MOOSIC, Pa. — His family is OK.
This is what they tell Gleyber Torres. His parents tell him not to worry when he texts them every morning, and they say the same thing if he checks back later in the day. They want him to be worry-free and concentrate on baseball.
Torres, the Yankees’ top prospect, recently moved up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and there is speculation that the Yankees will find a place for him in their infield sometime before the end of the season.
Yet the fact is that while the 20-year-old Torres is chasing his baseball dream in the foothills of the Poconos, life back home in Venezuela has devolved into a nightmare for many citizens. Every day, there is more bad news from Caracas: food shortages, rampant crime and widespread violence that, according to Reuters, has resulted in at least 62 deaths during the past two months as security forces break up anti-government protests.
“Yes, my family is there,” Torres said last week after batting practice at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders’ PNC Field. “There is a lot of trouble happening in my country right now. Every day I ask, ‘Is everything all right?’ Right now, everything is all right. So I say to myself, do what you have to do. Take it easy, relax and focus on my game.”
Somehow, despite all the turmoil in his country, Torres is managing to do that and more. The centerpiece of the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs last July, Torres played in only 32 games for Double-A Trenton this season — hitting .273 with five homers and 18 RBIs — before being promoted on May 21.
“He’s the second-youngest player in the International League,” said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who has had his eye on Torres since he was 15. “We sent him to the fall league [in Arizona], which was an advanced league for anyone his age, and he wound up being the MVP. In the Eastern League, we thought he would be there half a year, and by mid-May, he was out of there. It’s been an impressive run.”
Cashman dismissed recent reports that the Yankees plan to promote Torres to replace slumping third baseman Chase Headley “media speculation,” but he didn’t rule out bringing him up before the end of the season, especially if there is an injury in the infield.
Torres started 19 games at shortstop and five each at second and third base for Trenton. He also has played all three positions for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
In addition to showing his talents on the field, Torres has shown unusual maturity in making a life off it. This past April, at the end of spring training, he flew back to Venezuela to marry Elizabeth, his childhood sweetheart, and she now lives with him in Scranton. Torres has decided he wants to be a player who can connect with all kinds of fans, so much so that he has taken accelerated English lessons and refused to use an interpreter for interviews.
“I looked at a lot of baseball players in the big league and I decided I didn’t want to have to use a translator,” Torres said. “I want to be able to express myself in interviews and in social media. I want people to know me and know what I want to say. So I focus on English class. And more important, I speak English in the street and to my teammates. Sometimes I feel embarrassed, but I want to speak English, so I try.”
Torres also studies the games of famous athletes inside and outside of baseball. His favorite baseball players are Venezuelans Omar Vizquel and Miguel Cabrera. His favorite all-time athlete? LeBron James.
“I see every playoff game,” Torres said. “I like LeBron James. I feel happy because he plays so hard.”
While Torres often talks and sounds like any other budding young superstar with the world at his feet, his Triple-A manager, Al Pedrique, said you cannot underestimate the stress and pressure felt by all players who have family back in Venezuela. Pedrique’s wife currently is in Caracas helping out with his grandchildren while his daughter recovers from surgery, and he speaks to her on the phone at least four times a day.
“You cannot believe my wife’s stories. People stand in line for six or seven hours, hoping when they get into a store they can find something to buy,” said Pedrique, who played for the Mets in 1987. “People are eating out of garbage dumpsters. The inflation is so bad that people are begging for food, not money, ’cause the money won’t buy anything. The other day, she sent me a receipt. She bought bread, ham, cheese, vegetables and fruit. It was like 300 American dollars. The minimum salary there is $45 a month.”
Pedrique first got to know Torres in spring training. He said he is not surprised that Torres’ family is quick to reassure him when he calls, and he thinks Torres is doing the best thing he can do by concentrating on his game.
“Parents hope that their kids can just get out of the country and find a future, because there is no future in Venezuela,” Pedrique said. “The first thing I do when I see him is ask, ‘How is your family?’ ’cause I know what he’s going through. And he’s only 20.”
Only 20 and headed for the Bronx — if not this season, then sometime very soon.
Born: Dec. 13, 1996, in Caracas, Venezuela (Age 20)
Bats: R Throws: R
Vitals: 6-1, 175 pounds
Signed by Cubs in July, 2013
Traded to Yankees July 31, 2016
Minor league stats (343 games, through Friday)
Batting — .279
OBP — .358
OPS — .409
Stolen base pct. - .600