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Yankees 2023 Season Preview: Gleyber Torres

The Yankees second baseman has it all to play for in 2023.

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Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s been easy to overlook Gleyber Torres of late. He had a quiet WBC for Venezuela, and the space he occupies in the fanbase’s consciousness is currently dwarfed by the shortstop competition between top prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. But make no mistake, the 26-year-old second baseman is a central figure for the Yankees in 2023 and as they decide on their long-term plans.

2022 Yankees Statistics: 140 games played, 572 plate appearances, .257/.310/.451, 24 HR, 76 RBI, 115 wRC+, 6.8 BB%, 22.6 K%, 2.7 fWAR

2023 ZiPS Projections: 143 games, 584 plate appearances, .259/.324/.437, 22 HR, 79 RBI, 117 wRC+, 8.6 BB%, 21.1 K%, 3.2 fWAR

Torres rebounded from consecutive down years in 2020 and 2021 to post a .761 OPS, 115 wRC+, zero Outs Above Average and 2.7 fWAR. It’s hard to ask for much more from an everyday second baseman — a bat 15 percent better than the field with league average defense — in other words exactly the type of player he profiled as when rising through the ranks as a top prospect.

As we’ve discussed over the last few seasons, Torres is more dangerous when he is in attack mode at the plate rather than on the defensive. He opted for a more selective approach in 2020 and 2021, walking at a double-digit clip across the two season, but saw his overall production plummet as he failed to do damage on hittable pitches in the zone. Then in 2022, he returned to the more proactive approach of his first two seasons.

Data courtesy of Statcast

As a result of this more aggressive tact, Torres posted career-bests in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, barrel rate, and expected slugging, finishing in the top quartile league-wide for each metric. And after practically forgetting how to hit the fastball in 2021 (-15 run value), he returned to punishing the pitch in 2022 (+7 run value). As you might expect, the uptick in swing rate did also bring about a career-worst in walk rate.

It’s frustrating that he’s an either/or hitter when it comes to slug and patience. You dream of a scenario where he marries the skills and all of a sudden you’re looking at 130 wRC+, four-ish win player. Forced to choose between two, we’ll take the more aggressive Torres as 2020 and 2021 tell us.

All this being said, Torres’ fate could already be sealed, turning 2023 into something of a lame duck campaign for the 26-year-old. Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner has said multiple times that he envisions Volpe and Peraza as the middle infield of the future for the Yankees. Unsurprisingly, this has generated ample trade speculation from those hoping to solve New York’s infield logjam.

The Yankees have as many as five players who could man the keystone in Torres, Volpe, Peraza, DJ LeMahieu, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. They would likely prefer to move Kiner-Falefa — owed $6 million in his walk year. However, if they are interested in maximizing their return, Torres is the more attractive candidate. He’s owed a bit more — $9.95 million after avoiding arbitration for 2023 — but comes with an extra year of team control and is the clearly superior player.

It’s hard to know what the Yankees’ plans are for Gleyber Torres. Only three years ago we were talking about him as a cornerstone of the franchise. He may find himself on the bench Opening Day for the second season in a row, and it’s uncertain how long he’ll be around in the weeks that follow. For what it’s worth, ZiPS believes he will be the everyday starter at second, appearing in 143 games with a 117 wRC+, 22 home runs, and 3.2 fWAR. A season with 20-25 home runs and roughly league-average defense is right in line with his rookie and 2022 campaigns.

As the timing of his own debut teaches us, his job may not be in immediate jeopardy should the Yankees have an eye toward manipulating Volpe’s service time. All he can do is try to win every at-bat in the early weeks of the season and hope the results speak for themselves. At the end of the day, the Yankees roster is in a better place with him on it than without him, and as he’s shown in previous postseasons, he could be a key factor in the Yankees’ push for their first appearance in the Fall Classic in 14 years.