Only 23, a 2-time All-Star ... and he could get better

One projection system sees big numbers ahead for Yanks' shortstop

January 6th, 2020

Gleyber Torres’ age vacillated between a wonder (he was only 22 last year) and a meme (can you believe he was only 22?) last season. But that number was brought up for good reason: Few middle infielders have accomplished what Torres did at 22 (128 OPS+, 38 HR, 3.6 fWAR), and that could signal even bigger things as Torres ages into his prime.

Just how big? Well, in the eyes of one prominent projection system, Torres is on an all-time track.

FanGraphs senior writer Dan Szymborski hasn’t released his full ZiPS projections for 2020 yet, but he did give a sneak peek at the forecast for Torres’ next five years on Friday as part of his annual recap of the Yankees’ season. Feast your eyes, Yankees fans:

2020: .287/.348/.557; 136 OPS+; 41 HR
2021: .292/.357/.588; 146 OPS+; 44 HR
2022: .289/.357/.586; 145 OPS+; 44 HR
2023: .289/.359/.602; 150 OPS+; 47 HR
2024: .287/.360/.601; 150 OPS+; 47 HR

Szymborski went with “monster” to describe those numbers; "bonkers" is another term that comes to mind. Only one middle infielder has combined at least 40 homers with an OPS+ of at least 135 at age 23 or younger, and it’s a name Yankees fans are plenty familiar with: Alex Rodriguez. Here are A-Rod’s numbers from his 1998 age-22 season with the Mariners, lined up next to Szymborski’s projection for Torres next season.

1998 A-Rod: .310/.360/.560; 136 OPS+; 42 HR
2020 Torres (projected): .287/.348/.557; 136 OPS+; 41 HR

Rodriguez was more valuable on defense (ZiPS projects -7 defensive runs saved from Torres in 2020), but he is probably the best possible model for an up-and-coming shortstop like Torres. Remember, projection systems are meant to be conservative -- and Szymborski has curated the ZiPS projections for nearly two decades.

And yet, Torres’ first two years in pinstripes convinced ZiPS to put his bat on a Hall of Fame-caliber track. Only six second basemen and eight shortstops have accumulated 31.2 fWAR, ZiPS' projected total for Torres after these next five seasons, through their age-27 season -- and all but three of them are honored in Cooperstown. Better yet, Torres' projected 285 home runs would tie Mike Trout for the fifth-most at that age. Even if Torres' floor in these projections is somewhere closer to Ernie Banks (30 fWAR, 183 HR through age 27), that is still, literally, Ernie Banks.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that ZiPS' forecast, which accounts for past performance and aging trends, will be correct. ZiPS’ numbers assume Torres stays healthy, and that opposing teams don’t adjust their game plans when pitching to him. And Torres is unlikely to repeat his historic numbers against the Orioles (1.045 OPS and 13 homers across 75 plate appearances), no matter the quality of Baltimore’s pitching this year. Baseball is not supposed to look that easy -- for anyone.

Indeed, Torres’ projections by the Steamer system (34 HR, 120 wRC+) actually have Torres taking a tiny step back in 2020, while the forecast of FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections, which blend ZiPS and Steamer together, put Torres closer to the pace of his ’19 campaign (37 HR, 120 wRC+).

But, even if it’s Depth Charts’ outlook that holds true, let’s not take those numbers for granted: They would put Torres alongside Rodriguez, again, as the only 23-or-younger middle infielders with multiple 37-plus homer seasons, and place him in a foursome with A-Rod and two other Hall of Famers (Cal Ripken Jr., Arky Vaughan) as middle infielders his age with multiple .500-plus slugging campaigns.

Torres doesn't scald the ball like teammates Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but he's hammered pitchers when they enter his strike zone. His .702 slugging against in-zone pitches last year ranked just outside baseball’s top 10, per Statcast, and he was one of only four hitters (Pete Alonso, Josh Donaldson, Joc Pederson) to knock at least 10 homers off pitches in the upper-, middle- and lower-thirds of the strike zone.

Torres' power, by all indications, is for real, and, even if one waters Szymborksi’s projection down, the Yankees' next superstar is still on the verge of history.