2020 Season Preview – Gleyber Torres
On July 25, 2016 the New York Yankees fans witnessed their favorite team do something many had never seen, nor thought they would ever see. The Yankees were sellers at the trade deadline, not buyers! They traded their elite closer, Aroldis Chapman, to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Adam Warren and three minor league players.
Now the 2016 Yankees weren’t a horrible team. They were 50-48 at the time of the deal; only 7.5 games out of first place with more than a third of the season left. A deeper look though showed that this was not a good team and they were probably overachieving. Their Pythagorean winning percentage was .472. Their primary starting lineup had six players over the age of 30, including 40 year old DH Alex Rodriguez, who would retire later in the season with a .598 OPS, and first baseman Mark Teixeria, who had a slightly higher OPS of .658 and would also retire when the season was over.
So it was prime time for a rebuild. The hard throwing (understatement) Chapman was a four time All-Star with the Reds, and was acquired on the cheap by the Yanks after he was involved in a domestic violence incident for which he was later suspended for 30 games. He performed well in his delayed Yankee tenure and at the time had no interest in signing an extension, so he was an excellent trade chip. The Cubs were pushing for their first World Series championship in over 100 years, and saw a closer as the last piece of the puzzle. It was the perfect baseball trade.
While it was good to get the talented and useful Warren back in pinstripes and prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford, shortstop Gleyber Torres was seen as the jewel of the trade. He was the Cubs’ top prospect, the #26 prospect in all of baseball. The nineteen-year old came with a scouting report that indicated that he carried a good glove at shortstop, and had contact hitting skills with potential power. He was also holding his own in the minors against older and more experienced competition.
After finishing the 2016 season with high-A Tampa, Torres tore up the Arizona Fall League, raking at a 1.158 OPS and was named league MVP. He went into 2017 Spring Training as the fifth best prospect in all of baseball, started the season in AA Trenton, and was promoted to AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre in May. He looked to be on a fast track to the majors.
Alas, misfortune reared its head and Torres injured his left elbow in June while sliding head first on a play at home. The required Tommy John surgery ended his 2017 season.
After a rusty 2018 Spring Training, Gleyber was sent back to AAA, but wasn’t there very long. Upon promotion to the majors in April, Torres found Didi Gregorius entrenched at shortstop, so his primary position became second base, while occasionally sliding to shortstop. The 21-year old didn’t waste time making an impression, earning AL Rookie of the month for May, and being selected to the AL All-Star team. He finished the season third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
He switched back to his original position for the first half of 2019 due to Gregorius’ own Tommy John surgery and transitioned back to second base after Didi returned. Completing a full, healthy season, he turned in another All-Star performance, and led the Yanks of Judge, Stanton and Sanchez with 38 home runs while splitting his time almost evenly between the two middle infield positions. Torres also showed he wouldn’t shrink in the spotlight of postseason, batting .324 with three home runs in nine playoff games.
Gleyber is clearly a special talent, and entering his age 23 season, looks to have a long illustrious career ahead. Being a Yankee, his success inevitably invites comparisons between other young superstars like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, both of whom were also multiple All-Stars before their age 23 season. Interestingly, http://www.baseball-reference.com lists the Yanks’ shortstop most comparable player as….Cal Ripken Jr.
Ripken’s age 21/22 seasons: .293/.345/.497 12.9 WAR Torres’ age 21/22/ seasons: .275/.338/.535 6.7 WAR
Now this is rarefied air to be compared to a Hall of Famer, one of the best in his position of all time. Ripken has a bit more hardware, as he was a Rookie of the Year at age 21, and MVP at age 22. Cal also has a significant advantage in WAR. So, Gleyber in no Ripken.
But just being in his “neighborhood” is pretty darned good.
What can he do for an encore in 2020? With Gregorius moving onto Philadelphia, Torres is clearly the Yankee shortstop of the present and the future. Fangraphs projects more of the same for him, slashing .280/.344/.534 with 38 home runs and 4.1 WAR. An area of concern is on defense, where he struggled in spring training. This does not appear to cause manager Aaron Boone anxiety, stating after another error “I’m not worried about it, his work has been good and I think that will be something that cleans itself up as he gets more regular reps.”
We all know that there are a lot of unknowns with the 2020 season. One thing it looks like we can count on is that when the curtain goes up on the season, expect another solid performance from Gleyber Torres.