes first and the home runs will come. You’re not shooting for 425-foot home runs. You are shooting for good, solid contact and good swings.
“And then the 425-foot home runs will come easier than it sounds.”
Gardenhire, who has a fleet of hungry and talented young prospects in camp now, is doing his level best to temper expectations and keep it all in perspective.
“The guy is going to be a good one,” Gardenhire said. “I’m not going to say no, that he’s not going to make it to the big leagues this year, but we’re just happy to have him in the organization, in this camp where we can get our eyes on him and we’ll see how it all plays out.
“But we don’t want to rush this kid.”
Torkelson seems pretty content with it all. He called the past seven days the best week of his life. He said being a Tiger was “the best fit for me ever.” And as for whether or not he believes he belongs, well …
“All these people are telling me I belong,” he said. “So when so many people tell you that you belong, it convinces you that you do. I am comfortable here and the guys are awesome. No one said I sucked yet, so I think I belong.”
Mize on point
Monday was a first for Mize, too – the first time he threw to live hitters off the mound at Comerica Park.
“Every time I toe the rubber I want it to be up here,” he said. “I want that to be my reality. It was really good to get out there and feel the mound, look at the stadium and realize this is what I want. I am going to do whatever I can to make that happen.”
Mize threw two innings, facing Brandon Dixon, Dawel Lugo, Eric Haase and Jorge Bonifacio.
“That first inning I really couldn’t find the strike zone,” he said. “I was all over the place, trying to get my bearings in the stadium. I just felt I was rushing, just amped up and excited.”
He settled in fairly quickly and then looked more like his dominating self in his second inning, showing a much improved curve ball along with his primary four-seam, two-seam, split-finger, slider arsenal.
“I felt much more comfortable,” he said. “I was really happy with that second inning.”
Looking at all the space behind him was a comfort, too, something he could get used to.
“No doubt,” he said. “I work out with (Twins outfield prospect) Brett Rooker in the offseason and we have use of a Rapsodo machine for pitching and for hitting. He hit a ball 110 mph (off the bat) that would have gone 415 feet. I told him that was one hop off the center-field fence at Comerica.
“Definitely happy knowing balls like that aren’t leaving the yard.”
Unlike Torkelson, Mize has a good chance of making his big-league debut this year. But his workload is going to be very small compared to what he’d get in a full season at Triple-A Toledo – which is where he was slated to pitch, pre-shutdown.
“The biggest negative is not getting enough innings,” he said. “It will be really tough to take a big step up without pitching a lot of competitive innings. There is a ton of value in facing hitters and trying to be as competitive as possible.”
Most of Mize’s competitive at-bats will be against his teammates during taxi squad games at Fifth Third Field in Toledo.
“Either way, I will do what I can to get better this season,” Mize said.