There’s an old adage among scouts that states that prospect development isn’t linear. While it’s tempting to project talented prospects to follow a straightforward path to the top, the reality is that so many players suffer through fits and stops, twists and turns that threaten to derail them on their journey.
That adage hasn’t applied to Gleyber Torres. Outside of suffering an elbow injury that ended his season early a couple years ago, Torres has completely stuck to the script. He burst onto the scene as one of the game’s top prospects in the Cubs’ system in 2016, tore through the upper minors with the Yankees in 2017, and stood out as one of the game’s very best rookies upon his debut in the majors last year.
The goal entering 2019 was for Torres to continue to follow that linear, upward path by establishing himself as a clear young All-Star. He succeeded.
2019 Statistics: 144 games, 604 plate appearances, .278/.337/.535, 38 home runs, 90 RBI, 125 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR
2020 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration eligible
Coming off a strong rookie campaign, there were no obvious areas of weakness for Torres to work on. Instead, Torres just needed to get a tad better in areas where he was already at least average or better in order to improve. His strikeout rate was fine, but it could come down a bit. He hit for power in 2018, but some more pop wouldn’t hurt. He handled second base defensively, but could use a little more polish there.
And that’s just what he did. After striking out in over a quarter of his plate appearances in 2018, he struck out in just about a fifth of his appearances in 2019, largely in part to improved contact skills and fewer swinging strikes. He also took advantage of the juiced ball and became a full-fledged slugger, smoking 38 bombs and bumping his slugging up over 55 points and his ISO by 47 points.
Advanced defensive metrics indicate he improved on the infield dirt as well, with UZR putting Torres several runs better on a rate basis at both second base and shortstop. These are still small samples in terms of defensive stats, and even with the improvement, UZR had Torres as below average at both positions. Regardless, Torres at least appeared competent to the naked eye when forced to shuffle across the diamond to the tougher shortstop assignment.
Heading to the left side was something Torres did have to do plenty in 2019, what with Didi Gregorius sidelined for the first couple months of the year. He totaled nearly 700 innings at short this season, and his adequate play there should give the Yankees confidence he could pick it there full-time should the task fall to him.
Of course, we must mention Torres’ sensational postseason performance in any discussion of his 2019 season. Torres was simply the Yankees’ best player in October, coming up with a multitude of crucial hits, not to mention a handful of stellar defensive plays:
All that said, Torres’ outlook going forward mirrors that of his team. Both Torres and the Yankees have been very good the past couple years, but I don’t think it’s greedy for us to ask for just a little more from them. For the Yankees, that means a splashy free-agent acquisition or two, and a flag to fly forever, rather than a disappointing playoff finish.
For Torres, that means finding a way to become truly great. Finding a way to become plus rather than passable on the dirt. Not just cutting down on whiffs, but also developing stronger plate discipline and getting on base at an elite clip. Adding a little more power and sneaking into the top 10 in terms of homers hit, rather than the top 15.
After all we’ve seen from Torres, there’s no doubt he’s capable of taking the next step from All-Star to superstar. If he doesn’t, the Yankees can remain satisfied that they’ve found a young, productive cornerstone for years to come. If Torres does make another leap, well, that could be what finally pushes the Yankees over the top.