Once, he was in the running for Next Great Yankee. It was so easy to dream on Gleyber Torres, an infielder with pop and charm who seemed destined to be part of a group of young MLB talent that included enormous stars such as Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr., among others.
Torres blasted 38 home runs in 2019. He was just 22 years old. A mighty — and young — Yankee core was forming and Torres was going to be a major player in it. He was so good his first two years that maybe, just maybe, he’d evolve into the club’s big star, not the slugger who kept getting hurt, Aaron Judge.
Imagine debating that now. After two down seasons, Torres seems at a career crossroads. The Yankees had hoped he could be their long-term shortstop, but he struggled on defense and lost that job, getting moved back to second base in September. He was booed near the end of 2021 for not hustling on a dropped third strike. His numbers are pedestrian.
As a pro scout who has watched the Yankees said, “I’m dumbfounded at what’s happened with him.”
So what do the Yankees do with Torres now? Should the Yanks bank on his youth — he’ll be 25 in December — and use him as their second baseman, hoping for a bounce back? Or move on completely as they remodel in an effort to snare their first World Series title since 2009?
Let’s examine. First, some numbers.
Torres batted .259 with a .331 on-base percentage and .366 slugging in 127 games (108 games at short, 19 at second base) in 2021. He had nine home runs and 51 RBI and a .697 OPS.
In 2019, his slash line looked like this: .278/.337/.535. He had an .871 OPS. At that point, he looked every bit a star, even if he had feasted on the 108-loss Orioles, blasting 13 of his 38 home runs against them.
“Offensively then, he could really swing it,” a second MLB scout said. “Now you don’t know. He was on a trajectory going up. Now he’s leveled off. Is he what we thought he was? Or something else?”
In 2020’s pandemic-shortened season, Torres struggled, too. But he played better toward the end and then soared in the postseason. In seven playoff games, Torres was 10 for 23 (.435) with two homers, seven walks and six strikeouts. His OPS was 1.262.
In each of the last two seasons, he’s shown flashes of being the player he once was. After he was moved to second base Sept. 13 this year, he batted .300 with a .372 on-base percentage, a .443 slugging percentage and two homers in 19 games. The Yanks were 13-6 in those games.
“It seems like he was a more confident hitter previously and confidence has a lot to do with it,” the second scout said. “I think he was thinking about those errors at shortstop. Then he was hurt and I think it all contributed to it. I think he was reading the newspapers. You start trying to hit three home runs in one at-bat, try to do too much.”
It’s pretty clear the Yankees are going to add a shortstop this off-season, perhaps one of the mega stars from a talented free agent class that includes Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Javier Báez and Marcus Semien. If Torres plays second, do the Yankees not re-sign Anthony Rizzo and try to trade Luke Voit, leaving first base open for DJ LeMahieu? Or does LeMahieu give them such a good option for second base that they trade Torres?
“Torres’ best position is second base,” the second scout said. “You can see it — he looks more comfortable there. His offense won’t rebound at shortstop. But what do you do with LeMahieu then? The question is, do you trade Torres? But what would you get for him right now?”
The Yankees could pitch a few items of note to a team interested in Torres (or use them to convince themselves that Torres can return to form). First of all, he’s under control for three more years after making $4 million in 2021. His projected arbitration salary for 2022, according to MLB Trade Rumors, is $5.9 million.
His strikeout percentage (20.2%) was his lowest for a full, 162-game season. His walk percentage of 9.7 was also highest for a full season. Both numbers were better than MLB average, too, and may offer some hope that Torres’ plate discipline is maturing.
But Torres also had the lowest average exit velocity of his career (87.1 miles per hour, below the MLB average of 88.3), according to MLB’s Statcast. That ranked in just the 15th percentile across all of MLB. He was in the 26th percentile in hard-hit percentage.
His launch angle has decreased in each of his four years in the Majors, which could also be part of the reason his homers have sagged. He hit fewer fly balls than ever last year.
But three of his nine homers were to right field. All of those were at Yankee Stadium, perhaps indicating he still has some ability to hit the ball to the opposite field and take advantage of the short porch.
“His walk ratio is good. His strikeout percentage is good. He can still be a productive hitter,” the first scout said. “He’s too talented and too young not to rebound. I think he will.”
We’ll see if Torres can prove it. And if it’ll be with the Yankees.