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Yankees Magazine: Short track

Gleyber Torres's awesome skills make him a top prospect -- but there's something else about him that's just as important
Yankees Magazine

Over the next few months and years, you're going to be reading a lot about Gleyber Torres, the Venezuelan phenom who this year participated in his first Big League Spring Training. Most of it will be effusive, some will border on wishcasting. Basically every prospect ranking list features Torres right near the top -- both in the Yankees' system and in the game as a whole. The shortstop oozes talent in all facets of the game, and when he represented the club in the Arizona Fall League this past year -- the youngest prospect in the elite circuit -- he came home with MVP honors and even more hype. If you don't know much about Torres yet, you will soon.

Torres is easy to like, he's easy to get behind, and it's comforting, if we're honest, to see what we want to see, to predict great things of this 20-year-old stud. Hyperbole is human.

Over the next few months and years, you're going to be reading a lot about Gleyber Torres, the Venezuelan phenom who this year participated in his first Big League Spring Training. Most of it will be effusive, some will border on wishcasting. Basically every prospect ranking list features Torres right near the top -- both in the Yankees' system and in the game as a whole. The shortstop oozes talent in all facets of the game, and when he represented the club in the Arizona Fall League this past year -- the youngest prospect in the elite circuit -- he came home with MVP honors and even more hype. If you don't know much about Torres yet, you will soon.

Torres is easy to like, he's easy to get behind, and it's comforting, if we're honest, to see what we want to see, to predict great things of this 20-year-old stud. Hyperbole is human.

But the next big prospect to peter out short of greatness will be something like the 500,000th to suffer that fate. And the list of things Torres has yet to do reads way longer than any account of his accomplishments to date.

When Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman began shipping out veterans and replenishing the club's farm system last July, he sent closer Aroldis Chapman -- whom the club had acquired from Cincinnati in exchange for a few prospects the previous offseason -- to the Cubs. Chapman played a crucial role in the Cubs' World Series championship, earning the win in Game 7, but Cashman's haul was notable, as well. In addition to Big League pitcher Adam Warren, the Yankees received Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford and Torres, who was the Cubs' top-ranked prospect. And it's worth noting that Warren had originally gone to the Cubs from the Yankees in exchange for starting second baseman Starlin Castro.

And to close the circle, this past offseason, the Yankees signed Chapman as a free agent.

So to recap: the Yankees ended up with Castro, Warren, Chapman, a couple of prospects with some potential and, of course, Torres. And for all that, the cost was minimal.

Torres might end up being the next Derek Jeter, or he might be the next Derek Jones. All signs point to the former. Torres is doing his part to ensure that remains so, but whatever happens, you can't beat the value.

Coming Home

Sitting in the clubhouse during Spring Training, surrounded by world-famous MLB stars, Torres considers all that has changed over the course of the past year. The Cubs, somehow, are world champions, but Torres is a proud member of the Yankees, the team his parents always rooted for back in Caracas. Immediately upon hearing of the trade, without ever having seen him play, Yankees fans fell in love, then the affection grew even deeper when they started reading about his feats in Arizona. Now they've taken to him like a familiar old friend. The feeling is mutual.

"I feel like I'm home here," Torres said, assisted by an interpreter. "I feel like I've been here for three years. I feel like part of the family. I'm seeing all the guys around, and it's definitely that 'home' feeling."

Torres just turned 20 this past December, and the plan is for him to start the 2017 season in Trenton, playing for the Double-A Thunder. At best, it would seem that he's still more than a year away from the Majors. But he has been on the Yankees' radar for a long time. Back in 2013, when he was a 16-year-old kid in Venezuela, Cashman viewed him as the top international prospect available.

"The Cubs did a great job of securing him, getting in on him early," Cashman said. "We were frustrated that we didn't get him. That's a name I have not forgotten, and he's done nothing but continue to develop and emerge."

In particular, the Yankees GM notes how advanced his skills seem for his age. "His hit ability is off the chart. I keep hearing about his defense and everything else, too, but he can just flat-out hit. He's got a great stroke. Watching him, he's got amazing hand-eye coordination. He's got strength. He's like a right-handed Robinson Cano the way he swings the bat. It's very impressive."

Cashman, having acquired the player, obviously has plenty of reason to sing his praises. Even still, Cano is a high bar to set. The Dominican Republic native made five All-Star teams as a member of the Yankees, finishing in the top 10 of American League MVP voting four times after being the runner-up for the 2005 AL Rookie of the Year Award.

"I think we're different players," Torres said, wisely deflecting any comparison to one of the top middle infielders in the Majors. "But what I have seen is that he does a lot of things well. That's important -- to make sure that you're doing everything correctly."

Big League Attitude

Torres focuses a lot of attention right there, on doing things the right way. There are rules for young prospects. You're supposed to be quiet. You're supposed to be deferential, respectful, sometimes invisible. And for the most part, Torres fits all those descriptions. But the impressive thing about him is how deftly he manages to straddle the line between knowing his place and knowing where he wants his place to be.

"He carries himself like he's been around for a while," said Tyler Wade, who played with Torres in Arizona this past fall. It's an interesting comment, worth unpacking. Wade's tone and facial expression clearly indicate that he means it in a positive way -- here's this young kid, and he's so skilled that he seems like he's been doing this for a while. But baseball has a funny way of dimming some of its brightest lights. Excitable and exciting players are often told to pipe down. Players with unique habits and traits are often told to get in line. You're supposed to look the part and act the part, even if that sometimes means tempering your own personality.

But Torres fits seamlessly. He hops around out on the field, laughing easily -- including when he swung so hard at a spring pitch that he fell over.

Video: PIT@NYY: Torres loses balance after big swing

As he passes teammates in the clubhouse, he doesn't genuflect. Walking by one of the longest-tenured players on the team, he holds up his hand and yells, "CC!"

"We're all in this together," said Sabathia, who happily high-fived the youngster. "Why shouldn't he feel comfortable?" But Sabathia also acknowledges, without so much as a hint of tut-tutting, that Torres is a symbol of changing times in Big League clubhouses. Sabathia is happy to see a guy like Torres expressing himself -- he prefers the game this way. But he knows that even just five years ago, there probably would have been more pressure for him to act like a Double-A player, no matter how much promise he had.

"It's a different game," Sabathia said. "They come up with the confidence, and who are we to shoot that down?"

In Arizona, as a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions, Torres hit .403 to become the youngest batting champ in the league's 25-year history. And he took home the MVP, which teammate Greg Bird received in 2014.

"I've been extremely impressed," Bird said of the young star. "He's very mature for his age as far as not getting too high or too low and being able to handle professional baseball. He's extremely talented. … I'm happy that I can be a part of that and kind of help him at this point, but I'm really, really impressed so far with how he is as a player, but also how well he handles baseball mentally."

It's unsurprising, though, that the hyper-focused Torres sees the MVP not as a positive end to a successful season in Arizona, but rather as something to build on for years to come. He admits that he took great pride in earning the recognition. But more than that, he said, "It's fuel to get better. To keep on going. You know that you can be better."

Coaches, executives, teammates and Torres himself recognize the importance of this stage of his career. He's getting reps, seeing new things and building a mental book that should benefit him down the line. But even when people try to note his on-field skills, they keep going back to the young but preternaturally impressive brain -- sometimes in the course of one sentence.

"On the field, obviously his hands," said Yankees third base coach Joe Espada, listing the attribute that has impressed him the most. But then he immediately pivots. "And how easily he slows the game down. It's not easy to do. As a young player, you can have all the tools in the world, but when you get on the big stage in the Major Leagues, the game doesn't necessarily get faster, but the magnitude of the stage makes you speed up with the game just because you think that you need to do more now that you're in the Major Leagues. So getting kids to understand that in A-ball, it's a big step forward when I'm trying to teach them shifting or cuts and releases. Very important things. But when we get it out of the way, the fact that he just kind of knows how to slow things down, it makes it so much easier for me to take him to the next level."

Manager Joe Girardi is on the same page. Asked to name what he finds most impressive about the club's top prospect, Girardi keys in on his bounty of composure. "I think it's his maturity level. When you watch the little things he does, the adjustments he makes as a hitter, it seems like he understands what he needs to do each at-bat. If there's nobody on, if there's a runner on first, runner on second, what he needs to do when he runs the bases.

"The game seems pretty slow for him."

Well Spoken

Of all the ways fans, teams and writers gauge players' success, it's impossible to put a fine enough point on how hard it can be for a young foreign-born player to adjust to America on a big stage. Way too often, players from Latin America are stereotyped as quiet, standoffish or worse simply due to their having a difficult time learning English -- to say nothing of the fact that they're making the adjustment while also trying to figure out how to hit Big League pitching.

Making small talk, it's impossible not to be impressed by Torres's command of English. He can understand the language, he can speak it, and there doesn't seem to be any barrier. But when you pull out a recorder and get ready to start the interview, the young stud asks for an interpreter.

Plenty of Latin American players do their best to handle interviews in their second language, and to be sure, it does allow for a much more natural, intimate conversation when you don't need to wait for every sentence to be translated. But Torres, despite his youth, understands something very important. What he says matters; the words themselves matter. And he's simply not willing to come across in any way that's less than perfect. Cashman excitedly compares it to how he handles everything else: I want to nail this.

But there's another element to it, as well, which Torres points out. It's not just that he wants his words to be perfect; he also wants to do his best not to waste anyone's time. He believes that his on-field tools are going to carry him pretty far in the game. But the way he presents himself to the world is going to play a role, as well -- especially in New York.

There's earnestness in the way that Torres talks about his attitude. He understands that the Yankees expect him to study film and work out in the weight room and batting cages, but that there's a crucial part of his life in baseball that will happen entirely off the field. And he's determined to master that just like he is everything else.

"It was something my parents have taught me since I was a little kid," he said. "Giving respect to everyone around you. Especially here with the media. I understand that you guys have a job to do, and I'm part of it. I want to make sure that I give the time to everybody."

The Kid's Alright

There are a million things that can go wrong between Double-A and superstardom, and it would take a fool to make any guarantees. There's always a chance that this is as good as it gets for a prospect even as celebrated as Gleyber Torres. Really, who knows?

But there's certainly comfort to take in the fact that the kid is doing everything right. Over the entire spring, back in the AFL and everywhere else Torres has played, teammates, coaches and fans have said the same thing: There's just something about Gleyber.

"Gleyber Torres is a phenomenon," said pitcher James Kaprielian, another potential star who represented the Yankees in the Arizona Fall League. "He's going to be a pretty hot commodity in a year or so. I'm excited to see where that guy takes off to. He wants to be a Big League infielder for the Yankees, and he's not going to stop until he is."

"It goes beyond his natural ability," Espada adds. "He's a really bright young man, which makes it easier for me to teach him new things and make adjustments. He comes from a really good family. He's always been around good people that helped with his upbringing, and he seems to be a really good young man."

So what can Torres control as he looks to make the leap? Basically what he's doing already, making as though he is 20 going on 35. Torres is smart, he is engaging, he is comfortable in his skin, and he is a delightful presence in the clubhouse. And, you know, he's crazy talented. When all the dominoes fell, Cashman ended up with a stud prospect for almost no cost at all. You can't beat that. The rest is in the player's hands, but Torres hasn't given any reason to doubt what he can do.

"I'm trying to learn from so many great players that are there in that clubhouse," Torres said. "I'm just trying to learn, whether it's a play or an at-bat, whatever it might be. … I want it to make me a better player, better person and more mature.

"I just want to work on everything to be able to help the team win another World Series."

Jon Schwartz is the deputy editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the 2017 New York Yankees Official Yearbook, an official Yankees publication. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

 

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