The Yankees have lost top prospect Gleyber Torres for the rest of the season following the announcement that he will require Tommy John surgery. The injury came as Torres was coming into home plate with a head first slide and the catcher landed on his elbow. It’s certainly not something the Yankees wanted to happen, and it’s definitely a blow to the team’s depth, but it’s important to note that it’s not as big of a problem as you might think for a couple of reasons.
He’s a position player
You might see “Tommy John surgery” and think that this could legitimately be the end of his career as we know it, however, it’s important to remember that the procedure is very different for position players. Where pitchers can take anywhere from 12-15 months to recover (a season and a half), position players only need about six months before they can get back on the field. Something about needing the torque to launch a ball 90-something mph at a small target takes a little bit more recovery time for pitchers.
If you’re looking for a comp, there aren’t many because this doesn’t normally happen to position players, however, it still happens. Old school guys like Jose Canseco and Paul Molitor underwent the surgery and turned out just fine. Shin Soo Choo had the surgery in 2007 and went on to have several successful series. Carl Crawford and Matt Wieters also survived the surgery.
Perhaps who Torres most closely mirrors is Miguel Sano and Zack Cozart. Sano went down with an elbow injury in spring training 2014 and has been in the majors every year since. Cozart, a fellow shortstop, made his major league debut in 2011 and underwent elbow surgery that August only to be named the team’s starting shortstop in 2012, just in time for Opening Day. It’s important to remember that recovery time is quick and success can be had beyond this point.
Gleyber has a particularly easy road to recovery on top of that because he injured his non-throwing arm. This means he’ll be ready for spring training, and even if he’s not 100% by then, his newly repaired arm will undergo far less stress when it comes time to do fielding and throwing during drills. He might be missing the next 2-3 months, but he’s not missing any part of the 2018 season.
He wasn’t a major league option yet
After making the jump to Triple-A this year, Torres has hit .309/.406/.457 in Scranton, making people believe he was major league ready. It’s normal to believe that a player succeeding in the minors can instantly succeed at the big league level, but even if he would have found success, there was no obvious place for him to play.
Of course, the suggestion of third base is an easy one. Chase Headley has been underwhelming yet again, and the Yankees had been playing Torres at third base, but it’s important to remember that he is still signed through 2018 and is owed $13 million next year. The Yankees aren’t just going to eat that money and no one is going to take him off their hands.
Torres, meanwhile, only has 15 games of experience at the position. The transition from short to third is likely a bit more complicated than short to second, which is why guys like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Machado have been lauded for doing so. Plus, he won’t be Rule 5 eligible for another year, so if they don’t absolutely have to make a move, they won’t.
Others will get a chance
In the absence of Gleyber Torres, other prospects might get more attention as big league options. Torres may be the superior player, but he isn’t nearly as seasoned as some of the others in the system. Tyler Wade has hit .324/.384/.466 at Triple-A as a 22-year-old. He also may have limited experience at third, but he’s had more time to play around the field as a potential future utility player. Miguel Andujar, an actual third base prospect, was hitting .312/.342/.494 with seven home runs in Trenton before getting the bump up to Scranton. Maybe we see him sooner now.
In the end, Torres may be better off taking over shortstop or second base instead of playing at third base. Need will obviously dictate his usage, but allowing others to step up might not be a bad thing. Especially when the injury he went down with won’t be as bad as you might think.