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Detroit Tigers: The Spencer Torkelson conundrum

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 18: Spencer Torkelson #20 of the Detroit Tigers during an at-bat against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park on June 18, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers are wearing uniform from the Negro League Detroit Stars. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - JUNE 18: Spencer Torkelson #20 of the Detroit Tigers during an at-bat against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park on June 18, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers are wearing uniform from the Negro League Detroit Stars. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /
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What should the Detroit Tigers do with their struggling first baseman?

When the Detroit Tigers selected Spencer Torkelson first overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, many saw it as a home run pick, both literally and figuratively. Some scouts penned him as a generational hitting talent.

Fans were clamoring for him to make the Opening Day roster before the 2022 season began, and they got their wish. He had some early-season struggles, but there some signs of the hitter everyone thought the Detroit Tigers were getting, such as his two-run blast late in a game against the Kansas City Royals back on April 15.

But moments like that have been few and far between. He just hit his first homer since May 18 yesterday, and is one of the worst qualified hitters in all of baseball.

Tork is slashing .194/.285/.302 with a .586 OPS—seventh worst in baseball. He’s got just five home runs and has a bWAR of -1.2. He looks completely lost at the plate.

He still walks at a decent clip (10.3% walk rate), but he doesn’t crush any mistake pitches. Just watch any of his at-bats. If he gets a meatball he’ll either swing right through it or foul it off. There’s being a patient hitter, and then there’s being too patient.

Most people have seen the Baseball Savant graphic that shows he’s hitting .091 against pitches down the middle this season. It’s a very odd stat, really. I’m not sure I’ve seen a young hitter struggle against meatballs this much.

Naturally, it’s led some people to believe that he needs a stint down in Triple-A. Sadly, it’s not that simple.

First of all, Torkelson’s defense has been outstanding. A lot of players, especially young ones like him, will carry over their struggles at the plate over into the field. But Tork has not done that, having only one error so far this season. He’s shown great range and he’s quick on his feet. It’s no wonder why the organization originally wanted to stick him at the hot corner.

Next, the Detroit Tigers don’t have anybody in the organization who can replace him. Sure, they could simply move Jonanthan Schoop back to first base, but his defense has been elite at second, so there’s no reason to mess with that. Harold Castro and Kody Clemens are also options, but they are both best used as bench guys who don’t play everyday.

There are no real options in the minors either. Josh Lester is a soon-to-be 28-year-old minor league journeyman who’s hitting .214 in Toledo. Quincy Nieporte is another 27-going on-28-year-old journeyman who has a .910 OPS in Double-A this season, but to call him up to the big leagues would be asinine.

Then there’s the fact that the Detroit Tigers are not competitive. If they were in contention for a playoff spot, then maybe they could send him down and see if he can work things out in Toledo. But since that isn’t happening this season, it’s best for him to work things out in the majors.

Spencer Torkelson obviously has the talent and the work ethic to be an impact major leaguer. He wouldn’t have went No. 1 overall if he didn’t. But it’s clear that adjustments need to be made. He has a track record of struggling at every level he’s been at in the pros before figuring things out. We’re still waiting for him to figure it out in the big leagues. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer.

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