Here's where Detroit Tigers' Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene may start 2021

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila isn't exactly sure where all his prospects will begin the 2021 season, but he is ready to make predictions about third baseman Spencer Torkelson, outfielder Riley Greene and right-hander Matt Manning.

Torkelson — the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 — is likely going to begin in High-A West Michigan, while Greene — the No. 5 overall pick in 2019 — should get his first reps in Double-A Erie. Manning, the No. 9 pick in 2016, is slated to start in Triple-A Toledo before making his MLB debut at some point during the year.

"I don't want to be held to that," Avila said Thursday night on WXYT-FM (97.1). "A lot has to do with how we look at it in spring training and the intricacies of how and when minor-league baseball is going to commence."

He did not say whether Torkelson or Greene will have a shot at making their MLB debuts in 2021.

Detroit Tigers infielder Spencer Torkelson works out at third base during summer camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

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Avila's uncertainties stem from a recent MLB memo sent to minor league teams explaining Class-A and Double-A seasons will be delayed, as first reported by Baseball America. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, minor-league spring training for those levels won't begin until MLB and Triple-A players depart from teams' spring training facilities.

"They might have to start maybe a month behind us, which is how it's looking," Avila said. "Obviously, a lot of that has to do with the vaccine and when we can get that. Right now, there's not even a minor-league schedule made. But that's coming. There will be minor leagues, I'm pretty sure of that."

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Greene played 57 games in 2019 for three teams: the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers (nine games), Low-A Connecticut (24 games) and Single-A West Michigan (24 games). He hit .271 with eight doubles, three triples, five home runs and 28 RBIs. Manning had a 2.56 ERA in Double-A with 148 strikeouts across 133⅔ innings.

There was no minor-league season in 2020, with Greene, Manning and Torkelson participating in camp at the Tigers' alternate training site in Toledo.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Casey Mize (12) delivers a pitch Sept. 23, 2020, during the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Gearing up for 2021, pitchers and catchers are scheduled for their first spring training workout Feb. 17 in Lakeland, Florida. The first full workout is Feb. 22, and the schedule kicks off with an exhibition Feb. 26 against Southeastern University.

Avila will determine the destinations for right-hander Casey Mize and lefty Tarik Skubal that month. Both prospects made their MLB debuts in August but struggled. Mize had a 6.99 ERA in 28⅓ innings; Skubal registered a 5.63 ERA in 32 innings.

Avila won't guarantee either of them will start in the majors.

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"They're very close to establishing themselves at the big-league level," Avila said. "We'll see this spring training how it goes. ... They'll have a chance, and they might need a little bit more time, or they might not. But they're close, which is an exciting thing for us."

Torkelson is the team's No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, followed in order by Mize, Manning, Greene and Skubal.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.