Detroit Tigers fans may get the top two prospects in West Michigan.
When the 2019 West Michigan Whitecaps season ended, fans got to enjoy the final month of the season watching Detroit Tigers’ top prospect Riley Greene patrol the spacious outfield of Fifth Third Ballpark. While the 19-year-old impressed defensively, the prevailing thought was that his bat needed a little more experience against Class-A pitching, and a likely return to the west side of the state was in the cards to open the 2020 season.
Of course, that season never happened – wiped away by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of all Minor League Baseball in 2020 going with it. Alas, a makeover to Minor League Baseball is happening right as you read these words. A shift in the Tigers farm team structure has incentivized getting out of the club’s Spring Training home in Lakeland and beginning a ‘Road-to-Detroit,’ (see what I did there?) with Florida and through West Michigan, Erie, and Toledo before making the big leagues. Consider it a much-needed consolidation of the minor-league ladder.
Within the shuffle is West Michigan’s move to High-A. Even though it feels like getting promoted from “Assistant *to the* Regional Manager” to “Assistant Regional Manager,” you’ll understand how significant it is in the years ahead – and possibly as early as 2021.
In Greene’s case, we saw how talented he was during 2020 Spring Training. Even Tigers Chairman and CEO Chris Ilitch heard enough positive buzz about him to want to see him play down in Florida. Greene hit over .400 in seven games with a pair of home runs and six walks to just two strikeouts. He looked tremendous, but we shouldn’t forget he’s still only 20 years old, and Spring Training stats are known to be misleading. The absolute last thing the Tigers want to do with Greene is to look back and think they rushed him up the ladder, especially when you realize he hit just .219 during his 24-game West Michigan cameo in 2019. I’m 100-percent sure that Greene has improved himself leaps and bounds since that time, but Greene proving that he could handle Class-A pitching is perhaps the most important box he needs to check before heading to the prospect-rich level of Double-A.
Torkelson would’ve likely begun his professional career in Lakeland like fellow draft gems such as Casey Mize, Rick Porcello, Andrew Miller, and Justin Verlander. Still, without a minor league season in 2020, we missed seeing what the former top overall pick was capable of right out of the chute. Would the Tigers be willing to take a player who’s never taken a professional at-bat and immediately send him to face the best talent that Minor League Baseball has to offer in Double-A? The last thing you want is to start either one of these two at a level too high and then feel like you can’t send them down if they struggle. The obvious solution is to let both begin the 2021 season in the new High-A digs of West Michigan.
Beginning both Greene and Torkelson makes sense on multiple fronts. Greene has familiarity with West Michigan, having already played there at the end of 2019, and would pick up where he left off as a fan favorite. Moreover, this would give Tigers fans, who have pined for the team to invest high draft capital on position prospects, the chance to have arguably the teams’ top two position prospects within reasonable driving distance in Grand Rapids.
Most importantly, it feels imperative that these two spend as much time around one another as possible. The chemistry between Greene and Torkelson could potentially be something that not only accelerates the Tigers return to prominence but could add to it as more players inevitably join them by signing as free agents.
Now, before you assume that “he only wrote this because he’s West Michigan’s radio guy,” know that the obvious goal is that both Greene and Torkelson realize their potential, and these two players are vital to the success of the rebuild. The Tigers can’t afford to miss on either of them and even allowing them to spend the first month of their 2021 seasons readjusting to baseball after nearly two years since the minor leagues have played a game. Ideally, you’d love to see both show they can dominate against High-A competition for around one month before they head to Erie for their audition against the games’ best and brightest.
Where do you think the Tigers top prospects will begin next season? How many will break camp and head to Detroit? Leave a comment below and find Dan on Twitter at @ThatDanHasty!