Gleyber Torres has gotten off to a fine start so far. The Yankees called him up last Sunday, and while he went 0-for-3 in his debut, he’s had a couple of nice games in the interim. There’s still a palpable excitement when Torres comes to bat, and following his development this season will be a fascinating subplot all year.
We still require more time before we can start drawing any real conclusions from his performance. Torres needs to pile up plate appearances in order for us to really analyze his play, and even once he does that, we need to see how the league adjusts to him, and how he adjusts back.
For now, it’s still fun to try and project what he could do this year. Could Torres bat nearly .300 with double-digit homers like the Yankees’ last rookie second baseman, Robinson Cano, back in 2005? Could he struggle mightily the way Aaron Judge did upon debuting in 2016, or could he post a stellar, rookie-of-the-year season as Judge did in 2017?
For a more concrete answer, we can always turn to PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’ famed projection system. PECOTA generates dozens of comparable players for each player, in order to inform its ultimate projection.
Some of Torres’ comps are quite interesting, and could provide some insight into what to expect from him in his first year. Torres was a star shortstop prospect coming up from the minors, so it’s unsurprising that his comparable list is littered with fellow elite shortstop prospects. The most intriguing comps are the ones who have already played in the majors: Athletics shortstop Franklin Barreto, Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, and Cubs shortstop Addison Russell.
Barreto never reached the prospect heights of Torres, but has consistently ranked as a top-50 prospect in the game. He hasn’t quite flashed the hit tool in the minors that Torres did, posting a .806 OPS in Triple-A.
Yet Barreto is PECOTA’s top major league comp for Torres. Like Torres, Barreto doesn’t stand out physically. Barreto also has solid tools across the board, without an obvious top tool that jumps off the page, like Judge’s raw power, or perhaps Miguel Andujar’s arm.
Just as Torres is debuting in his age-21 season, Barreto came to the majors in his age-21 campaign last year, and the results were uninspiring. Barreto posted just a .197/.250/.352 slash line in a 25-game cup of coffee last season, and has made just one appearance this year. Barreto isn’t quite the prospect that Torres is, but certainly has a real pedigree and a seemingly high floor. His struggles are informative in that they remind us that it isn’t a guarantee that Torres will stick immediately at the highest level.
Still, perhaps Rosario, Torres’ next-highest major league comp, makes for a better comparison. Like Torres, Rosario has actually ranked among the most elite prospects in the game. Rosario was a consensus top-ten prospect prior to 2017, and even rose to #1 on some revised midseason lists. For as much as is expected of Torres, Mets fans may have expected nearly as much from Rosario.
Again, like Torres, Rosario isn’t a physical specimen, listed at 6’2” and 189 pounds, and has a solid all-around set of tools, though his glove is likely rated higher than Torres’, while Torres’ bat is probably ahead of Rosario’s. Rosario posted an .833 OPS at Triple-A in 2017, compared to .863 for Torres in 2017. And, like Torres, Rosario was 21 when he debuted last year.
Like Barreto, Rosario has struggled at the plate in the majors, with a poor .247/.278/.381 slash line in 66 games. Yet according to BP, Rosario has been worth 0.3 WARP in a small sample of 77 plate appearances this year. That prorates to between 2 or 3 WARP across a full year. Prospects like Torres seemingly have had a tough time at the plate early on, but Rosario shows that it’s still possible to produce with a limited bat by contributing value on the basepaths and by fielding an up-the-middle position, as Torres does.
Yet Russell might provide the most alluring, and maybe the most reasonable, comp. Russell is almost a dead ringer physically for Torres, at 6’1”, 200 pounds. Russell hardly played at Triple-A, instead receiving an aggressive promotion to the majors after only a handful of Triple-A games, but like Torres has a great minor league record, having posted a stellar .868 OPS in Double-A at just 20 years old.
Russell was promoted back in 2015 to start for a young, talented team with big aspirations, just as Torres has been now. Russell’s .242/.307/.389 slash line that year doesn’t look like much, but it came with a near-average 91 OPS+, given the league’s offensive environment was lower in 2015.
Russell wasn’t quite average at the plate, but he rated very well at shortstop, and the combination of strong defense and passable offense led to a 3.5 WAR rookie season per Baseball Reference. Maybe this is what the Yankees should be hoping for. A top prospect, promoted to start up the middle for a contending team, that holds his own at the plate and provides positive value elsewhere en route to becoming a quality starter.
Given Russell made an All Star team at age-22 and totaled 10 WAR over his first three years, a similar outcome would be a positive for Torres and the Yankees. Overall, Torres’ top comps haven’t had an easy time hitting in the majors at age-21, so some tempered expectations regarding Torres’ bat may be in order. Even so, there is a clear path for Torres to be quite valuable right away, based on his tools and his best comps.