Three years later, the centerpiece of the Aroldis Chapman trade is an emerging superstar


As MLB heads into the 2019 All-Star break, it’s no secret that Yankees’ 2B/SS Gleyber Torres is one of the best young players in the game. He recently earned his second All-Star selection in his sophomore season, albeit as a replacement, but it is universally agreed that he was snubbed the first time through. He heads into the break with an OPS just south of .900, an OPS+ of 132, a 2.5 WAR, and 19 home runs.
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The sophomore slump clearly has not affected the 22-year old as he is improving on all aspects of his game. He projects to surpass his walk total from last season by the end of the month as his walk rate is up to 9.7% from last year's 8.7%. Combine that with his increased power output and bat on ball tendencies (strikeout rate is down 2.8%) and his areas of improvement depict a player that is maturing and trending up. He has a nearly identical BABIP to last season as well, meaning his numbers are not due to just being lucky.

I could go on and on about how he has the ability to flash the leather, come through in clutch situations, and is the best eight or nine hitter in the sport. These are all things we know and have been written about already. However, I want to go back and take a look at what we did not know. With that being said, let’s rewind a bit.

“The first-born”
When Torres was acquired from the Cubs, he was their top prospect and the 26th best prospect in the entire sport per MLB pipeline. Here is what Brian Cashman said about the 19-year old at the time: "The primary piece, I think the industry recognizes, is Gleyber Torres. He's the equivalent of a first-born, is how I would determine it. He's a high-level prospect that's extremely valuable within the industry." Brian Cashman compared Torres to a first-born child, meaning he became the organization’s crown jewel and that he was acquired with the hope that he would take the reins of the next generation of Yankees.

The Yankees were very high on Torres and were determined to have him being an impactful part of their future. Despite their depth at the middle infield at the time, Jorge Mateo, Tyler Wade, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, etc., the Yankees wanted the best player the Cubs had to offer, and they got him. The Yankees planned to have him play second base, third base, and shortstop in the minors. The Yankees were not known to be a team to rebuild, so for them to tear the team down in exchange for young talent, they must have been in love with Torres.

I think it’s safe to say that Torres lived up to this description. When the Yankees infield was desperate for production last season, his call-up was an instant spark, and for the 2019 team he has been one of the few healthy lineup staples. His defensive versatility they worked on in the minors has also come into play as he has played second base and shortstop for significant periods of time. He was also able to pass up some of the other household infield names in the system that were originally said to be blocking him, despite not being groomed in the organization. Jorge Mateo was dealt for Sonny Gray, and Tyler Wade has not proven he can have a major league impact with the bat.

For fun, I went back and looked at how this blog reacted to the Gleyber Torres acquisition. I was not a part of the blog at the time, but here are some of the best quotes from people who were:

“….. top prospect Gleyber Torres was highway robbery.” – Chad Raines
“I seriously am dumbfounded at the return they got for Chapman. Gleyber Torres is going to be a heck of a player so, job well done, Brian Cashman.” – Fave Ruggiero
“Cashman really did a great job compiling talent in return for a few rentals and Andrew Miller. The Aroldis Chapman trade I loved. Warren was really good with us last year and then Torres is a top prospect.” – Spencer Schultz

Beating the odds
While most everyone would say that his superstar-like production is not surprising given his minor league numbers, the odds were not in his favor. Earlier this year, an analysis comparing the top 15 prospects’, from 1998-2014, that stayed with their respective teams versus those top prospects that were traded was conducted. What was found was that the players who were shipped out were 70 percent more likely to have below average careers in comparisons (based on WAR and career longevity) to similar prospects who stayed with their ball club. This could be due to the fact that the club’s internal scouting knew something that the acquiring team did not or other environmental factors. 

Despite this data, Torres was clearly not a member of this group. The Cubs could have felt that Torres would not live up to his minor league numbers and were better off with Javier Baez and Addison Russell in the long-term, or they could have just been so desperate for a closer that they were internally okay with dealing a potential star. Regardless, Torres only gained a step once he was acquired by the Yankees organization and has not looked back. 

On top of going against the grain for traded prospects, he endured one of the toughest injuries in the sport, a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Now, I know this injury is pretty common in the modern MLB, and that there are dozens of players who have come back strong, including the Yankees’ own Didi Gregorius, but for a 20-year old kid that was primed for his first taste of the game’s highest level and who suffered the injury on a hustle play, it had to be mentally crushing. However, he came back better and literally stronger as scouts noticed he bulked up immensely during his recovery. This resilience from such a young player is as telling as anything of his character, work ethic, and passion for baseball, three things that get lost behind all the numbers.

Being held to such a high standard before even playing a game for the Yankees, the adversity he faced at such a young age, and, of course, his talent have helped Torres mold into an outstanding ballplayer and human being. The kid that never lacks a smile and that puts a smile on hundreds of thousands of fans’ faces on a nightly basis is entering an elite tier of players. The best part of all of this is he has not even hit his prime. Torres is only 22-years old and is on pace for thirty home runs and eighty runs batted in. As I mentioned earlier, he’s improved his stat line in every major statistic category, despite the league knowing more about him and how to approach him at the plate.

Are we looking at a future Hall of Famer? It is clearly too early to tell, but his superstar projections have been pretty dead on, so it is a fun thought to have that the Cubs may have traded a Hall of Fame infielder for half a season of a reliever. However, what we know for sure is that Gleyber Torres will be a major contributor for this team and be adored by Yankee fans for years to come.

Article by: Ryan Thoms

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