Throughout the past several years, the New York Yankees' system has featured numerous catching prospects hoping to be the next great catcher for a franchise with a long tradition of All-Star backstops. Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez, and even 2012 second round draft pick Peter O'Brien have cracked team lists of top prospects. The Yankees aren't quite through with the catching prospect game, either.
A year ago yesterday, the Yankees signed an international free agent who was only two weeks old when Mariano Rivera saved his first game. His name is Luis Torrens, and Baseball America ranked him the second-best international prospect prior to signing day. The Yankees tracked the native of Venezuela while he trained with their international scouting director, Carlos Rios. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules that limited signing bonus, the Yankees inked Torrens for $1.3 million. He had previously been an infielder, but the Yankees felt that the six-foot, 171 pound kid could handle a switch to catcher. His impressive bat would be a superb asset for him at one of the infield positions, but at catcher, it makes him an even more valuable prospect.
As is the case with many international prospects, evaluations run the gamut. The day he was signed, one Latin America talent evaluator told the New York Post that Torrens was "the premier prospect in Latin America, better than Sanchez and Montero." That's some pretty heavy praise for someone who had never played catcher very much before in his life, as other scouts noted in the Post article. Another scout said that he seems like he will hit for high average instead of power, and that he was not worried about Torrens's development behind the plate since he is "a smart kid who will figure it out."
It's difficult to find much on Torrens's Venezuelan upbringing at the moment since information is so scant. However, one site user on the LoHud Yankees blog offered some insight last August. Take the words with a grain of salt since it is only coming from a random guy on the Internet, but I'm inclined to believe it given the detail:
About Luis Torrens... He was the SS for the Venezuelan team to the Panamerican games (2010). The ball explodes from his bat and he has a very advanced hitting approach, he has soft hands and a very strong arm. He was moved then to 3rd base and lately to the C position where he has the best chance to reach the bigs. He is from Valencia and comes from a very structured home, which bodes well character wise. He comes from the Eladio Aleman baseball academy and has represented his home state (Carabobo) 7 times and Venezuela 5 times (3 World little league championships and 2 Panamerican games).
Experts say that he has four plus tools, except speed. Very matured for his age and is expected to go to the GCL rookie league next season (that tells you how high the Yankees regard him as a prospect and how advanced he is). Before being signed by the Yankees he was playing in AA in Panama (mostly college players), and he was able to play regularly and even excel against much older competition (20-22 year olds). I am a big fan of him already.
Two more things… The Yankees think he will move fast through the minors and he is a Yankee fan!!
I'm sure the fact that the Yankees gave him over a million dollars assisted with his fandom. From his Twitter account, it's quite evident that the kid is a big Miguel Cabrera fan, which shouldn't be surprising since Cabrera is the pride of Venezuela. Amusingly, Torrens even participated in one of those silly contests in January where "x" amount of Miguel Cabrera retweets would lead to a prize for the 500th person. He's still a kid, and that's refreshing to see sometimes with prospects.
Scout.com's Minor League Analyst Mark Anderson ranked Torrens 14th on his preseason Yankees prospect list. Anderson echoed the other Post scout's reservations about comparing Torrens to Sanchez and Montero, but he agreed that his hitting would force people to take notice:
He is lauded for an excellent hitting approach for his age, good natural strength and bat speed and the ability to drive the ball to the gaps already. He could hit for a strong average, draw walks and have at least average power down the line.
Torrens was mostly off the radar after signing last July, as he spent time in the Yankees' Instructional League at the Tampa complex, then moved on to the Dominican Republic's Instructional League in the fall. Thanks to YouTube, fans got their first glimpses of Torrens's swing:
If you're interested in some more footage, Josh Norris also took a few batting practice videos of Torrens in March when he was at minor league spring training (Video 1, Video 2, Video 3). Possible confirmation bias aside, there's just something impressive about the way the balls sounds when it cracks off his bat in Norris's videos. Remember, the kid only turned 17 two months ago.
Torrens began his Rookie League season with the Yankees' second Gulf Coast League team. He has played eight games thus far, batting .310/.375/.552 with four doubles and a homer in 32 plate appearances. Behind the plate, he has shown off his strong arm by gunning down six of ten baserunners attempting steals against him, but he has allowed two passed balls already. For comparison's sake to previous 17-year-olds, Sanchez hit .326/.393/.543 with a 19% CS% and 14 passed balls in 47 games in the Gulf Coast League two years ago, and Montero hit .280/.366/.421 with a 9% CS% and four passed balls in 23 games six years ago. Sanchez did get to spend some time with short-season Staten Island that same year, so there's a chance Torrens might receive the opportunity to do the same.
Remember that eight games is an extremely small sample size with which to compare players and the Gulf Coast League can be deceiving (see Bichette, Dante), but Torrens has certainly offered reason to track his development simply through the scouts' high praise. Keep an eye on Torrens through Tanya's Baby Bomber Recaps as he continues his play in Rookie League this year--it's exciting to watch prospects grow from raw teenage talent to refined excellence. Hopefully the Yankees have another stellar catching prospect on the way.
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