As Gleyber Torres quickly rose through the Chicago Cubs’ Minor League system, the talented youngster was regarded as the type of can’t-miss prospect any team could build around. Then, as the championship-starved organization began to believe that 2016 could finally be its time, Chicago traded Torres to the Yankees for All-Star closer -- and free agent-to-be -- Aroldis Chapman.
Prior to the 2017 season, Chapman came back to the Yankees, signing a long-term contract, and Torres continued his rise to the top of the sport. The infielder would have likely made his Major League debut in 2017 had he not suffered a season-ending elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. But less than a year after that setback, Torres returned to the diamond -- and before long, he was better than ever. A brief stint in Triple-A to start the 2018 season was followed by Torres’s first game with the Yankees that April. By midseason, the second baseman was voted to the American League All-Star team, and he finished his rookie campaign with a .271 batting average, 24 home runs and 77 RBI.
Last season, Torres was voted to his second AL All-Star team, and he upped his batting average to .278 while hitting 38 home runs and driving in 90 runs. With Didi Gregorius heading to Philadelphia this past offseason and DJ LeMahieu expected to handle second base duties in 2020, Torres has moved back to his natural shortstop position. Going into his third season, the 23-year-old has not only established himself as one of the game’s brightest stars, but he has also carved his name into the Yankees record book with one of the best starts to a big-league career in team history.
A few days after this year’s abbreviated Spring Training began in February, Torres sat down with Yankees Magazine editor-in-chief Alfred Santasiere III at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, to discuss the upcoming season, whenever and however that takes place.
You’ve played in 14 postseason games during your first two seasons in the big leagues. What did you learn from those battles about what you need to do to succeed in October?
First of all, I learned how much we all want to play in the postseason and how great of an experience it is. When I think about the first postseason in 2018 and that (American League Division Series) against the Red Sox, that was really the first time I felt that kind of energy in a baseball stadium. I was really happy to be playing in games that mattered as much as those, but I needed to get some experience in that type of atmosphere. I was so excited.
When we faced Minnesota last year in the ALDS, I felt more relaxed. I was just as excited as I was in 2018, but I felt like I had been there before and that I would be there again. I really enjoyed that whole series against the Twins. It was loud in Yankee Stadium, and I really enjoyed the support we got from our fans in those games.
For as well as you played during your rookie season, you were even more productive last year. What are you most proud of from 2019?
That I didn’t get injured. I know that injuries are part of the game, but I worked hard during the offseason to try to prevent getting hurt, and I was proud that the work paid off. Of course, I’m also proud of all of the home runs and all of the hits, especially the ones that came in big moments when I could really help my team.
What would you like to improve on from last season?
There’s nothing specific. Overall, I want to get better every day. I want to make a play on every ground ball that’s hit to me. I want to enjoy the game, and I want to help my team every chance I get. If we can win a championship, and I can continue to play the same way I did the last two seasons, I would be happy at the end of this season.
You’ve been an All-Star in each of your first two big-league seasons. How would you describe the experience of being a young superstar athlete in New York City?
It meant a lot to be picked for the All-Star Game both years, but getting to play with the best players in the sport last year -- after being injured and not playing in the 2018 All-Star Game -- was really special. As far as being a star in New York City, I enjoy the little moments the most. I’m always trying to stay focused, but when you’re playing well, the fans are great to you, and that has been incredible.
Besides the fan base, what do you like most about New York City?
Everything. It’s the best city to play baseball in. Whenever I get the opportunity, I walk around the city and try to experience as much of it as I can. I’m living in the greatest city in the world, and I’m trying to enjoy it all the time.
Although you’ve played plenty of games at shortstop in your life, you’re now the everyday shortstop for the New York Yankees. What are your thoughts on the chance to play at such a storied position with so much tradition?
Derek Jeter played the position for a long time, and there aren’t many people the fans rooted for more than him. He was and still is so loved in New York City, and he deserves that. Also, Didi Gregorius played really well for the Yankees. Now, it’s my time to follow in their footsteps and try to do some of the good things that those players brought to shortstop. It’s an exciting time for me. I love playing shortstop, and I’m excited about getting to do it every day.
This team is stocked with so many star players still in their 20s. What is it like to be part of such a talented group of players, many of whom have yet to experience their best days on the field?
It’s amazing. Every time I walk into the clubhouse when I get to the Stadium or after a game, there’s great energy. It doesn’t matter how young this group is; we all know what we need to do. Everyone fits in really well. There’s great communication, and when one of the younger players needs something from an older player on our team, the support is there. I feel like this is a family. When you feel good being in the clubhouse with your teammates, you play well out on the field.
The Yankees have come close to reaching the ultimate goal in each of the last three seasons, including the two you were part of in 2018 and 2019. How have those recent postseason defeats shaped your attitude heading into this year?
They serve as motivation. When you lose the way we did, especially when your mentality is that you’re going to win the World Series, it hurts. It was tough for us after we came so close again last season. So for our team, and for me personally, I didn’t spend much time waiting to prepare for this season, starting with my offseason workouts. In the long run, both of those postseasons were good experiences. We are more motivated than we would have been if we didn’t have those experiences in the playoffs, and playing in those games gets you ready for more postseason games.
One of the biggest obstacles you faced in the postseason last year was Gerrit Cole. Now that he’s in your dugout, how do you feel that changes the balance of power in the American League?
He’s the best pitcher in baseball. I’m so happy that he’s on our team. He’s already helped the younger players because he’s very willing to answer any questions that anyone has. It was hard to face him, but I love watching him pitch. Even watching him this spring in live batting practice, you can see how good he is. It’s Spring Training, but he’s throwing the ball like it’s the last game of the World Series. It’s amazing to see him out on the mound; he’s an incredible competitor. I think that everyone on our team feels the same way about him.
You’re the third Yankees player to hit 20 home runs in multiple seasons before turning 23. The other two are Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. When your name is mentioned with those two legends, how does that make you feel?
Good! It’s an amazing honor to be on that short list. Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are legends; they are two of the greatest legends. I hope people keep talking about me in the same conversation with them.
When I look at all that you’ve accomplished, it’s hard to believe that you are just 23 years old. But from your days growing up in Venezuela through today, how would you describe your baseball journey?
It’s been a great experience. I’m lucky that I was with the Cubs and that I play for the Yankees. I learned a lot in Rookie ball with the Cubs, and coming back from a serious injury with the Yankees helped me to mature very quickly. Everyone wants to play in the Majors, but I had an amazing time in the Minor Leagues. I played with so many great guys, and they all helped me get to where I’m at now.
Do you have any specific goals for this season?
Yes, I have two. The first is the same one I had last year: to stay healthy. The second one is simple: to win the World Series.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.