TAMPA, Fla. — After missing 3 1⁄2 months last season because of Tommy John surgery, Gleyber Torres made a declaration on Saturday that is sure to make the Yankees and their fans smile.
“I feel I’m the same guy,” Torres said, meaning the version from before the surgery.
If Torres indeed is the same guy he was last spring training, it’s difficult to imagine that he won’t be on the Opening Day roster, likely as the starter at second base or perhaps third base.
“We’ll see what happens,” the 21-year-old said.
The Yankees, barring a last-second acquisition in spring training, have open competitions at third and second. General manager Brian Cashman has said highly regarded prospects Torres (who played third, short and second last season in the minors) and Miguel Andujar (who plays only third) will have a chance to win those jobs in spring training. Also in the mix will be Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes, who have demonstrated their versatility with the Yankees, as well as non-roster invitees Jace Peterson and Danny Espinosa.
Torres, considered by many the top prospect in the organization since the Yankees got him from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman deal at the 2016 trade deadline, likely would have made his big-league debut last season. While playing for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, however, he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left (non-throwing) elbow on a play at the plate June 17 in Buffalo.
At the time, Torres had a .304/.404/.443 slash line with two homers, three doubles, a triple and 16 RBIs in 22 games. A shortstop much of his career, he proved to be a quick study at the other positions.
“He’s really comfortable in every position. That’s what makes him special,” said infield coach Carlos Mendoza, who, as the club’s minor-league infield coordinator the previous two seasons, has seen a lot of Torres since 2016. “For a 21-year-old kid, his ability to slow the game down is really, really impressive. And his ability to make adjustments from pitch to pitch. That transition with him, when we started moving him around [from short to third and second], he handled it like he had been there all his life.”
For his part, Torres is steering clear of any superlatives or self-promotion.
Though productive at every step of the minors, he has played all of 23 games at the Triple-A level. If the Yankees determine he needs more seasoning there, so be it, though to get a jump on spring training, Torres arrived in Tampa to start preparations in mid-January.
“I think about that one [needing more time in the minors] because I lost too many games last year,” Torres said. “But when I came in early, I felt pretty good. I [thought] I needed more time in the cages, but almost two weeks hitting, I felt [good]. I hope it’s the same when we start the games.”
The exhibition games last year were not a problem for him. He had a .448/.469/.931 slash line in 19 Grapefruit League games before being sent to minor league camp. When Didi Gregorius got hurt during the World Baseball Classic, more than a few around Cashman wanted Torres to make the Opening Day roster, but the GM said no.
The Yankees could get an extra year of control on Torres by putting him in the minors until mid-April, but during the offseason, Cashman said that won’t be a factor when it comes to who is and isn’t on the Opening Day roster.
“I feel like a little kid with a new toy, excited to play again,” Torres said. “I don’t think about if I make Opening Day or go to Scranton two weeks, I don’t put too much [thought into it]. I just want to play and enjoy the game.”