Maybe in the best possible season for the Yankees their best all-around player once again turns out to be shortstop Gleyber Torres. Maybe if the Yankees turn into the team they think they desperately want to be, at last, which means a World Series team for the first time in 12 years, Yankees fans will spend the summer saying their shortstop is even better than the one the Mets now have. That would be Francisco Lindor, who says he’s the best shortstop -- and not just in New York.
Torres, who seemed more comfortable at second base before the Yankees got DJ LeMahieu, hit 38 home runs the last time the Yankees played a full season. He was just 22 when he did that and looked as if he would be a star at Yankee Stadium for a long time.
Then came the abbreviated 2020 season. Then came injuries, time on the injured list and numbers that disappointed him and everybody else who had seen the possibilities for the kid from Venezuela when the Yankees got him in a trade with the Cubs. It wasn’t until Torres was healthy in August that he started to play the way the Yankees expected him to play; like the young player they refer to at Wrigley Field as the one who got away.
And Torres kept playing like that into October, where the disappointment of the Yankees finally losing Game 5 of the American League Division Series to the Rays -- and all the home runs Giancarlo Stanton hit -- overshadowed that. He was just getting started when another Yankees season ended too soon.
In two games against the Indians in the AL Wild Card series, Torres started out going 4-for-4 in Game 1 and ended up with five hits in seven at-bats, a home run and three RBIs. In the Yankees' five-game ALDS against the Rays, he had five more hits and another home run. He hit .714 against the Indians and .313 against the Rays, as he again looked like his best self. It all unfortunately got lost in the mix when the Yankees didn’t advance against the Rays, after Mike Brosseau hit one out against Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the eighth of Game 5 and the Yankees lost, 2-1, and headed home.
Yankees are supposed to define themselves in October. Torres has done that in the three he’s had so far. He has, in fact, played the way Derek Jeter did when he was young and first arrived on that grand stage. In Jeter’s first 20 postseason games, he had 29 hits in 20 games and a batting average of .354. He also had three homers, five RBIs and scored 18 runs.
In Torres’ first three trips to October, he has 26 hits in 21 games, 14 runs scored, five homers, 15 RBIs and a batting average of .342.
“This is the time we need to do the job for our team,” Torres said after Game 1 against the Indians last October.
Great Yankees always have at that time of year in baseball.
This was the real Torres -- not the one who missed 18 regular-season games and posted a .243 average with just three home runs and 16 RBIs the year after he made the All-Star team. Now, he is healthy and looking ahead to a full season. He still has Aaron Judge with him, as well as Stanton and LeMahieu, along with Gary Sanchez looking to write a comeback story of his own behind the plate. But maybe Torres is really the one to watch.
Torres doesn’t have to be an elite defensive player. He just needs to be reliable, the way Jeter was. He just has to build on what we saw from him in 2019. He has to give Lindor a run for his money and start a great debate about who is the best young shortstop in New York. He has to be, at 24, what we thought he would be at 23 if he’d played a full and healthy season.
We forgot Torres last season because of everything that happened, so much of it out of his control. All he has to do this season is remind everybody just how much game he’s got -- that before 2020 he was in the first paragraph of the conversation about the most promising young guys in the game.
Here is something Torres said the other day in Tampa, in the same week he and Stanton hit back-to-back home runs against the Pirates:
“Last year, I got in a little trouble with my timing,” Torres said. “I did too much swinging at [bad pitches]. I tried to do too much. This year, I’ll follow the plan we had in 2019: Be confident. And if I have the opportunity to hit a homer, I’ll do it. I know I can hit homers.”
He can do a lot more than that. Across town, Pete Alonso is trying to show that his short season in 2020 wasn’t a reflection of who he really is as a player. Torres is trying to do the same for the Yankees. He's trying to be the player all season long that he is in October.