Former ASU star Spencer Torkelson ‘trusting the process’ in rookie season
PHOENIX — No. 1 draft picks have to deal with immense pressure and expectations not placed upon the shoulders of many other players.
Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson has been no stranger to this pressure. A stellar career at Arizona State where he hit .337 with 54 home runs in three seasons led to his name being the first called in the 2020 MLB Draft.
Since being drafted, Torkelson has been rated as a top-five prospect prior to the 2021 and 2022 seasons by both Baseball America and MLB.com. A 30-home run, 91-RBI campaign between high-A, double-A and triple-A in his lone minor league season in 2021 followed by a solid spring training in 2022 showed the Tigers’ brass the 22-year-old was ready for the show.
However, his first year in MLB has not been a smooth ride for the 22-year-old Sun Devil legend. In 64 games this season, Torkelson is hitting just .192 with a .572 OPS. He has only four home runs and 16 RBIs on the season.
Despite his struggles, Torkelson was positive he will be able to turn things around when he spoke to the media at Chase Field on Friday ahead of the Tigers’ series with the D-backs.
“Being a rookie – it’s not easy,” Torkelson said. “There’s a little bit of a learning curve but it’s a lot of fun. I tend to enjoy a little bit of adversity. So my freshman fall wasn’t glamourous and had some growing pains. … You just got to learn the ropes a little bit and then get comfortable and then the results start happening. So really trusting the process, trusting myself and knowing that the results will come.”
An answer for Torkelson’s issues at the plate this season could easily be attributed to the level of play. He talked about just how much better the level of play is at the MLB level compared to the minor league level.
“Everyone’s more consistent,” Torkelson said. “The pitchers make less mistakes. They’re more consistent with their pitches. Defense makes the routine plays more routine.”
His teammate and fellow highly-rated prospect Riley Greene, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, has become great friends with Torkelson. Greene discussed the encouragement he has given Torkelson during his rough stretch.
“Just be you and have fun,” Greene said. “Baseball is one of the best sports ever. It’s fun to play it, especially as a job. So it’s being able to come out here and swing the bat, throw the ball. It’s awesome. I feel like having fun is one of the big things in it.”
As for how the pressure is affecting him, Torkelson did not say it is bothering him much anymore.
“I think it affected me more right after I got picked because I was just like, I was so normal and I love being just a normal guy that loved playing baseball and to have all this recognition, it kind of shocked me a little bit and I thought at first I had to be superhuman instead of just being myself because that’s what got me drafted No. 1. So just getting back to who I am, that’s kind of how I deal with it.”
Torkelson’s manager, A.J. Hinch, said he feels like the young slugger is handling the pressure “great” and is just going through a “growing period” at the moment.
An aide to Torkelson’s growth is a roster filled with veterans. 11-time all-star and member of the 3,000-hit club Miguel Cabrera is the most notable of these veterans but the Tigers also have nine-year MLB veteran Tucker Barnhart, two-time all-star Javier Báez and 10-year MLB veteran Jonathan Schoop among others.
Torkelson spoke on the veterans helping him during his rookie season.
“They’re awesome,” the former Sun Devil said. “Miggy and Schoop – they’ve been great. And then just kind of just picking Miggy’s brain as much as possible just because he’s got 3,050-something hits in the major leagues. He’s doing something right.”
Barnhart discussed how he helps lead Torkelson.
“I think it’s one of those things that you just kind of wait for him to come to you,” Barnhart said. “You don’t really go to him, at least that’s my way of doing things. … If he comes to me and asks a question like I can give him advice and talk with him about anything. But he’s got a great head on his shoulders. He’s got a lot of good guys in this clubhouse to lean on. But he’s doing a phenomenal job, couldn’t be happier.”
Torkelson talked about what his favorite part of playing in the majors has been so far. He said it has been just being able to live out his “dream” of playing MLB every day. He noted Fenway Park as his favorite MLB stadium he has played in so far, saying it “just felt like a baseball game.”
The 2020 No. 1 overall pick, who has a house in Arizona and obviously spent time as a student-athlete in the desert, discussed the unique opportunity to play in Arizona so soon in his career. Detroit is in the American League so it does not travel to Chase Field every season.
“I kind of came onto the scene at ASU here, Torkelson said. “To be able to play in this ballpark it’s not often. … So it’s really cool to be back here and I’m glad it could be my first year.”
Torkelson’s ASU career was fantastic on a personal level. However, his team did not have the success he personally did.
Unfortunately, the ASU team with the most expectations of his three years in Tempe had its season canceled in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Torkelson and the Sun Devils had to wonder what could have been. They had gotten off to a terrific 13-4 start and were poised to make a run in the postseason.
For Torkelson on a personal level, the pandemic halted his ability to pass Rick Horner’s ASU record of 56 career home runs.
Torkelson explained that he does not think about how he fell short of the ASU record but he did bring up a humorous story about a phone call he had with Horner regarding the record.
“Bob Horner actually called me like two weeks after the season was canceled kind of apologizing like ‘damn that sucks, I’m so sorry,’ Torkelson said.
“I’m like, are you sorry?”