CLEARWATER, Fla. — It’s roughly 25 minutes, door-to-door, from Steinbrenner Field to Spectrum Field, the spring training home of the Phillies. As such, Saturday’s trip down the Courtney Campbell Causeway is the shortest for the Yankees, and usually a magnet for higher-profile players.
But the six Yankees we’d count as “regulars” — according to Major League Baseball’s guidelines — were Ronald Torreyes, Austin Romine, Chris Carter, Adam Warren, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge on Saturday. This isn’t to say they skimped on their travel crew. It’s more of an indication of what passes for the Yankees in 2017, and how much of our attention is devoted to the faraway future rather than Opening Day.
Aside from the freakishly powerful Judge — any of whose at-bats could be the Fourth of July — who do people truly want to see during these next five weeks?
At the top of that list has to be Gleyber Torres, currently ranked the sport’s No. 5 prospect by Baseball America, followed closely by Clint Frazier, Jorge Mateo, maybe Miguel Andujar.
Mateo didn’t make Saturday’s trip, but the other three did, and Torres left us hungry for more after going 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles and scoring on a wild pitch — from second base.
That’s what’s so unusual about the Yankees right now. Get as much Torres as you can, because when April rolls around, he’s likely to be playing at Double-A Trenton, potentially another full season or so from showing up in the Bronx.
“I think the best thing that I can accomplish in this spring training is experience,” Torres said through an interpreter after the Yankees’ 6-5 loss to the Phillies. “To be able to mature.”
Smart answer, and a respectable goal for a 20-year-old prospect. But two Grapefruit League games in, the rest of us are jonesing to see this kid every day, along with charting the progress of Frazier, Mateo and Andujar. And we’re not the only ones. Their teammates are hooked, too.
At 29, with five seasons in the big leagues, Warren passes for an elder statesman among these pinstriped pups. And after throwing his two hitless innings Saturday, Warren figured to shower up and be driving back to Tampa by the fourth, as is typical for spring training starters. Instead, Warren stayed because he wanted to watch the youngsters play, to get a sense of what all the hype is about. He wasn’t disappointed.
“There’s a little bit of a buzz,” he said. “I’ve seen Judge’s [Friday] home run about 20 times already on the highlights, but it’s fun. There’s energy with those guys. You kind of stick around a little longer, see what these guys got. It’s lot more enjoyable to see the talent out there, how they compete. It is spring training, but for them to come on a bigger stage and act like they’re playing in the backyard, it’s pretty neat how mature they are.”
The anticipation has been building since last year’s trade deadline. Warren already was a major-leaguer, but we’ve had to wait to view the rest of the Yankees’ haul. When teams sell off their proven stars for highly rated prospects, as Brian Cashman did, it’s like coming downstairs Christmas morning and having to wait seven months to unwrap the gifts. Right now, everyone is ripping off the paper and marveling at the shiny new toys.
“We’re all high on these kids and what they can do,” Joe Girardi said. “A lot of them came over in big trades and we didn’t get to see what they could do last year.”
Eventually, as we move into the latter part of spring training, the Yankees’ lineup will be more representative of the true ’17 roster, the one that will be wearing pinstripes in the Bronx. But with such modest expectations, no one seems to be in a hurry for that day to arrive. Everybody is anxious to determine if the hype swirling around these prospects is real. It’s just human nature to crave The Next Big Thing. At the moment, we’re getting glimpses of it, some entertaining peeks into the future.
The only downside? The process makes us more disenchanted with the Yankees’ present. That’s why this transition is tricky.
“It’s clear, from monitoring social media, from talking to our fans directly, and our season-ticket holders, and all of our ticket-buyers, they want to see these kids,” Hal Steinbrenner said earlier this month.
Presumably, they will someday. It’s already feeling like not soon enough.