TAMPA, Fla.— Gleyber Torres had what by any objective measure was a successful rookie season in 2018.
After being called up April 22, Torres, then 21 and one of the top prospects in the sport, seized the starting job at second base and never let go. He hit .271 with 24 homers, 77 RBIs and a .820 OPS in 123 games, finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting (behind Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, who finished first, and teammate Miguel Andujar).
Which engendered exactly zero contentment in Torres.
“I felt really proud what I did last year but this year is a new year,” Torres said Wednesday after the Yankees’ second full-squad, spring training workout. “All I want to do is improve upon that. I get here early every day to work hard because I don’t think I’ve earned anything. I want to earn my spot in this team.”
Barring something completely unforeseen, Torres will be the starting second baseman on Opening Day against the Orioles at the Stadium and on days veteran Troy Tulowitzki is given a day off from short, Torres will play there.
Indeed, Torres’ roster spot is fairly secure. He just didn’t approach the offseason that way.
Torres moved to the Tampa area during the winter and, by December, was showing up regularly at the Yankees’ minor-league complex to work with infield coach Carlos Mendoza.
Torres, noticeably leaner this spring, also wanted to add muscle, and by all accounts he succeeded. He changed his diet — “More vegetables, try to eat a little more clean, more chicken, more salads, less fried food,” Torres said — and worked full time with a personal trainer from November through January.
“I focused on my body this offseason,” he said. “I wanted to put muscle on my body and [lower body fat] to be a little stronger this year so I can play in more games. I tried to prepare so I would have more stamina.”
Torres cooled in the season’s second half, in large part because of injury. He was hitting .294 with a .905 OPS July 4, but a day later was placed on the disabled list with a right hip strain. After returning July 25, Torres hit .249 with a .733 OPS and nine homers in the final 60 games.
When asked how much being injured motivated him in the offseason, Torres said, “A lot. I don’t feel good about that, I felt sad and mad. I understand it’s a part of the game, but I don’t want any more injuries, so I prepared really well this offseason.”
Preparation manager Aaron Boone noticed almost immediately a week-and-a-half ago when he arrived in Tampa, went to the minor-league complex and watched Torres work in the field and take batting practice.
“I think he worked really hard this winter to put himself in a good position coming in,” Boone said. “Obviously at 21 years of age last year, the kind of season he was able to have for us, I feel like I’m excited to say there wasn’t a real satisfaction from him. It was, ‘I want to get better, I want to be great at this.’ And I think that’s what he showed us this winter with the work he’s put in.”
Torres said, “I want to get better and better every year,” which Boone certainly has picked up on.
“Gleyber’s hungry,” Boone said. “Gleyber wants to be a great player in this league. You sense that from different guys, and Gleyber kind of has that drive.”