By Brad Carroll
The spring training buzz around the New York Yankees is no longer about how many wins the team will reach in the regular season, but about all the young talent on the field in camp. But one player above all is making a case he's ready for The Show now, rather than starting at Double-A and moving to Triple-A before getting the big promotion. That man is Gleyber Torres, who many believe is a can't-miss star.
With Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge all likely to be in the starting lineup for the Bronx Bombers this season, the next potential star up could be Torres. The shortstop has certainly proven he can rake against Major League Baseball pitching so far this spring.
Torres is batting .455 with seven runs scored, four doubles, a triple, two home runs and seven RBI. He's second on the team in runs, home runs and RBI, is tied for second in hits (10), and leads in doubles. Those numbers would be good enough to get anyone a ticket to the big league club.
But Torres, the Arizona Fall League MVP, is just 20 years old, and the Yankees are going to make him earn his way to the Bronx before disrupting the current middle infield situation. With Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro at shortstop and second base, respectively, the upward move by Torres is blocked, in theory. Sure, the Yankees could bench Castro for Torres, as the prospect is getting some time at second base in spring training, but manager Joe Girardi will likely need to be convinced Torres will clearly be a better option than Castro. All things being equal, Torres would likely remain in the minors, while Castro continues to play. Gregorius could be the odd man out, too, but he was one of just a handful of players who was consistently good all of last year.
So, it comes down to if the Yankees believe Castro can be the man at second base, or decide to continue to look for a trade partner. Castro, who is hitting .320 this spring with a homer and five RBI, had a bounce-back season last year in New York. He hit .270 in 151 games, with 29 doubles, 21 home runs and 70 RBI. Those are more than solid numbers for a second baseman.
The best-case scenario, however, would be if a move up by Torres didn't affect Castro or Gregorius at all, but rather third baseman Chase Headley. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman gave Headley a ridiculous four-year deal worth $13 million per season two years ago, and the third baseman hasn't lived up to the contract. Headley still has two years and $26 million to go on his deal, but replacing him would automatically make the Yankees better this season. And it's not like the Yankees have been shy recently to swallow bad contracts.
Headley hit .253 with just 18 doubles, 14 home runs and 51 RBI in 140 games last season. The year before he was only slightly better, batting .259 with 29 doubles, 11 home runs and 62 RBI. Certainly, Headley's good years are behind him.
If the Yankees could have either Gregorius or Castro move to third, then have Torres take the open spot in the middle of the infield, the team is better automatically. It's not easy switching positions, and it's probably not even a thought-process in spring training by the Yankees, but just imagine that Yankees infield. Bird at first, Castro at second, Torres at short and Gregorius at third, plus Sanchez behind the plate. That would be one exciting group to watch.
And it's not like the Yankees would be losing huge power numbers at third, either, as Headley combined for just 25 home runs the past two years. Gregorius hit 20 homers last year alone.
It's likely a pipe dream to believe the Yankees could make a Torres promotion work in this way, and Castro is likely to be the odd man out, whether it's a move to the bench, or traded away for another prospect. But if the Yankees were thinking ahead, and outside the box, they just might see Headley as the weak link.
Either way, if Torres continues to hit as he has in spring training and then in the minors, there won't be anything stopping his ascension to the Major League club this season. Depending on how quickly he can dominate Double-A and Triple-A, Torres could take his place at Yankee Stadium before the All-Star break.
He might even get there quicker than the last great Yankees shortstop. Derek Jeter debuted at 21 years old. Torres won't turn 21 until December 13.
It's those type thoughts that have fans so excited about what this Yankees team can become in the very near future.