Opinion

Yankees have a star in Gleyber Torres, who’s lived up to all the hype

 

Gleyber Torres looks ready to receive his next promotion: a higher slot in the batting order.

The Yankees’ rookie second baseman has flourished at the major league level since his callup from Triple-A Scranton one month ago, hitting .323 with eight home runs and 22 RBI in 93 at-bats (27 games). Torres’ .998 OPS is ranked highest on the team, and he’s accomplished all of this while hitting predominantly in the No. 9 spot (77 at-bats).

The hype that surrounded Torres all through the minor league ranks has lived up to its billing, and in his short time with the club, the Yankees have played with more flare and confidence. They’ve reaped the benefits of Torres’ presence in the lineup, and perhaps the most astounding thing about Torres is this: he’s just 21-years-old.

So, considering what Torres has accomplished, he’s earned a top spot in the lineup.

But Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone told WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Thursday that won’t be the case for now, even though Boone felt tempted to reward Torres on Wednesday in their rubber game loss against the Texas Rangers.

“I flirted with it a little bit yesterday, frankly, of moving him up,” Boone said.

The reason for Boone’s reluctance is solely because the Yankees’ current lineup is generating power at a historically high rate. In their last four games, the Yankees have hit 21 home runs, which matches the major league record (the 1977 Red Sox and 1999 Reds achieved this, too). They’ve also hit at least three homers in five straight games — a first in franchise history.

The Yankees’ entire lineup has a faculty for getting on base, and Boone considers Torres to be more valuable at the bottom with sluggers awaiting their turns at the top.

“This kid is equipped to handle so much,” Boone told WFAN. “We’re scoring runs, he’s been so dynamic down there, and the way our lineup sets up with [Brett] Gardner, [Aaron] Judge, [Giancarlo] Stanton or Didi [Gregorius] at the top of the order, it’s really nice to have a guy that’s an impact guy in that nine hole because it creates traffic for some of our big guys as it comes back around.

“There’s no question, it looks like [Torres] has that kind of skill set [to hit higher in the order]. Eventually, there might be a time where we actually do pull the trigger and move him up. But right now, the way our lineup has kind of been set up, and just how good he’s been in that spot, I’m not going to rock that right now.”

Unlike most rookies, Torres hasn’t looked out of place or unseasoned in New York. He plays with a subtle strut (a step or two down from “swagger,” since that word often carries a negative connotation), but it’s only because his movement and actions have become second nature. Torres always seems calm and relaxed, and he recently told reporters that those qualities were developed at an early age, while living in Venezuela. 

“It has to do with my experience as a young baseball player,’’ Torres told the New York Post. “When I was a youngster, I used to play with people that were much older, and what I learned at an early age is that I needed to relax in order to compete and be better. Once I understood that, yes, they are older, but if I am able to relax, I can just enjoy the game and play the game and good things will happen.

“Now today when I face all these teams, I try to do the same thing. Stay calm.’’

With that mentality, Torres has handled the pressure quite well, as his walk-off homer against the Indians at Yankee Stadium and his game-tying, two-run single against the Astros at Minute Maid Park are evidence of that.

He hasn’t even amassed 100 big league at-bats, but Torres’ plate approach is advanced. He has a keen eye. He takes at-bats into deep counts. He’s disciplined and patient, and those traits stand out among the rest, according to Boone.

“We talk all the time about ‘being on the hunt’ up there, but also being able to ‘shut down.’ So, when guys are aggressively looking to do damage, but have the ability to lay off a tough pitch,” Boone told WFAN. “And it’s their mechanics that allow them to do that. And Gleyber does that extremely well. He’s smart. He really gets into the game plan and how we’re going to attack that pitcher and his approach has been really, really strong.

“There’s definitely a humility about him, and you get that being around him. But he brings a lot of life to the room as well. He fits very well in the room. He’s outgoing and personable and funny. But there’s also a humility and an underlying kind of work ethic to him, the way he goes about his work, the way he prepares every day. Not only with his at-bats and getting ready for the opposing pitcher, but the way he works defensively…

“This is a guy that’s played shortstop most of his minor league career and he’s been, frankly, an elite second baseman for us. And I think it’s a tribute to how he prepares, how he works, and just how mature he is for such a young guy.”

Torres is a young guy — no kidding. He’s the youngest Yankee ever to hit homers in three straight games. That stands for something.

And Torres has already gained the trust of his teammates and coaches. He’s not trying to do too much. His mindset is simple, yet his preparation is meticulous. 

Just consider this: if Torres keeps up this pace, he’ll most certainly be in the conversation for American League Rookie of the Year. Of course, there is competition — two-way rookie phenom Shohei Ohtani is a candidate — but the Yankees could potentially have their players finish first or second in ROY voting for three straight years. Gary Sanchez finished second in 2016, Judge finished first in 2017. Torres has a shot to keep that accolade in the Bronx.

But even if he doesn’t win, the Yankees can take solace in the fact that Torres is under team control for the next seven seasons. That must be the icing on the cake.

“I had a conversation yesterday with Gleyber just about how important it is that he is now becoming one of those guys that we want to be a fixture in our clubhouse,” Boone said. “We want to be a tone-setter for our culture. And I absolutely believe he has the makeup, through the good times and the bad times, to be a special character guy in our room.”

All signs point toward this coming to fruition. 

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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