David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
TAMPA, Fla. — Gleyber Torres’ numbers speak for themselves. But in gauging a young player’s readiness for the major-league level, there are other requirements, and Torres, a precocious 20-year-old, is checking those boxes as well.
Before Wednesday’s game at Steinbrenner Field, we approached Torres for an interview. Usually, his first instinct is to summon the Yankees’ interpreter, Marlon Abreu, to help him navigate through the English parts. This time, however, Torre decided to give it a shot on his own, seeing the chance to practice his second language.
That’s not a minor thing, especially for a high-profile kid. And Torres, who is from Venezuela, performed well, drawing compliments from his clubhouse neighbors. This exchange showed a few things. One, Torres is proving to be a quick learner this spring, and two, he’s willing to challenge himself, even when he doesn’t have to.
There’s no statistic for those attributes, no fancy analytic to measure them. But think of a player’s maturity level as a speedometer for how rapidly someone such as Torres could ascend to the majors. Brian Cashman is unwavering on his stance of starting Torres at Double-A Trenton this season, and that’s obviously the right call, despite a 14-game tear through the Grapefruit League. With another double in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Phillies, Torres is hitting .478 (11-for-23) with two homers, five doubles and a triple.
What Cashman won’t say, however, is the amount of games Torres must spend at Trenton, or Triple-A Scranton, before calling him up to the Bronx. The plan is for Torre to play second base and shortstop at Trenton, but he’s also been doing some pregame work at third base this spring, so adding another position could hasten his ascent. It’s still early to put a number on it, but we’d take the under.
“You’re always looking ahead,” Cashman said Wednesday. “But I’d temper everything because it’s spring training. March is different than April, when it’s real. But he’s done everything we’ve asked since we’ve had him, and if he happens to move himself quicker than the norm, so be it. He’s already been doing that.”
While it’s Cashman’s job to be pragmatic with the young talent, the normally reserved Joe Girardi didn’t do much to contain the hype by comparing Torres to Miguel Cabrera — or at least the 23-year-old version he managed with the Marlins in 2006. Cabrera already had logged 405 games in the majors by then, and finished fifth in the MVP voting that season.
“He was incredible,” Girardi said. The difference? “Miggy was a little bigger.”
Teams don’t fast-track players straight from Double-A very often, it at all. Melky Cabrera began the 2005 season at Trenton, where he hit .267 with nine homers in 75 games to earn a June 28 promotion to Triple-A Columbus. He stayed there only nine games (.324 BA/3 HRs) before the Yankees called him up at age 20. Greg Bird opened 2015 at Trenton, and was there for 49 games until his jump to Scranton, where his slash line of .301/.353/.500 over 34 games got him to the Bronx, at 22, after an injury to Mark Teixeira.
As far as skipping Triple-A entirely, check across the RFK Bridge, with what the Mets did in rushing Michael Conforto to the bigs from Double-A Binghamton during the World Series year of 2015. Conforto was two years older than Torres, and played in college before he was drafted by the Mets at No. 10 overall. But he started that season at Class A St. Lucie, and far outpaced the early projections, both for his performance and the Mets’ urgent need for an outfielder. We make the comparison here because the polished Conforto also impressed with his adjustment to whatever was thrown at him, and he batted .270 with nine homers and an .841 OPS in those 56 games. Conforto took a step back last season, as frequently happens during sophomore years, but has rebounded with a strong spring.
That’s the concern with accelerating a prospect’s development. Maybe denting his confidence a bit. And Torres is fine with whatever pace the Yankees’ choose.
“I don’t think about everything in the future,” Torres said. “I just have to stay healthy, play well and wait for the opportunity.”
No one anticipates that wait to be very long.