TAMPA, Fla. — Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge. You know them as the Baby Bombers, and their family could be growing. Shortstop Gleyber Torres, 19, and second baseman Jorge Mateo, 21, have been turning heads with their efforts at Class-A Tampa.
Take this Aug. 27 play against Brevard County:
On a hard-hit grounder up the middle, Mateo ranged several strides to his right, reached down and backhanded the ball behind the second-base bag. In one fluid motion, still backhanded, he flipped it with his glove on the run to Torres, who snatched it with two hands while facing rightfield, shifted his feet and fired the ball to first for the out.
“Jorge really had no business fielding the ball,” Tampa Yankees manager Patrick Osborne said. “Any other second baseman, that’s a base hit. So you can imagine the speed in which Jorge backhands the ball, and then to backhand flip to Gleyber, seemed like just a fraction of a second, Gleyber to catch, turn, strong throw.”
The play exemplified what the Yankees have assembled in Tampa since acquiring Torres from the Cubs for All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman in June.
“They’re just naturally good,” Osborne said.
Mateo signed with the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic and is completing his second season with the Florida team. Torres originally signed with the Cubs out of Venezuela and played for their Class-A affiliate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, before the trade. Both are consensus top-100 prospects.
Though Mateo is originally a shortstop, he had begun playing second base before Torres arrived.
“It’s a big difference, you get a lot more time [to handle the ball] at second base,” Mateo said through his teammate Wes Wilson, a catcher who translated for the Dominican Republic-born infielder. “So I got to remind myself, get that ball, get it out, find a different rhythm at second baseman than shortstop.”
Osborne said the organization likes to have infielders play different positions for versatility.
Torres also has played second base for Tampa and will get time there in the Arizona Fall League.
Osborne said both had to do little things to improve their consistency. Torres wasn’t getting his shoulders in the proper position to throw at times, but Osborne said he could only remember one throwing error since he came to the Yankees (he ended the season with four errors in 28 games with the Yankees, and 19 errors in 87 games before the trade).
Mateo’s 36 stolen bases in 2016 were less than half of what he had last season, when he led the minor leagues with 82. But Osborne and Mateo attributed his decreased stolen base total to increased attention to him and better competition.
“This year was a little different. Pitchers and catchers were paying more attention to me over there and really making me work for every base that I stole,” Mateo said. “So I haven’t stolen as many, but I’ve learned some things along the way.”
“You know, he’s been blessed with unbelievable raw speed, but he’s got to do some other things in order to make it work because it’s going to be more difficult as he climbs the ladder,” Osborne said. “It’s been a blessing in disguise for him because I think he has realized, ‘Man, I can’t just rely on my speed anymore. I got to read pitchers. I got to get good jumps. I got to pick my spots to run.’ ”
Torres, hitting .254, and Mateo (.256) have been keeping tabs on Sanchez and the other Baby Bombers already in The Show.
“It’s fun to watch the young guys up there and it’s definitely motivation,” Torres said. “It’s proof that you can get there and it just motivates you to work hard and do what you can do to make that happen for you.”
“It’s very exciting to watch some of our buddies getting called up, the young guys, and watching them have some success,” Mateo said. “It’s exciting for us because you know it just makes you want to work that much harder because you know there’s a chance you could get up there, so it’s just going about your work every day. It really drives you.”
If all goes to plan for the Yankees, Mateo and Torres will join the “Baby Bombers” sooner rather than later.
“They’re kind of on that same timeline. I would have to believe that they’ll both be in Double A next year playing up the middle,” Osborne said. “And then from there, things can happen really fast.”