Miguel Cabrera gives a first base glove to Spencer Torkelson

LAKELAND, Fla. — Miguel Cabrera started spring training saying he would gladly give up playing time at first base to make room for Spencer Torkelson. On Saturday, Cabrera essentially capped one of the most intriguing decisions in camp by honoring Torkelson as the Tigers’ new first baseman.

“Kind of a first baseman of the past with the first baseman of the future, to let him know he’s the first baseman of the present,” manager AJ Hinch said. “It’s going to start on opening day, and we’re good to go.

It wasn’t Cabrera’s call, but his participation in the encounter made it even more special. The Tigers let Torkelson, the No. 4 MLB Pipeline prospect, know he was on their opening roster during a Saturday morning meeting in Hinch’s office. Hinch and Cabrera were there, along with general manager Al Avila, who drafted Torkelson with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.

The trio wanted to have fun with the reunion and make it memorable. So they used the pretext of lecturing him on a few misplays, with Cabrera – who played first base for 12 of his 14 seasons in Detroit – there for advice.

“The first part was about a few pieces that Miggy could guide him to,” Hinch said. “First, he missed the quarter game [Friday against the Yankees]and the popup it fell in [shortstop Javier] Baez [on Wednesday against the Phillies]. We had Miggy walk him through the proper basics, which I think he felt was why he was in the room.

Torkelson said he wasn’t sure.

“They asked me about this play [Friday], and then Miggy gave her two cents about that piece,” Torkelson said. “And then they asked me if I was going to meet any other infielders. I said no, and that’s when I was like, ‘Okay.

“He said, ‘You’re on the Opening Day team,’ and that kind of struck me.”

Said Hinch: “He just lowered his head, started to smile, quite emotional for him. I think it’s a big step for him, also something he deserved, which is important for our club.

It was then that Cabrera gave his blessing.

“Miggy gave me a big hug,” Torkelson said. “It was special, coming from him.”

The gesture could well be a passing of the torch from Detroit’s greatest hitter of his generation to potentially the next. Cabrera, 39, has been in Torkelson’s corner since the Tigers drafted him first overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, and has been pushing for Torkelson and fellow Tigers top prospect Riley Greene to get their shot. 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 everyone here.”

Those comments arguably set the tone of camp for both prospects, but especially for Torkelson given their shared position on the pitch.

“It really helped,” Torkelson said. “It really helped with confidence and just feeling like, ‘You know what, I belong, because I have Miguel Cabrera saying I belong in the lineup.’

“It’s really special, and he has no idea what that means to me. He didn’t have to say those things, so that’s great.

In many ways, Torkelson represents the potential end of the five-season losing streak that has worn Cabrera down as much as anyone. When Cabrera was in his prime seasons, the chance of winning was great enough that he suffered multiple injuries, including a torn groin one season and a broken foot in another. The Tigers’ defeats in recent seasons have annoyed him.

Compared to the injuries Cabrera suffered, giving up first base is an easy sacrifice for him to make for a promising young hitter who can put Detroit back in contention.

“When Miggy vouched for him in the early spring, I think it meant a lot to Tork,” Hinch said. “It also showed how much this club believes in our young players, so that was a fun way to tell him.