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Gleyber Torres has something to prove in his return from the IL

The Bombers’ shortstop needs to show that his pre-COVID list stint turnaround can stick.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

By now, Gleyber Torres’ early-season struggles are well-documented. The Yankees’ shortstop had a rough first couple of weeks both offensively and defensively, and just when he was starting to turn things around, COVID-19 made its unwanted appearance.

For two weeks prior to being placed on the COVID-19 injured list, Torres’ bat had shown signs of life after his horrific start. In a span of 12 games and 52 plate appearances, the shortstop was hitting .277/.346/.404 with a .332 wOBA, a 114 wRC+, three doubles, a home run, eight RBI, and a steal for good measure.

Those numbers, while still short of Torres’ power ceiling – it’s easy to forget that he hit 38 home runs in 2019 and finished with a .256 isolated power that year – represent an upgrade on what he had shown in the first few weeks of the 2021 campaign. From Opening Day until April 20th, Torres was basically a slap hitter. He was at .182/.297/.218 with no homers and just two doubles in 64 plate appearances.

Thus, at the time of Torres’ return from the COVID IL on Wednesday evening, his overall numbers were was well-below expectations: .234/.326/.298 with a .287 wOBA, an 84 wRC+ and a single round-tripper in 33 games. Who had Gleyber with a sub-.300 slugging percentage in mid-to-late May? Not me, at least.

However, it’s his awful start what’s dragging his stat line. That’s why Torres needs to prove that he is over his early-season struggles and continue the momentum he was carrying just before he hit the COVID-19 IL. It could take a few games for him to regain a rhythm, but Torres is at a point in which he needs to show some sustained offensive excellence.

If we combine Torres’ stats from 2020 and 2021, the end result is underwhelming, to say the least. In 301 plate appearances (basically half a season worth of data) Torres hit only four home runs and slashed .238/.342/.335 with a 95 wRC+. We saw him hit a combined 62 homers in 267 games from 2018-19, so we know that he is capable of much more pop.

Torres isn’t the best of fielders, so he needs to rake to solidify his place in the Yankees’ future. If he doesn’t, perhaps the Yankees start examining some alternatives for shortstop near the trade deadline. A couple of great players in Gleyber’s position could become available, potentially forcing him out of shortstop. It doesn’t need to reach that point, though. It shouldn’t go that far because if healthy, Torres is more than good enough to go on a tear one of these weeks. For him, however, the time is now.

Torres’ power was on full display in 2018 and, especially, 2019. Perhaps it was aided by the ‘juiced’ ball, or maybe he just had a very good year. But in those 301 plate appearances between this year and last, his isolated power doesn’t even crack .100, at .096.

Now would be a great time for Torres to showcase his power stroke and erase any doubts about his performance and his current physical conditions. Of course, he is coming off a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, so while he was asymptomatic, that still may or may not affect his performance. But Yankees fans need to see him pick up right where he left off a couple of weeks ago, and to add a little power to that profile. In short, anything close to 2019 Gleyber would be appreciated, even if 2021 Gleyber has better plate discipline. The 2-for-2 night with a walk and a stolen base on Wednesday was a good place to start.

Torres has all the potential in the world, and I firmly believe he just needs a couple of weeks’ worth of at-bats to regain the form. Will his power ever return? We don’t know, but it would be a welcome development as the Yankees try to catch the Red Sox, Jays, and Rays in the AL East race.