TAMPA, Fla. — Today, if the season and the world were not put on hold by the coronavirus, Yankees fans would be getting their first up-close-and-personal glimpse of Gleyber Torres as the everyday shortstop against his favorite prey: the Orioles. On the now postponed 2020 schedule, Baltimore would be beginning a four-game series in the Bronx today.
Watching the 23-year-old infielder hit .394 with 13 homers, four doubles and 20 RBI against the lowly Orioles last season was fun. It helped him finish with a 3.1 WAR hitting .278 with 38 homers over the season.
It also helped gloss over the big questions about Torres’ defense that remained when MLB shut down spring training and suspended the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coming into the 2020 season, Torres did not exactly have to take over for a legend. Didi Gregorious filled the gap after Hall of Famer Derek Jeter retired. This year, however, Torres did have the expectations of becoming the next Yankees starting shortstop weighing on him.
In the 10 games he played this spring before MLB shutdown due to the pandemic, Torres did not exactly convince everyone it was the right spot for him.
He had five errors at shortstop in 23 chances over 56 innings.
“He looked slow, a very slow first-step. His range has not really been good, they make him look better with positioning,” one National League scout who watched Torres play short several times this spring said. “Defensively, I think they will probably regret letting Didi go, but Gleyber will hit enough to mitigate that a lot.”
The Yankees had a good chance to get a glimpse of what life after Gregorius would look like last season. The veteran began the season on the injured list after having October Tommy John surgery and Torres got a chance to move back to the position he played coming up as a top prospect in the Cubs system. He wasn’t terrible, but did not exactly dominate.
In 2019, Torres committed 11 errors in 282 chances at shortstop over 77 games. He basically was just below the league average with a minus-1 defensive runs saved and a minus-2.1 ultimate zone rating. In Statcast’s Outs Above Average, Torres finished tied for eighth-worst with a minus-7.
Still, the Yankees let Gregorius walk as a free agent, basically making it clear that their focus financially last winter was signing free agent Gerrit Cole. Gregorius instead signed a very team-friendly, one-year $14 million deal with the Phillies.
The Yankees decided that Torres was good enough at shortstop for them to make that decision. That allowed DJ LeMahieu more time at second base, where he is definitely most comfortable.
And they believed Torres’ bat, which earned him two All-Star invites in his first two seasons in the big leagues, would make up for any defensive lapses.
It was still somewhat surprising to see Torres’ struggles at short. He made an occasional stellar play, but his issues were largely with routine plays. On one occasion he had a slow first step that allowed a ball to get too deep. He also had several soft, off-target throws.
“It’s not been very good,” Torres admitted of his spring training defense.
But, Torres added that he is very comfortable going back to shortstop.
“I feel very happy to be back at my position,” Torres said. “But, I mean, it’s tough, my errors, but I know it’s spring and when you make errors, it is frustrating because I always want to be perfect, but I just try to work every day. try to be perfect and try to get it right.” Even after his rough spring, the Yankees were not ready to panic. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that part of Torres’ issue is that the game comes easy to him.
“The thing with Gleyber is there’s kind of that fine line between he plays the game with such ease that you don’t want to take that away,” Boone said. “There’s a calm. There’s a relaxed way in which he plays the game, which contributes to his confidence.
“You don’t want to lose that, but you also have to balance that with making sure he’s dedicated to being real fundamentally sound all the time.
“That’s what he does in his (pre-game) work, and he does that really well, so I do feel like he can be that, and I feel like he’ll continue to make strides that way.”
And even if he doesn’t, Torres will always have games against the Orioles and his bat against teams like that can easily erase the memories of his defensive shortcomings.
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