One thing you notice quickly if you watch the Detroit Tigers regularly is that they lack dangerous bats in their lineup. Bravo to Miguel Cabrera on his 500th career homer, which places him among the great sluggers in team history, but the Detroit offense ranks ninth in the American League and 12th in slugging.
But help is on the way in the youthful forms of top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. The pair were promoted to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens earlier this month following outstanding performances with the bat as teammates at Double-A Erie. Also earning a promotion to the Mud Hens was Ryan Kreidler, who is being transitioned to shortstop from third.
What can Detroit fans expect from Torkelson, Greene, and Kreidler? When might they see this trio wearing the Old English D?
Spencer Torkelson: Future Cleanup Man
It’s only been about 15 months since the Tigers made Torkelson the #1 overall selection in the MLB Draft, after a legendary career at Arizona State University. He knows how to wield the lumber: Torke hit .337 with 54 homers and 130 RBIs in 129 collegiate games. He has a presence about him that scares the heck out of opposing pitchers.
Torkelson is a “slash” defensive player, as in 1B/DH/OF. He will likely end up playing first base in Detroit, and for a long time. He might also DH quite a bit. His job as a professional baseball player is to pound baseballs with a Louisville Slugger.
Of the three players listed here, Torkelson has the best shot at being in Detroit next spring when the season starts. The 6-1, 220-pound right-handed slugger will be 22 on Opening Day in 2022, and a season learning in the same clubhouse as Miguel Cabrera makes sense. There’s still a chance that the team may hold Torkelson back and start his year in Toledo, to further marinate his skills and also slow the clock on his MLB service time.
Riley Green: The Tigers Next Center Fielder
With plays like this in center field, it’s easy to see why some people in the Detroit organization are thrilled at the idea of Greene roaming the huge outfield at Comerica Park. But Greene has open a lot of eyes with his power surge and rapid advancement as a professional hitter in 2021 after missing the entire ’20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Greene already has a home run (and a triple) in his short week in Toledo, giving the left-handed batter 17 HR for the season. When he was drafted fifth overall in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft, Detroit talent evaluators projected him as a high average, possible 25+ stolen base guy with a good glove. But he’s shown better-than-expected power and is improving his plate discipline.
It’s important to remind ourselves that Greene, who has become best friends with Torkelson, is still only 20 years old. He will have his share of missteps as he matriculates toward Detroit. It’s likely he won’t start the 2022 season in a Tiger uniform, but who knows? If he continues to progress offensively, and with his glove already MLB quality in center, the team could bring him up to learn on the job at the highest level. They basically did that with JaCoby Jones, who was far less talented than Greene.
Ryan Kreidler: Infielder Extraordinaire
Like Greene, Kreidler is still learning the professional game, after a brief pro career and return to UCLA for college eligibility. The Tigers snagged him in the fourth round in 2019. This is his first long season of pro ball, and Kreidler earned the jump to Toledo with steady play at Erie. He has 17 homers this season, two already in his brief tenure with Toledo.
The oldest of these three future Tigers, Greene is a tall infielder at 6-4, 208 pounds. He was a third baseman in college and early in his pro career, but the Tigers are trying him at shortstop. He made this flashy play as a Mud Hen last week, showing off his reflexes and range. The Tigers are rumored to want to sign a shortstop in free agency this winter, but Kreidler could be a useful infielder who could play second, short, and third.’
How Would Young Players Impact Tigers Odds in 2022?
There isn’t much precedent for a team jumping from losing season to the post-season on the backs of mostly young players. The ’22 Tigers will have still-young arms in their rotation (Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning), and Akil Baddoo and Eric Haase would be among the position players, both in just their second seasons.
Add Torkelson, Greene, and Kreidler to the mix, and the Detroit lineup would have a very youthful flavor. That spells INCONSISTENCY, which leads to a middling record at best.
Should the Tiger front office actually choose to give their young prospects a chance to play in 2022, there will be growing pains, but by mid-season we’d see improvement. Still, the odds for a playoff appearance in 2022 are like Kid Rock’s hair: long