Tigers option rookie Spencer Torkelson to Toledo to clear his head, get back on track
Cleveland — The road is not always straight and perfect.
Tigers’ manager AJ Hinch said that before the finale of the Tigers-Guardians series was rained out Sunday. The topic was struggling rookie Spencer Torkelson. A few minutes later, after the postponement was announced and before the Tigers' players departed for a short All-Star break, Hinch pulled Torkelson into his office.
“I told him we were optioning him to Toledo,” Hinch said. “He will start the second half in Triple A.”
It wasn’t in any way a surprise. Torkelson was hitting .197 and slugging just .295 with a 68 OPS-plus. He’s contributed five home runs and 21 RBIs.
Nor is it a permanent assignment.
"We have a plan in place to get him some at-bats and get him back to being the offensive force that we know he's going to be,” Hinch said. “There is much less spotlight to do it at Triple A than it is to continue to do this in the big leagues."
Torkelson, 22, and the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, was named the Tigers’ Opening Day starting first baseman, despite missing his final year at Arizona State and his first year of pro ball because of the pandemic and playing just one full season in the minor leagues.
“I’ve tried to protect him emotionally and with his day-to-day at-bats,” Hinch said. “But with young players, it’s one step forward, one step back; then two steps forward and one step back, then you look up and that’s progress. That’s how I feel Tork’s first year has gone.
“He’s shown signs, but the overriding view is that his struggles have outweighed the spurts of hard-hit outs and ground ball hits. There are some clear things he needs to work on at this level to repeat his swing, repeat his mechanics and get the feel back, get the athleticism back.”
Especially recently, Torkelson has seemed almost stiff in the box. He hasn’t shown the ability to adjust to pitches that aren’t necessarily in his swing path. He’s hitting just .210 against fastballs. He’s swinging and missing 34.7% of the time on breaking balls. He’s hitting .069 on off-speed pitches.
Most troubling, he’s hitting just .147 on balls located in the center of the plate.
“We’re looking at his swing from the front, the back and the side and everybody is in his ear,” Hinch said. “He might actually need less information. That might do him a better service than to continually feed him which box he’s not hitting, what pitches he needs to be hitting what his hard-hit rate is.
“Just go out and beat the pitcher. Just go out and compete against the pitcher. Don’t just keep trying to repeat a groove swing that’s not producing results.”
Recently, Hinch has been cutting Torkelson’s playing time. That was a clue that this move was coming.
“If I was going to take him out (of the lineup) and not play him every day then it’s counterproductive to what he needs,” Hinch said. “Which is more pitches seen and more pitches hit in Triple-A. He handled it like he’s handled everything so far, with confidence, understanding and appreciation for the direct communication.”
The length of Torkelson’s stay in Triple A will be determined by how quickly he can get himself back on track.
“I told Tork it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks, it could be a month,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get him back to feeling good. The quality of at-bat is his calling card. It’s not going to be a one-sum thing. We don’t need to see homers. We don’t need to see a certain batting average or slugging percentage. We need to see it all.
“I think we need less people in his ear, less iPad. Just clear his head and get back to seeing the ball and hitting the ball. Have a plan, execute the plan and the success will follow. He’s too good a hitter for us to continue to let him grind at this level.”
Hinch indicated there will be a few moves made over the break.
As for who plays first base, Hinch said he wanted to keep Jonathan Schoop at second base. That means Harold Castro and possibly Jeimer Candelario will get more reps at first base.
There is a chance, too, that the Tigers recall Kody Clemens from Toledo. That is not official, but it seems logical. The Tigers don’t have many other options on the 40-man to fill the void at first base.
Relief pitcher Will Vest, Hinch said, will not be with the team in Oakland to start the second half. He is going on paternity leave.
Also, it is expected that Jose Cisnero, who is on the bereavement list, will be activated for the doubleheader in Oakland.