Before the Yankees’ 2016 “rebuild” started in earnest, many Yankee fans tired of seeing veterans past their prime receive way too much playing time. They urged management to “play the kids”. Such fans should be ecstatic with what has transpired since.
The kids have been alright. First among the Baby Bombers to break through was Gary Sanchez, who was called up for good in August of 2016 and proceeded to terrorize the league for two months. Then came Aaron Judge, who did the same, but with even more aplomb and for all of 2017.
Last year, Luis Severino and Chad Green also emerged as the Yankees’ top arms in the rotation and bullpen, respectively. Greg Bird and Jordan Montgomery, while not quite in their league, have looked like above-average contributors when healthy. You get the idea - Yankee fans have been spoiled by all this prospect success.
All of the above makes it easier to understand how Gleyber Torres’ extremely successful season has flown a bit under the radar. Unlike Judge last year or Gary the year before, it’s not like Torres is flat out destroying MLB. His very respectable Triple Crown numbers so far - .280, 23 homers, 69 RBI - pale in comparison to what Judge did last year, and look to the casual fan just a tiny bit worse what fellow rookie Miguel Andujar has done this year (.298, 23 HR, 76 RBI). It’s hard to stand out when you get lumped in with so many phenoms, and it seems like that’s what’s happening with fans’ perception of Torres’ season right now.
However, if you haven’t been paying proper attention to Torres’ season, you’re missing out on something very, very special. What Torres has done this year, at this stage in his young career, is nothing short of amazing, and should be appreciated as such.
First of all, about those Triple Crown stats mentioned above? Torres has compiled those numbers in more than 100 fewer plate appearances than Andujar, due to being called up three weeks later and being sidelined with a right hip strain for three weeks in July. On a per-game basis, Torres has been just as productive as Andujar, and he actually has the lead in rate stats such as OBP (.350 to .332), ISO (.228 to .223), and wRC+ (130 to 128). As impressive as Andujar has been, Torres has been right there with him.
It’s also important to remember Torres’ age when looking at his numbers. Torres, born on December 13, 1996, has yet to celebrate his 22nd birthday. Normally, prospects of Torres’ age would be considered impressive if they put up a 130 wRC+ in Double-A or Triple-A. Torres is doing that, but in the majors. It absolutely cannot be understated how good he is for how young he is.
For comparison’s sake, here are what some other Baby Bombers were doing in their age-21 seasons.
- Aaron Judge : Selected in the first round of the 2013 draft by the New York Yankees, but missed the entire season due to a quad injury sustained during a base-running drill.
- Gary Sanchez : Hit .270/.338/.406 with 13 HR in Double-A.
- Luis Severino : Made his MLB debut, going 5-3 in 11 starts with a sparkling 2.89 ERA but a pedestrian 4.37 FIP in 62.1 innings pitched.
- Miguel Andujar : Hit .275/.335/.406 with 12 HR across High-A, Double-A and the Arizona Fall League.
- Chad Green : Senior year at the University of Louisville.
- Greg Bird: Hit .280/.379/.489 in High-A, Double-A and the Arizona Fall League combined.
- Jordan Montgomery : Recorded a 1-1 record with a 3.79 ERA across 10 appearances and 19 innings pitched in Rookie ball and Low-A.
All of them were talented prospects. None of them were close to doing as well as Torres is doing right now in the majors. Indeed, only four Yankee rookies hitters 21 and younger in the entire history of the franchise have compiled more fWAR in their debut seasons than Torres’ 2.2 - Joe DiMaggio (5.2 fWAR), Willie Randolph (4.6 fWAR), Ben Chapman (2.4 fWAR), and Tony Kubek (2.3 fWAR).
By wRC+, Torres has them all beat. Let that sink in for a moment - no Yankee rookie at or below Torres’ age has hit better than him. Not DiMaggio, not Randolph, not Mickey Mantle. We are witnessing Yankee history before our very eyes each time Gleyber Torres steps up to bat.
Now, this doesn’t guarantee that Torres will have a better career than DiMaggio or Randolph or Mantle. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be better than all his Baby Bomber cohorts mentioned above. At the same time, it’s hard to say that Torres’ performance this year doesn’t bode extremely well for his future. Most of the time for talented 21-year olds, the question is, “Will he make it in the majors?” Torres has already made it. Now the only thing that remains to be seen is how far he will go.