It was only 18 games, and Gleyber Torres already had a reputation as a blue-chip prospect, but by hitting .403 in the Arizona Fall League and earning MVP honors, the 19-year-old shortstop acquired for Aroldis Chapman has further stamped himself as a star in the making for the Yankees.
Or as Jim Callis, an MLB.com analyst who ranks prospects for MLBpipeline.com, said, after seeing nearly all of Torres’ games in Arizona:
“He’s just ridiculously good. He was clearly the best player in the league. It seemed like he hit a line drive every time up.’’
A scout for a major league team who hadn’t seen Torres since May, when he was still in the Cubs’ farm system, offered a similarly glowing report after observing him in the AFL, which concluded Saturday.
“He’s progressing at an advanced rate,’’ the scout said. “The more you see him, the more impressed you are with his all-around ability. He’s incredibly advanced at the plate for his age. He has a disciplined approach, and the power is coming quicker than I thought.
“I saw the Yankee guys out there, and they’re ecstatic about Torres, I can tell you that.”
All of which adds intrigue to questions about the kid’s future. Has he accelerated his timetable for an arrival in the Bronx, with a chance to reach the Stadium sometime in 2017?
And, with Didi Gregorius continuing to establish himself as a premier shortstop, where does Torres fit as a Yankee?
As part of that evaluation, GM Brian Cashman made a point of seeing Torres play while at the GM Meetings in Arizona two weeks ago, and he came away duly impressed, though not necessarily more so than he expected.
“He was the complete buzz of everyone out there,’’ Cashman said by phone. “But what he did there only reinforced what we thought of him. It just cemented what we believe he can be as a player.
“What stands out to me is his age. He was by far the youngest player in that league, playing against more experienced competition, and he excelled.”
Torres turns 20 in December, and will start the 2017 season in Double-A Trenton, his first exposure at that level. Scouts generally have considered the AFL on par with Double-A, though the pitching usually isn’t quite on the level with the position players.
In any case, Cashman said Torres’ performance in Arizona didn’t necessarily move up his big-league arrival date.
“I’ll let him prove me wrong,’’ Cashman said, “but I can’t imagine 2017 is a possibility for him.”
As for Torres’ long-term position, scouts say he has continued to improve with the glove, leaving no doubt he can handle playing shortstop in the big leagues, but they don’t put him in the class of brilliant young defenders such as Francisco Lindor or Addison Russell.
Which may mean that Gregorius, who turns 27 in February, stays at shortstop for the Yankees. Though prone to some careless errors last season, totaling 15 overall, he makes plenty of spectacular plays, with an arm as strong as any shortstop.
Curiously, defensive metrics rated Gregorius poorly last season, but Cashman, a sabermetrics disciple, takes exception to them.
“Defensive metrics are still a work in progress,’’ he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re big on defensive metrics. What I see in Didi is an exceptional defender.’’
Perhaps with that in mind, the Yankees had Torres play some second base, in addition to shortstop, in Arizona.
“He took to it like a fish to water,’’ Cashman said. “He hasn’t played third base, but we believe he can play there just as well. It gives us a lot of flexibility when the day comes that we believe he’s ready for the majors.”
Outfielder Clint Frazier (right), acquired from the Indians in the Andrwe Miller trade, was ranked as the top Yankee prospect by MLBpipeline.com last summer.
(Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Yankees have another top shortstop prospect in 21-year-old Jorge Mateo, who is more of a raw talent than Torres, with what Cashman calls “80 speed,’’ meaning the highest rating on the scouting 20-80 scale for measuring tools.
That speed convinced the Yankees to try Mateo in center field in Instructional League in September, in part because Torres is a superior infielder.
“Gleyber is better defensively,’’ Cashman said. “He’s more polished as a hitter and a defender. Mateo has amazing athleticism, so we exposed him to center field, and it looked like something he could easily handle.’’
It’s all part of a plan to, forgive the expression, make the Yankees great again. Cashman’s trades of Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran and now Brian McCann have created an impressive depth of prospects, according to the likes of Callis, who ranked them.
Even with Gary Sanchez having graduated to the Bronx last summer in record-setting fashion, Callis says he anticipates the Yankees’ farm system will be at the top of MLBpipeline.com’s rankings before spring training.
“Their farm system is as good as anybody’s,’’ he said.
Outfielder Clint Frazier, acquired from the Indians in the Miller trade, was ranked as the top Yankee prospect by MLBpipeline.com last summer, after the trade deadline, but Callis indicated that Torres will claim that spot in the pre-spring training rankings.
“There are others besides myself doing the rankings,’’ Callis said. “But I believe Gleyber will rank in the top five or six prospects in all of baseball. It’s not a reaction to what he did in Arizona so much as the talent that continues to look more and more special.”
So how does Torres compare with the current crop of standout young shortstops in the majors? In addition to falling a bit short of Russell or Lindor defensively, scouts say he won’t hit for power with Corey Seager or Carlos Correa, but could be on that level as an all-around hitter.
As such, it’s worth noting that while the Arizona altitude may inflate offensive numbers, Torres’ .403 batting average was 50 points higher than that of anybody else in the league, and he had a .645 slugging percentage to go with it, including three home runs. He also had 14 walks to only eight strikeouts in 76 plate appearances.
“I see him eventually in the big leagues as a .300 hitter — a high on-base guy who will hit 20 home runs,’’ one scout said. “And a good middle infielder. There are some really good young shortstops in the league right now, but that’s still a star to me.”
And while Cashman says 2017 is too soon to expect Torres in the Bronx, Callis came away from a month of watching him in Arizona thinking anything is possible.
“I think Cashman saying that makes sense,’’ Callis said. “But the great players can erase that timetable. Torres looks like he could be one of those players. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s in the big leagues by July or August.”
Perhaps, but it’s more likely that Cashman will make sure not to rush Torres, especially since the Yankees aren’t likely to be championship-caliber next season, as their rebuild continues.
But if they’re a surprise contender, and either Starlin Castro or Chase Headley isn’t doing much at second or third, respectively, it may not be out of the question to call up Torres.
Two years ago, Greg Bird proved more than ready, at 21, for the big leagues less than a year after earning MVP honors in the AFL.
Will Torres be next?
As Cashman indicated, he’d be thrilled to have the kid prove him wrong.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News