Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects: No. 2 Spencer Torkelson

Spencer Torkelson bats in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees in a spring training game. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Spencer Torkelson bats in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees in a spring training game. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Our list of the top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects winds down with a look at one of the very best prospects in all of baseball, Spencer Torkelson.

For the past month we’ve been offering detailed looks at players in our top 20 prospects. We recently moved into the top five, with pieces on Ty Madden, Jackson Jobe, and Dillon Dingler, but today we focus on perhaps the biggest name in the system.

Spencer Torkelson Background

Spencer Torkelson was a standout athlete at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, California, a city roughly 30 miles north of San Francisco that hosts the annual World’s Ugliest Dog Contest. Torkelson’s uncle Joe Enochs is a former professional soccer player, and Spencer was a star baseball and football player who even took up basketball as a senior. But he wasn’t necessarily considered a big-time pro prospect, so he committed to play baseball at Arizona State, and he wasn’t picked in the 2017 MLB Draft.

Torkelson quickly proved that to be a mistake, producing a .320/.440/.743 line as a freshman in Tempe, and shattering numerous records in the process. He hit 25 home runs that year, more than doubling Barry Bonds’ record for a Sun Devils freshman, and was a unanimous All American. That summer he split time between the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League, where he hit seven more home runs in 25 games, and the Collegiate National Team, where he was joined by future organization mates Daniel Cabrera, Zack Hess, and Bryant Packard.

Spencer Torkelson essentially repeated his success as a sophomore, batting .351/.446/.707 with 23 home runs, and once again splitting time that summer between Chatham and the Collegiate National Team. He entered his junior season as one of the favorites to go first overall in the 2020 draft, and he did nothing to dispel that projection, batting .340 with six home runs and an absurd 31 walks through 17 games.

But then COVID-19 scuttled the college baseball season, leaving Torkelson three home runs shy of breaking Bob Horner’s school record. The Detroit Tigers had seen enough, though, and gave Spencer Torkelson a record $8.4-million bonus as the first overall pick. The minor-league season had also been canceled, but Tigers fans did get a brief glimpse of Tork at summer camp.

Spencer Torkelson saw plenty of action during spring training in 2021, but the results were…not great, and he seemed to carry those struggles over to begin his minor-league season. He struck out nine times in his first three games, and through 14 games with the High-A West Michigan Whitecaps he was batting just .180 with two doubles and no home runs.

But then Torkelson figured things out, and it wasn’t long before he began torturing minor-league pitchers. He was promoted to Double-A Erie by the middle of June, earned a promotion to Triple-A Toledo in mid-August, and finished the year as one of the few Detroit Tigers farmhands to ever hit 30 home runs in one season. Detroit then sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he reached base in 17 of 28 plate appearances before going down with an ankle injury.

Spencer Torkelson Strengths

Spencer Torkelson stands out most for his impressive game power and terrific plate discipline. His swing is visually appealing, and it’s capable of producing tape-measure shots to all fields. And he gets to almost all of his power thanks to an excellent eye at the plate. Torkelson rarely swings at pitches outside of the strike zone, and he’s more than happy to take walks if pitchers don’t give him something he can drive. He’s a solid athlete who displayed pretty good hands at both third base and first base.

Spencer Torkelson Weaknesses

Criticisms of Spencer Torkelson’s offensive ability generally amount to nitpicks. He proved to be a bit streaky in his pro debut, and his patience bordered on passivity at times. Early in the season he seemed to pass on hittable pitches on the outer third of the plate, but by the end of the year he was gamely driving the ball to the opposite field when the situation called for it.

Torkelson did damage against everyone last year, but while he demolished left-handed pitching, he was a little susceptible to swinging through right-handed breaking balls. The only real warts in Torkelson’s game are his below-average speed and arm strength, but those should rarely come into play.

Our Take on Spencer Torkelson

Spencer Torkelson is one of the best prospects in baseball, and he’s is almost certainly going to be a consistent middle-of-the-order masher for the Detroit Tigers very soon. We remain a bit skeptical of his ability to post high batting averages at the MLB level, but we also think he’ll get on base plenty and hit for more than enough power to be a potential All-Star.

The status of the 2022 MLB season is still unclear, so for now we project Torkelson to return to Triple-A Toledo for at least a few weeks. It shouldn’t take him long to hit his way to Detroit, though, and once he arrives we don’t expect him to return to the minors.

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