Before the 2018 season began, it was clear who would be primarily responsible for propelling the Yankees to glory: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. Indeed, if you head over to the Yankees’ team pages and sort by fWAR, those are the first names that pop up.
There’s another name rapidly climbing up that list, though, and it belongs to Gleyber Torres. The rookie has hardly been in the major leagues for a month, and he already ranks among the team’s best players.
Expectations were high for Torres, with most prospect publications placing him within the top ten of their global lists, but it was hard to expect this. Torres has only recently eclipsed the 100 plate appearance threshold, but he is batting .323, the best mark on the team. His OBP is a sparkling .385, and he’s flashed remarkable power, as his eight homers tie him with somehow-still-a-rookie Tyler Austin for the AL rookie lead.
It’s important not to get too caught up in the hot start of a rookie. Torres’ performance has of course only come in a small sample, and there are adjustments to be made. As the rest of the league gets a more thorough look at Torres, they will begin to try to attack his weaknesses. For example, Torres has swung at pitches out of the zone at an above average rate, not uncommon for rookies, and experienced pitchers will likely exploit that tendency.
That being said, even if at least some regression is inevitable, it’s probably already safe to readjust our expectations for Torres. He has been so good, so fast, at such a young age, that he may have proved enough in just a matter of weeks for us to expect more from him.
When Torres first was promoted, I took a look at some of his top comparables according to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections. Among them were fellow top middle infield prospects who, like Torres, debuted at age-21: the Cubs’ Addison Russell, the Mets’ Amed Rosario, and the Athletics’ Franklin Barreto.
Based on the spotty offensive track record of those comps when they first took on the majors, I concluded that it was probably best not to expect greatness right away from Torres at the plate. Russell’s rookie season looked like a decent expectation. In 2015, Russell combined quality defense at an up-the-middle position with average offense to be a first division regular on a great young team.
Torres has obviously gone beyond that. Per Baseball Reference’s calculations, he has already produced a startling 1.6 WAR. If Torres somehow kept that up over a full season he’d be worth about 9 WAR. That’s not first division starter territory or even All-Star territory. That’s an MVP caliber player.
Simply put, Torres has flashed an ability that none of his top comps did at this age. Torres’ wOBA currently sits at a nice .420. Compare that to the rolling average wOBA, courtesy of FanGraphs, Russell put up at age-21:
Or the rolling wOBA for Rosario:
Even during their best, hottest stretches, Torres’ top comps couldn’t match what Torres has done on average so far. Thus, it might not be fair to really compare Torres to them any more. He’s already established an offensive ceiling at this age that prior, similar players could not touch.
This intuition is backed up by the projections. Prior to the year, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS forecasts pegged Torres for a .326 wOBA, a solid projection. Based off just a month of new data, ZiPS has pushed Torres’ wOBA projection for the rest of the season up to .339. That’s a big jump for a projection system, conservative by nature, to make in such a short span of time.
If the projections are already moving their expectations for Torres, it’s probably fair for us to do the same. Moreover, Torres hasn’t appeared lucky in any way in putting up such an impressive performance. His batted ball profile, which includes over two-thirds balls in the air, looks excellent, and matches well with his profile from the high minors. According to FanGraphs, Torres has posted a 39% hard hit rate, a strong mark.
That’s not to say Torres is likely to keep striking the ball that well, but it does indicate that his play hasn’t been fluky. He has earned every bit of his production so far, and that production has been so good that we have no choice but to raise our expectations. For the rest of the league, that looked at this loaded Yankees team that already had All-Stars to spare, this is the last bit of news they need. For the Yankees themselves, well, it’s looking more and more likely that they might have another star to count on.