For the second time in three years, the Detroit Tigers were the club in question as they inked TSpencer Torkelson to a record-setting signing bonus to welcome him to Detroit. The key is in the ignition…will Torkelson debut as a Tiger in 2020?
The Spencer Torkelson news was suspected for days but it’s still buzz-worthy when the first overall pick in the draft signs a deal with the hometown nine anywhere in MLB.
The Detroit Tigers prospect list is starting to get more packed with players worthy of comparison to the muscle car heritage of The Motor City. The premium talent is building much like a collector of muscle cars with their perfectly polished showroom of Chevelles, Chargers, and GTOs. Now the questions become when the Tigers put the keys in the ignition and fire them up.
Torkelson emerged as the odds on favorite to be selected pretty early on the process and the rocky days of the COVID Shutdown of the NCAA and the MLB seasons didn’t really change much. Yes…some folks wanted to push a dalliance with southpaw arm Asa Lacy or a theory on Vandy SS Austin Martin but only a tectonic shift was taking the Tigers out of the Torkelson camp.
On Tuesday, Torkelson signed a record-setting $8.4M bonus to become a Tiger. The slugging infielder from Arizona State immediately becomes Detroit’s most anticipated offensive prospect since the thunderous welcome for a teenage Cameron Maybin once upon a time.
You may have heard the 2020 season “will be like something we’ve never seen”. This is a rather obvious bet. A harder bet to make it on the timeline of a Torkelson debut. How aggressive should any club be in a season with not even a true promise of seeing its completion? The relatively easy bet is actually on the field, where it is likely to value Torkelson can give, even over roughly 45 games, over the holdovers Jeimer Candelario and Dawel Lugo. The question is more about whether the 60 game season through the COVID minefield is worth the effort.
Detroit, as most agree, doesn’t really harbor legitimate contention thoughts this year without a serious run of good fortune and serious shakeup on the field. It’s not a fearsome roster that is typical of teams who just selected 1-1 in the draft. However, some previously mediocre clubs will likely win ~36 games and have a shot. How can Detroit get there? A massive injection of youthful talent of premium quality, and a stirring comeback from Miguel Cabrera and Michael Fulmer, might be one way to catch lightning in a bottle for three months.
Detroit has a stable of young pitchers to combine with Torkelson to really add some sizzle and spice to any roster. Hey…everybody loves to root for a hot prospect over yesterday’s returning prospect who is hitting .191 or sporting a 5+ ERA in parts of three years. Even if the kids are unsuccessful they won’t be dull.
As far as service time toward free agency, in a 60 game season, or a 30 game season if things go off the rails from a health perspective shutting down baseball, the Tigers should be fine with keeping Torkelson on the taxi squad for about seven to ten games to keep him from qualifying for a full year of service time. This would give them the crucial “7th year” with their hopeful middle of the order stick.
lt just seems, assuming good health, if you’re going let Torkelson see the majors in this crazy year, you have to be willing to commit the other premium engines in the garage to the fight with Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal as well. Given pitcher’s attrition rates there may be even more urgency to start those particular engines now. Perhaps even last year’s 5th overall pick Riley Greene gets a 25-game look if he’s perceived to be on the fast track.
Detroit is very likely to choose the conservative path and play out this season with retreads. It can easily be argued it’s also the smartest path. Which is keeping these powerful motors on the showroom floor during these tumultuous times and waiting on hopefully far more open road to unleash their fury in time.
However, every Tigers fan somewhere in their mind can envision Torkelson at third-base as a ‘69 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet versus Lugo as a ‘73 Pinto and long to see Detroit take the bigger engine out on the road this summer “just to see what it can do.”