NEW YORK -- There were two weeks remaining until Opening Day 2017 when bad news forced the Yankees to adjust one of their stars' travel itineraries. Didi Gregorius was boarding a flight in Los Angeles, where he'd injured his right shoulder playing in a World Baseball Classic exhibition.
Ronald Torreyes would fill in admirably while the Yankees waited for their starting shortstop, but behind closed doors, there were members of the coaching staff who lobbied for Gleyber Torres to leap from Class A Advanced ball to the Majors.
General manager Brian Cashman resisted the temptation to make such an aggressive promotion then, but as the Yankees look to plug vacancies at both second and third base for this upcoming season, there is a legitimate chance that they begin 2018 with the 21-year-old Torres -- currently rated as the game's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- playing a key role.
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"They wanted him," Cashman said. "I can understand why, but you take careful steps when you have that type of ceiling. At that age, he had never played in cold weather in his career. I didn't want him drinking out of a fire hose in April."
Coming off a stellar showing in the Arizona Fall League, where Torres was named the youngest MVP in the circuit's history, he posted a strong .273/.367/.496 slash line in 32 games at Double-A Trenton. At that time, Yankees vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring passed through Trenton and told Cashman, "This guy is ready to go from my perspective, any time you want."
Naehring's assessment was spot-on. Promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Torres hit .309/.406/.457 in 23 games before his season ended on June 17 in Buffalo, when he injured his left (non-throwing) elbow on a head-first slide into home plate. Tommy John surgery was required.
Had Torres not attempted to score from second base on that Mark Payton single to right field, he likely would have made his Major League debut in a matter of weeks.
"You may very well have seen him as the third baseman or the DH," Cashman said. "It may have prevented us from trading for Todd Frazier, who knows? We never did find out, because he didn't get more time."
With Torres expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training, his arrival in the Bronx appears inevitable.
"He's healthy right now," Cashman said. "He wanted to play winter ball. We wouldn't let him. He could go play winter ball right now, but we said, 'No way.' He'd just gone through a successful rehabilitation, and he wants to get at-bats. We said, 'Patience is a virtue.'"
Playing time figures to be available, as the Yankees shipped second baseman Starlin Castro to the Marlins in the Giancarlo Stanton trade and unloaded third baseman Chase Headley's salary to the Padres days later. At the time, Cashman mentioned Torres, Miguel Andujar, Thairo Estrada, Torreyes and Tyler Wade as internal candidates to plug their infield voids.
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The Yankees have since checked in on more experienced options; the Pirates' Josh Harrison has been mentioned, while former Yankee Eduardo Nunez is a free agent. Yet manager Aaron Boone recently said that he would be comfortable beginning the year with Torres in his infield.
"These are real high character guys, guys you want to be around, guys that are going to impact our clubhouse in a positive way," Boone said. "All accounts on Gleyber is he's that guy. Whether he's impacting our club from Jump Street, again, remains to be seen. But I'm really excited about his long-term future with us."