LAKELAND, Fla. — Miguel Cabrera began Spring Training saying that he would gladly give up playing time at first base to make room for Spencer Torkelson. On Saturday, Cabrera essentially closed one of the most intriguing decision of camp by honoring Torkelson as the Tigers’ new first baseman.
“Kind of the first baseman of the past with the first baseman of the future, to let him know he’s the first baseman of the present,” said manager AJ Hinch. “He’s going to start on Opening Day, and we’re ready to go.
It wasn’t Cabrera’s call, but his participation in the meeting made it all the more special. The Tigers let Torkelson, MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect, know that he has made their Opening Day roster in a Saturday morning meeting in Hinch’s office. Hinch and Cabrera were there, along with general manager Al Avila, who had drafted Torkelson with the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft.
The trio wanted to have some fun with the meeting and make it memorable. So they used the guise of lecturing him on a couple misplays, with Cabrera — who has played first base for 12 of his 14 seasons in Detroit — there for advice.
“The first part of it was talking about a couple plays that Miggy could mentor him on,” Hinch said. “One, he missed the shift play [Friday against the Yankees]and the popup he ran into [shortstop Javier] Baez [on Wednesday against the Phillies]. We had Miggy run through the proper fundamentals for him, which I think he thought that was the reason he was in the room.”
Torkelson said he wasn’t sure.
“They asked me about that play [Friday], and then Miggy gave his two cents about that play,” Torkelson said. “And then they asked me if I was going to run into any more infielders. I said no, and that’s when I was like, ‘Alright.’
“He said, ‘You’re on the team Opening Day,’ and it kind of hit me.”
Said Hinch: “He just put his head down, started smiling, pretty emotional for him. I think it’s a big step for him, also something he’s earned, which is important on our club.”
That’s when Cabrera gave his blessing.
“Miggy gave me a big hug,” Torkelson said. “That was special, coming from him.”
The gesture might well be a passing of the torch from Detroit’s greatest hitter of his generation to potentially the next. The 39-year-old Cabrera has been in Torkelson’s corner ever since the Tigers drafted him first overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, and has pushed for Torkelson and fellow Tigers top prospect Riley Greene to get their chance in the Major Leagues.
“We want Torkelson in the lineup, so I’ll take the DH [slot],” Cabrera said last month. “I’m here to help, go out there and play my best baseball and try to help everybody here.”
Those comments arguably set the tone of camp for both prospects, but especially for Torkelson given their common position in the field.
“That really helped out,” Torkelson said. “It really helped with confidence and just feeling like, ‘You know what, I do belong, because I’ve got Miguel Cabrera saying I belong in the lineup.’
“It’s really special, and he has no idea how much it means to me. He didn’t have to say those things, so it’s awesome.”
In many ways, Torkelson represents the potential end to the stretch of five losing seasons that have worn on Cabrera as much as anybody. When Cabrera was in his prime seasons, the chance to win was big enough that he played through several injuries, including a groin tear in one season and a broken foot in another. The Tigers’ losses over the last few seasons have been grated on him.
Compared to the injuries Cabrera played through, giving up first base is an easy sacrifice for him to make for a promising young slugger who can power Detroit back into contention.
“When Miggy vowed for him at the beginning of the spring, I think that meant a lot to Tork,” Hinch said. “It also showed how much belief that this club has in our young players. So it was a fun way to tell him.”