In 2016, Torkelson graduated from Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, California. For his four-year high school career, he hit .430 with 136 hits in 110 varsity games, adding 11 home runs, 99 RBIs and 32 doubles. He also played football.
He earned a spot at USA Baseball’s 15U national team trials after his freshman year and first-team all-state honors as a senior.
In 2017, Torkelson ranked No. 436 on the BA 500 pre-draft ranking when he was a high schooler in Petaluma, Calif. After going undrafted, Torkelson tapped into immense power at Arizona State.
Spencer accepted a baseball scholarship to Arizona State.
“During the fall of his freshman year, I saw his work ethic, in terms of understanding his craft,” Arizona State coach Tracy Smith said. “He would put in the time on the practice field, and just the time that he would spend with our hitting coach Mike Earley, just talking about hitting.
"I think it was one of those things that made me see that this guy is a little different.
"Spencer is a kid who wants to please. He's very proud and he has a lot of pride in his game, but he also wants to do well by the Detroit Tigers."
Spencer Torkelson was only seven years old when Barry Bonds became MLB’s all-time leader in home runs with a blast into the right-center field bleachers at the Giants’ AT&T Park.
Torkelson, who grew up wearing his favorite Giants gear in Petaluma, Calif., vividly remembers the moment. More than anything for him, it was the aura of dominance surrounding Bonds with every game he watched.
“I think my biggest memory was just going to Giants games and the buzz with everyone was about Barry and he was going to hit a home run,” Torkelson said. “It's just what you expected him to do every game. It was all the hype around Barry. I specifically remember going to games and going, 'Oh yeah, Barry's gonna hit one into McCovey Cove today.’”
Now, nearly 11 years later, Torkelson, a first baseman and corner outfielder, smashing Bonds’ home run record of 11 as a freshman. Spencer hit 25 dingers, at just 18 years old, for the new record.
And as a sophomore, Spencer hit .348/.447/.687 with 21 home runs, in 2019.
Hitting home runs at a record-breaking pace is nothing new for Torkelson. Going back to his Little League days, this is the norm. As a 12-year-old, he hit a ridiculous 36 home runs, but it was his friends who were in the spotlight. While Torkelson dominated his Petaluma Valley competition it was the Petaluma National all-star team who made it to the Little League World Series, finishing third overall. (Dalton Johnson - Baseball America - 5/01/2018)
In the summer of 2018, Spencer played for Chatham of the Cape Cod League. He hit .333/.472/.704 with seven home runs in 25 regular season games with the Anglers. And he added three more homers in six playoff games.
“I’ve always had a goal to play Major League Baseball,” Torkelson said. “That’s my dream. It’s starting to turn less into a dream.
“Having that success, I told myself, ‘I’ve got this. I can do it.’”
2020 Season: For only a few weeks, before coronavirus ripped apart college baseball, we saw an even more polished and destructive Torkelson: .340 average, .780 slugging, and a preposterous .598 on-base average, all because pitchers were so frightened of a 20-year-old, right-handed hitter they walked him 31 times in 17 games.
Spencer belted 54 home runs in 129 games at Arizona State. His 2020 post-script: six more homers and four doubles in 50 official at-bats.
“He's a special player. He just is,” Detroit's new director of pitching personnel, Dan Hubbs, said. “And it's hard to believe that he and [former Cal first baseman and White Sox first-round pick Andrew] Vaughn both hit like one homer each in high school, and then they hit a stupid amount in college. But they're similar types of players. They can do damage to any part of the park. Very rarely as a coach do you see a foul ball to the opposite side, off to the first-base side, and go, 'Man, that ball went a long way.' The ball coming off the bat, it's pretty special. And those two are two of the best hitters I've seen in 20 years in college.”
“I've seen him hit the ball a really, really long way. And the thing that impressed me about Spencer is he hit homers in the Cape Cod League, he hit homers with Team USA, and he hit homers in college. So it's not just the aluminum bat.” (Beck - mlb.com - 5/26/2020)
Spencer is one of the humblest players you will find. He is just a good guy to be around.
Torkelson’s makeup also earns high marks. He is always the first player to sign up to visit a children’s hospital and always makes time for fans. He’s comfortable in the spotlight but doesn’t revel in it.
His mother Lori bought a batting cage for their backyard so that he can continue to hit. He has some weights at home as well, allowing him to continue working out during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Spencer enjoys playing Call of Duty with his friends.
NUMBER ONE PICK IN THE DRAFT
June 2020: Spencer was the Tigers #1 pick in the draft (and #1 overall), out of Arizona State Univ.
Torkelson’s deal includes a record $8,416,300 signing bonus, according to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, $1,000 over the slot value for the pick. He becomes the first No. 1 overall pick in the bonus-pool era (since 2012) to sign for more than slot value. He was signed by scout Joey Lothrop.
All six Tigers picks from the 2020 Draft signed at or above slot value. Detroit will pay a 75-percent tax on the total overage, but by staying within five percent of its total bonus money, the club will avoid losing future Draft picks.
While Torkelson won’t be in the mix for the Major League roster barring something stunning, having him in the player pool will allow him to spend the season working out with other inactive players at the Tigers’ alternate training site at Toledo’s Fifth Third Field. That’s crucial time as Detroit works on getting him acclimated to third base following three seasons as Arizona State’s first baseman. (J Beck - MLB.com - June 30, 2020)
“Spencer is exactly the type of player we hoped would be there for us with the top pick in this year’s Draft,” Tigers amateur scouting director Scott Pleis said in a statement after the pick. “He’s one of the most polished hitters we’ve seen in the Draft for quite some time, showing plus-plus power and excellent plate discipline. We’ve been tracking Spencer’s growth and performance since his breakout freshman season at Arizona State, and are excited to see him grow in the coming years.”
The pick was not a surprise, but that didn’t dull the reaction Torkelson had as he watched the announcement at home in California with his family.
“They didn't call me before the pick,” Torkelson said, “and that scared the living crap out of me. I've heard so much the last 24 hours about how great Detroit is. I haven't heard one bad thing, so that's obviously good. I know Detroit’s got a lot of diehard Tiger fans and Red Wings and Lions. It’s a great time in Detroit, and it's exciting to join the ride.”
The Tigers considered Torkelson the front-runner since Detroit landed the top slot last fall, and they scouted him heavily during Arizona State’s brief non-conference schedule before the coronavirus pandemic brought baseball to a halt. Special assistant Alan Trammell was among the team officials who had a look at Torkelson and was impressed. The only surprise might have been the position at which he was announced. Though Torkelson played his entire collegiate career at first base, the Tigers announced him as a third baseman, a position Torkelson played in high school. Torkelson said he has worked at third base in fall ball the past couple of years.
Not only does Torkelson boast home run power, he boasts the kind of power to all fields to make spacious Comerica Park look normal, something many right-handed hitters struggle to do. “This dude is a generational type player,” Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith told MLB Network Radio. Nothing Torkelson did this spring dampened that view.
He hit .340 with six home runs, 11 RBI and 31 walks in 17 games. He hit a ball an estimated 428 feet off the batting eye beyond straightaway center field against Boston College in February 2020. And he homered an estimated 426 feet onto a street beyond left-center field at Cal State-Fullerton in March.
“After completing a comprehensive and truly unique pre-draft evaluation of the top players, our decision to select Spencer was a clear one,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a release. “We’re excited to have him join our player development system and know that his outstanding performance in the batter’s box, in the field and in the clubhouse will be assets to our organization for years to come.”
As soon as the 2017 Draft ended, undrafted Torkelson said, he went with his uncle to a nearby hitting facility to hit balls as hard as he could. He told himself he was going to be a first-round pick out of Arizona State.
“It's so hard to put words to the feeling of where I was and where I am now,” Torkelson said. “I have to thank everyone around me who had my back and believed in me. I think getting undrafted out of high school was the best thing that could've happened to me. It made me work so much harder. It put everything in perspective for me.”
The Tigers had heard about Torkelson coming out of high school, Pleis said. Still, Torkelson didn’t catch scouts’ eyes until his first season at Arizona State, where his 25 home runs obliterated Barry Bonds’ school record for freshmen and fell two shy of the school mark for any player.
“Truth be told, we didn’t really see that type of power,” Smith said. “What we loved was certainly the athleticism. He’s a tough kid. He’s a really, really good kid, but he brings that competitiveness on the field. That power, though, kind of developed. It kind of clicked for him towards the tail end of fall and then he came out like gangbusters to start his freshman season and never looked back.”
- Torkelson followed it up as a sophomore with 23 homers, fifth-most in the nation and most in the Pac-12. He became the first player to lead the conference in home runs in back-to-back seasons since Oregon State outfielder and current Mets star Michael Conforto, and just the third Pac-12 player ever with back-to-back 20-homer seasons.
“I keep going back to the athleticism,” Trammell said. “We wanted to watch him take ground balls, which we did. And his arm strength, throwing across the diamond, it's just not normal, it's better than average arm strength [along with] his footwork. This is not a normal guy, and that's why we feel we can try him over at third. He is a strong young man and he's athletic and he has a good strong arm. When you add all that together, we've got a special guy, no question about it.” (Beck - mlb.com - 6/10/2020)
A BIT OF MAUER IN TORKELSON
July 5, 2020: Credit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire for his words of wisdom for Spencer Torkelson to try to loosen up the top overall Draft pick on his first pro workout at Comerica Park.
“I was trying to get a loan,” Gardenhire deadpanned, “see what he had.”
OK, that wasn’t really what Gardenhire told him.
“No, I just talked about being calm,” Gardenhire continued. “There’s a reason he’s here: because he’s a really good player. I don’t want him going out and trying to prove this or prove that. Just go out and have fun and play. And he did that pretty good. He handled himself pretty well. I just wanted to reassure him. We’re happy to have him, excited to have him. Just take it easy, relax and enjoy the game of baseball like you have.”
It’s not the first time Gardenhire has had encouraging words for a top overall pick on his way up. And in some ways, Gardenhire’s experiences with Joe Mauer two decades ago might still be relevant today.
Like Torkelson, Mauer was a highly touted player regarded as a potentially generational hitter. Unlike Torkelson, Mauer had the added pressure of being a hometown hero when the Twins drafted him in 2001, and a two-sport athlete who was recruited to play quarterback at Florida State.
Gardenhire was in his third season as Twins manager when Mauer made his Major League debut on Opening Day in 2004. Their player-manager relationship continued for a decade. When Mauer retired after the 2018 season, Gardenhire made the trip to Minneapolis to attend his announcement.
“Joe, as we all know, was a really talented kid, multi-sport star athlete,” Gardenhire said. “I mean, he could do anything he wanted. He could’ve played college football, and who knows where he [would’ve] went from there. He was a great quarterback and basketball player. He was one of those local kids who just had it all, and he handled it very, very well; very easygoing kid.
“And in talking with Tork, it seems like he’s already been through a little bit of the gamut. It’s a lot bigger thing now than it was back then, a lot more media, the whole package. Tork’s probably going to have a little bit more of that than Joe did, but I think from what I’ve seen—and I’ve only talked to him one time out on the field so far—he seems like he’s been there and done it, I’ll just tell you that. And Joe was the same way. Joe made time for everybody and was a class act, the whole package. And I think we got Tork in about the same situation.” (J Beck - MLB.com - July 5, 2020)
Oct 19, 2020: Torkelson’s first home run in a competitive pro game showed the big-time pull power that made the former Arizona State slugger the top pick in the MLB Draft this past summer. Despite a two-strike approach, he not only connected with a 2-2 fastball, but he sent it to the left-field berm at Joker Marchant Stadium.
“My two-strike approach is always sitting on a heater away,” Torkelson said. “If you sit on a heater away and try to hit it over the second baseman’s head, your eyes will see that off-speed pitch, and then that inside fastball is just a reaction. I reacted and obviously got it, and it went out.
“It also helps to have Riley on first base because he has some speed. And you’ve got to think that the pitcher doesn’t want to spike a curveball because he could be stealing. That’s just a free bag for Riley, so it kind of gives you more confidence that he’s going to throw the heater.”
It’s a sign of the times that almost right after the game, Torkelson knew the metrics of the moonshot.
“Wind was howling a little bit, so I wasn’t positive it was going,” Torkelson said. “I believe it was a 39-degree launch angle, like 104 mph off the bat. So it wasn’t a no-doubter, but I thought I got it.”
Torkelson got one at-bat before a typical Florida downpour washed out the rest of his day, but it was enough of a preview of Torkelson and Greene as a run-production duo to give Tigers fans hope for the future. It’s also a combination on which Detroit’s rebuilding effort hinges.
While this summer’s arrival of Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal started the influx of the Tigers’ top pitching prospects, Detroit’s top hitting prospects are a little further away. Torkelson and Greene were part of the 60-man player pool this summer simply to give them reps and instruction amidst a lost Minor League season, but neither had a chance to make it to the big leagues this year.
PALS WITH GREENE
Though Riley Greene was drafted out of high school in 2019, there’s just a year of age difference between him and Torkelson. Greene just turned 20 soon after Torkelson turned 21 in August. The two have formed a fast friendship.
“Tork as a person is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life,” Greene said. “I mean, he’s really good. He works really hard. We’re staying at the hotel, so we literally drive to the park together every single day.”
In fact, they’re practically neighbors.
“I could knock on the wall right here and say hi to him, because that’s where his hotel room is,” Torkelson said. “He’s a great dude, and he gives me a ride to the field every day. We get some Starbucks or something before, and we go eat dinner all the time. It’s a really good friendship we’ve got going.”
While Greene raved about the work he put in on his swing in Toledo this summer, Torkelson began his transition from first to third base with help from Hall of Famer Alan Trammell. It remains a work in progress, but he feels his comfort level improving.
“I played three years in college at first, so I was a 10 out of 10 there,” Torkelson said. “And at third base, I’m probably 8 out of 10 right now, but I’m working hard to be a 10 out of 10.”
Between Torkelson’s advanced hitting abilities and the immense progress Greene showed this summer, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them at the same level as each other in the Tigers' system next year. In that sense, instructional league is a sneak preview. It’s also their first chance to face players in a different uniform, rather than teammates.
“Way better than facing your own guys, I’ll tell you that,” Torkelson said. “I was getting sick of facing Tigers. I wanted to put the hurt on somebody else.” (J Beck - MLB.com - Oct 19, 2020)
In 2021, Baseball America listed Torkelson as the Tigers' #1 prospect. He was at #2, behind only Riley Greene early in 2022.
Torkelson draws frequent comparisons with Paul Konerko as a potential All-Star and face of the franchise.
Jan 29, 2021: Spencer's first offseason as a pro athlete has had some of the same issues everyone else has been dealing with in this pandemic.
“Honestly, it’s a little boring at times,” he said during a video conference with reporters. “I try to work out as much as possible. I work out in the morning, and then I go home, get a good lunch, and then I'm bored. So I'm like, ‘I'm gonna go work out again.’ And then it's 6 o'clock and I'm like, ‘Do I work out again? Like, what do I do?’ Because there's a lot of downtime.”
The first pick in last year’s MLB Draft, and the No. 3 prospect in the latest MLB Pipeline Top 100 list released this week, hasn’t played a competitive game since last March at Arizona State. The slugger has been either working out or playing camp games for nearly a year, from pre-draft workouts in California to Summer Camp in Detroit to the alternate training site in Toledo to Instructional League in Florida and back home to Arizona. He’s ready for games that count, even if they’re Spring Training contests ahead of a Minor League assignment when that season begins.
He’s set to return to Lakeland in about a week and work out there, having just booked a house to share with fellow Tigers prospects Jake Rogers and Riley Greene. He has received scouting reports on Class A West Michigan, where he’s expected to open his pro career.
“Riley Greene said it’s his favorite place to play,” Torkelson said of the Whitecaps. “He’s probably played in some pretty cool places. I’m looking forward to wherever I start, but West Michigan is not a bad option, I’ve heard.”
Barring insanity, Detroit will have to wait. But he’ll get a chance to make an impression in Spring Training, where the Tigers will have a chance to gauge his progress at third base.
While much of his work is at a local gym, he has had access to the facilities at Arizona State. Sometimes his good friend, ASU pitcher Dom Cacchione, has been hitting him ground balls. Other times, he gets a pitching machine, puts it on the ground and sets it to curveballs to fire him grounders with topspin.
All the while, he keeps Alan Trammell’s instruction in mind.
“Tram’s advice is simple, but it goes a long way,” Torkelson said. “His first rule is to catch the baseball, and his second rule is to make an accurate throw. So with that in the back of my mind, it makes training a little bit easier, but you definitely want to work on the footwork drills like taking a backhand and keeping your feet moving towards first base so you don’t lose arm strength on a fast runner, little things like that, that Tram has taught me.
“It’s unbelievable to have a guy of that stature be so selfless and give his time to people like me and other guys in the organization. He has no idea how much he’s actually doing with his time, so I really appreciate it.” (J Beck - MLB.com - Jan 29, 2021)
Spencer will begin his pro career in 2021 for High-A West Michigan. It’s his first step on the path to Detroit, and his first chance at the daily grind of a pro career.
However, this year, the West Michigan players are staying in hotels and apartments instead of with host families.
Despite the publicity, Torkelson arrives with humility. Part of it is his natural personality. When asked the first thing he bought after being drafted, a car, he mentions it almost sheepishly. He talks about success as a group, not as an individual.
“I think I’m most looking forward to playing with a team again with a common goal of winning,” Torkelson said. “That brings out the best in all of my teammates and everyone. That’s probably what I’m looking forward to most, besides having a full crowd cheering us on.”
The Whitecaps, like the Tigers, will open at 20 percent capacity under Michigan’s COVID-19 restrictions. That could expand, but whatever the capacity, Torkelson will likely be a draw when the Whitecaps open their home schedule on May 11. (Beck - mlb.com - 5/3/2021)
June 2021: Torkelson was chosen to represent the Tigers in the All-Star Futures Game.
Spencer is an integral part of the Tigers’ promising rebuild. But he will need to enjoy a 13-year career in order to become the longest-tenured professional athlete in the family.
Joe Enochs, Spencer’s uncle, was raised in California but achieved legendary status in one German city through more than a decade as a midfielder with the VfL Osnabrück soccer club.
Torkelson will need to wait to experience in Detroit what he glimpsed as a 6-year-old in Osnabrück. “I would be walking around, and people would be coming up to Joe and his family,” Torkelson recalled. “I’m like, ‘You’re just my family.’ I didn’t get the whole celebrity thing yet. It finally clicked when I was like 12: Uncle Joe’s kind of a big deal in Osnabrück.
“He worked his tail off to get to where he was … that definitely rubbed off on me. Seeing how hard he worked, and where he is right now, tells you it’s not going to be given to you. You have to go out and take it.”
Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2006. Rick and Lori Torkelson seized upon the opportunity to visit Joe (Lori’s brother) and allow their sons, Matthew and Spencer, to experience the global sports spectacle. At public viewing parties for World Cup games, Spencer saw residents approach his uncle to shake hands, snap photos and express thanks.
When Enochs retired several years later, the club named a section of seats in his honor. That's analogous to Kaline’s Corner at Comerica Park, Torkelson’s future baseball home.
“I think that definitely helped Spencer believe anything is possible,” Lori said. “Having an American become the star of a German soccer team, and then to have part of the stadium named after him, is pretty rare. Spencer saw trading cards with his uncle’s picture on them. We were going around this town of around 200,000 people, and people were coming up to him. I think that left a major impression on Spencer.”
Rick and Lori still laugh about another enduring memory from that trip: Spencer wore his baseball uniform. Every. Single. Day.
Surely, Tigers fans will love the image of a young Torkelson, strolling through a town founded in medieval times by Charlemagne, looking as if he’s ready to step into the batter’s box for his Petaluma (Calif.) Little League team. “I can only imagine the reactions now,” Torkelson said. “I don’t know what they were then. I didn’t care. I was a 6-year-old. I wanted to wear my baseball uniform. I can imagine people [asking], ‘What is baseball?’ Everyone loves soccer. You go anywhere, and they’ve got a soccer goal and a soccer ball, and they’re kicking the ball around. I enjoy soccer, too. But I wasn’t going to wear a soccer outfit. I was wearing my baseball uniform.” (Morosi - mlb.com - 7/1/2021)
Spencer's parents, Lori and Rick, are partners in the accounting firm they own, Torkelson & Associates CPAs, LLP, in Petaluma, CA. When their sons were young, evenings and weekends often were consumed by overlapping youth sports calendars, in part because Spencer was trying to keep up with his older brother. “Any time Matty did something,” Rick said, “Spenny wanted to do it, too.”
Spencer was a talented youth hockey player, often bounding out of bed at 5:00 a.m. for predawn ice time. He played four seasons of varsity football as a running back and linebacker at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, about 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Spencer also enjoyed soccer, Matthew’s favorite team sport.
“He would show up to our 10:00 a.m. baseball games after playing in a 6:00 a.m. hockey game,” said Joe Lampe, the Arizona State outfielder who played with Torkelson in youth baseball and high school. “He was a freak of nature that way, ever since we were young.”
But Rick and Lori could tell which sport had claimed Spencer’s heart. “He had so much passion for the game,” Lori recalled. “He wanted to play on as many travel ball teams as he could. I never had to wake him up for an early game. I never had to remind him to work out. He was completely self-motivated.”
Mike Enochs, Lori’s brother, remembers how Spencer carried a Whiffle ball bat everywhere he went as a toddler. Mike and Rick co-coached some of Spencer’s early Little League teams, and they still marvel at the local-record 36 home runs Spencer hit as a 12-year-old.
“He has the quickest hands of anybody I’ve ever coached,” Mike said.
Torkelson grew up in a family of Giants fans, about 40 miles north of Oracle Park. His older brother was named after former All-Star third baseman Matt Williams. Spencer was born Aug. 26, 1999, about one month before the Giants played their final game at Candlestick Park.
Barry Bonds was Spencer’s favorite player. In fact, Bonds’ stardom at Arizona State was part of the reason Torkelson wanted to play there. (When Torkelson and Bonds spoke over FaceTime in the 2020 offseason, Bonds advised his fellow Sun Devil not to worry about hitting for power. “I’ve never seen anyone hit .300 and get released,” Bonds told him.)
Spencer, then 13, was in attendance on Oct. 22, 2012, when the Giants clinched the NL pennant with a Game 7 victory over the Cardinals, which famously ended in a downpour. The Torkelsons didn’t leave the ballpark early. They never do. “Leaving the game early,” Spencer said, “is pretty much a sin.”
Of course, the Giants played the Tigers next. And they swept a one-sided World Series. And no, Torkelson doesn’t mention that October to Tigers fans or officials. “It’s probably still a little too soon,” he said. “I don’t bring it up. I’m the biggest Tigers fan in the world now, but in that 2012 World Series, I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t rooting for the Giants. Nowadays, I’m rooting for the Tigers, so I don’t think it matters too much.”
“The reason they won so many times was their team chemistry,” Torkelson said of the Giants. “You could feel it. I wasn’t in the clubhouse, obviously, but I could sense that was a tight-knit group. They were playing for each other. They were the definition of a winning baseball team, in my mind. It was really neat growing up, watching that, and getting that engraved in my brain.”
Torkelson arrived at Spring Training 2021, looking to impress the Tigers’ new manager and legions of eager fans. Instead, he struggled to a 1-for-27 showing in the Grapefruit League. (Jon Paul Morosi - mlb.com - 7/1/2021)
By age 12, Spencer was playing travel baseball with kids from across Petaluma. Many of them resided within the Petaluma National Little League boundaries. Spencer didn’t. His Petaluma Valley team defeated Petaluma National once in the district tournament, but his buddies from National prevailed in the double elimination format. (“We ran out of pitching,” Spencer lamented.) As Spencer watched from home, Petaluma National reached the 2012 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and finished as U.S. runners up.
“I was so jealous in the moment,” Torkelson said. “I was a 12-year-old kid, living and dying with Little League. But looking back, it was a really cool experience, being able to see them go to the Little League World Series.”
Two years later, Torkelson was invited to try out in Cary, N.C., for the U.S. National Team that would compete at the WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup in Mazatlán, Mexico. Torkelson believed he’d earned a spot . . . until he received a phone call that he had been the last cut. “I was pretty heartbroken,” Torkelson said. “As soon as I got the invite to those trials, I was dreaming about putting on the USA jersey.”
In 2017, Torkelson completed his decorated career at Casa Grande. (Even as a senior star, he moved to left field in order to make room for a young infielder. “The ultimate team guy,” said his coach there, Paul Maytorena.) Torkelson committed to Arizona State but was prepared to forgo his collegiate eligibility and turn professional. Instead, no team called his name for any of the 1,215 selections in that year’s MLB Draft.
The accumulation of those setbacks—Little League World Series, the U-15 World Cup, the Draft—changed Torkelson. He adopted a new mentality. As he described it: I’m sick of this. Let’s just work harder than everyone else and see what happens. And what did that mean, exactly?
“I’ve always prided myself on hard work, but in high school I didn’t really know what to do,” he said. “I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to the gym at 5:00 in the morning, just to work hard.’ I didn’t have a personal trainer or anything. I stayed busy and did what it took to feel like I was getting better. I was always very confident: I’m the best. I’m the best. I’m the best. Not getting drafted out of high school? I’m not the best. That drove me to be the best.” (Morosi - mlb.com - 7/1/2021)
Spencer was the best at ASU. Torkelson was named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2018 and 2019, only the second Sun Devil to do so twice. After the disappointment at U-15 tryouts, USA Baseball selected Torkelson for two collegiate national teams.
“I think if that needed to happen, looking back, I’m glad it did,” Torkelson said. “I’m going to stick to my approach, trust myself and go back to my basics that I know work at the highest level.”
Torkelson’s abiding love for baseball surely helped his return to form. And perhaps there was some of Uncle Joe’s influence in Spencer’s resolve, too.
“I learned a lot from him,” Torkelson said of Joe, who now manages FSV Zwickau in Germany’s third division. “He wasn’t the best player on any of his teams. He was just the hardest worker. He’d come back to the States every couple Christmases.
"When I got old enough to go to the gym with him, he’d say, ‘All right. Hop on the treadmill for 45 minutes. That’s a warmup.’ I’m like, ‘You’re 45 years old. What are you doing?’ Sure enough, he’d run for 45 or 60 minutes . . . just as a warmup. He had that different mind. It wore off on me, honestly. If you put in the work, you can get to where you want to be.” (Morosi - mlb.com - 7/1/2021)
Sept 7, 2021: If there was any question about Torkelson’s future position in Detroit as he settles in at first base at Triple-A Toledo down the stretch this season, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch seemed to take care of it. Asked about the versatility of his infielders and where Jonathan Schoop plays in the future, Hinch identified Torkelson as their first baseman of the future, with no caveat about third base.
“Jonathan is really going to fill in depending on what our needs are,” Hinch said. “I mean, there’s no secret that the first baseman of the future is going to be Spencer Torkelson. He’s in Triple-A, hitting a homer about every other day. But I don’t know when his arrival is going to be. The organization will be very smart about his development. But when he arrives that will create a little more opportunity for Schoop at maybe second, maybe third. We have other guys that are playing there right now, so that’ll create some roster dilemmas for us.”
That could create a competition between Schoop and Willi Castro at second base. The way Jeimer Candelario has been hitting down the stretch here, one double shy of 40 on the season, it’s difficult to see a competition at third. Regardless, Torkelson’s defensive position seems to be secure.
Torkelson had a near-even split of starts at the infield corners on his way up the Tigers system. At High-A West Michigan, he had 16 starts at third and 15 at first. Once he moved to Double-A Erie, he made 27 starts at third, 23 at first. With the Mud Hens, however, he has 18 starts at first and one at designated hitter, but none at third. (J Beck - MLB.com - Sept 7, 2021)
2021 Season: Torkelson popped 30 home runs in his pro debut, one that totaled 121 games and included a .267/.383/.552 batting line as well as 29 doubles, 77 walks and 114 strikeouts.
Feb 17, 2022: Tigers best prospect out of college - Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B (No. 1, MLB No. 4)
The mind marvels at where Torkelson’s Arizona State career totals could have ended up, if not for the shortened 2020 season. Instead, he slugged .729 over 129 games as a Sun Devil. He owned a 1.192 OPS over three campaigns and didn’t post a number below 1.100 in any of them individually. His 54 home runs were only two shy of Bob Horner’s school record, despite all the lost time and lack of a senior year. The right-handed slugger was an easy call as the 2020 No. 1 overall pick. (Mayo, Callis, Dykstra - MLB.com - Feb 17, 2022)
2022 Season: Final season stats: .203/.285/.319, 8 HR, 38 R, 28 RBI
Oof. It’s funny, when I wrote the dart throws article, putting Torkelson in here felt a bit like cheating because he was one of the most popular sleeper picks out there. And then, you know, this season happened.
Tork got 110 games in this year and also spent some time in Triple-A where things didn’t go much better; he posted a .229/.348/.389 line in 35 games.
I will say, while Torkelson’s overall season was not great, I’m pretty impressed by his plate discipline. Given the year he had, you’d expect he did the typical rookie thing of striking out all the time and swinging wildly, but Tork didn’t do that at all.
Instead, he posted a very solid 25.9% chase rate and was even fairly well-disciplined in two-strike counts, chasing pitches just 23.2% of the time in those situations. Plus, he posted a 9.2% walk rate, which is slightly above average, and while his strikeout rate at 24.5% isn’t great, it’s certainly not horrible.
So what on earth happened to Tork this year? I think a decent bit of it was bad luck, as his quality of contact stats, while not incredible, are far from bad. He had a 41.8% hard-hit rate with an 8.4% barrel rate—both of which are above average—I think he just had some bad luck out in the field. A .255 BABIP and a .278 BACON are both pretty below average and not what I’d expect from a guy making the quality of contact Tork was. I have a feeling he’ll probably be back on this list next year. (Ben Palmer - Oct. 15, 2022)
Spencer was just a high schooler when he signed his first autograph. He was playing in a Perfect Game showcase at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida.
“They sat us down,” Torkelson said, “and we had to sign like 1,000 signatures.”
Torkelson tried to sign his name in cursive like most people might. He quickly realized signing his 16-letter name in looping letters took forever.
So back at the hotel later that night, Torkelson enlisted the help of his mother.
“Mom,” he said. “I need to figure out my signature. I want to be signing autographs one day, and I’m not doing it like that.”
Torkelson went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Now a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers, Torkelson’s signature is essentially his initials. Sometimes he is able to craft it to include his No. 20.
“Honestly,” Torkelson said one day this spring, “it was time management. Topps and Panini, they send us a ton of cards. If I were to do cursive, it would take me hours.”
There is a perception that athlete signatures no longer have the artistic quality they once did, that autographs have become shorter and sloppier as all the years have gone by. Indeed, stars of yesterday such as Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax had beautiful, legible signatures. But those players generally weren’t signing thousands of autographs as teenagers. They were less likely to have deals with card companies. The sports memorabilia industry was not always booming in the way it is now. (Stavenhagen - Aug 8, 2023 - The Athletic)
2023 Season: The 24-year-old hit .233/.313/.446 on the season with 31 home runs, 88 runs scored, and 94 RBI. His power really exploded in the second half, slugging .498 with 19 home runs in 72 games. Now, he did hit .238 over that time, so the batting average hasn’t quite caught up; however, his strikeout rate remains in a good range for a power hitter, his 14.1% barrel rate was exceptional, and his contact rates in the zone remain good. It feels like only a matter of time before we see the batting average gains as well. (Eric Samulski - October 13, 2023)
Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, refused to look at his results on the scoreboard for most of his second season. Focusing on his process, rather than his results, fostered his confidence and helped him realize he belongs in the big leagues.
Torkelson, who struggled as a rookie in his first season, stayed disciplined in his process-oriented approach throughout his sophomore campaign. The 24-year-old took a much-needed step toward becoming an All-Star-caliber player, but to get there, he still has work to do.
"The biggest thing in the process is getting away from results," said Torkelson, who launched 31 home runs in 2023. "As soon as you separate yourself from the results, it's amazing the weight that's lifted off your shoulders. Throughout the year, I felt the pressure of not having a result, and then I snapped out of it by thinking about what I can control."
Nov 7, 2023: Spencer slugged his way to the Tiger of the Year award, winning the honor in a runaway vote from members of the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. It’s an honor that further solidifies his place in the core of the Tigers’ roster as Detroit tries to jump back into contention in the American League Central.
Torkelson was at the center of the Tigers’ second-half resurgence, slugging 19 of his team-leading 31 home runs after the All-Star break. He ranked eighth among AL hitters in homers, and produced the first 30-homer season by a Tiger since Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton in 2016. Torkelson’s 34 doubles, 88 runs scored and 94 RBIs also led the team.
Torkelson became the only player in Tigers history to post at least 30 homers, 30 doubles and 90 RBIs in his age-23 season. (J Beck - MLB.com - Nov 7, 2023)