Revisiting topics in the sports journalism universe can best be thought of as those Russian nesting dolls. Beautifully crafted to inconspicuously fit over one another, I’ve always found great satisfaction in believing they’re tangible representations of time. Sometimes we’re reminiscent of better days upon removing a shell, while otherwise we’re more than happy to convince one another there is nothing of importance underneath.
The current state of the Yankees’ third base position is a Russian nesting doll. In our hands rests two pieces of Gleyber Torres’ much more appealing, freshly painted shell, which we can’t wait to use in covering up the battered, yet still relatively productive Chase Headley doll.
Relatively productive is the key. As I read through a story by Randy Miller citing a source that claims the Yankees are priming Torres to take over at third base this season, I thought to myself, “Is he really better than Chase Headley right now?” Sure there is the neatly placed caveat the eventual promotion is, “…contingent on Torres becoming Major League ready sometime over the next two months…” followed by the qualification, “…which the organization fully expects to happen.” While I’m all for developing prospects in the minors, I would be surprised if the already mature and baseball IQ wealthy Torres is substantially different after two months with the RailRiders.
Natural instinct, inflated by the lore around prospects around the majors in recent years, would bubble a hasty “yes” to the surface in answering my productivity question above. But, haste is often the bearer of irrational thought, and if there is anything more detrimental to expectations for a 20 year old player it’s exactly that. Between two levels this season here is what we’ve seen from Gleyber.
AA (32 games) – .273/.367/.496, 5 HR, 5 SB, 22 R, 18 RBI, 12.2% BB, 15.1% K, .223 ISO, .325 TAv
AAA (10 games) – .212/.366/.242, 0 HR, 2 SB, 3 R, 3 RBI, 17.1% BB, 26.8% K, .030 ISO, .250 TAv
Both too small of sample sizes to draw radical conclusions off of, but I think one of the better tells is in a stat that stabilizes quickly – Torres’ 17.1% walk rate – right in the window of comfortably above average we want it to be. Even when he goes through inevitable slumps at the major league level, the safety net of walks shouldn’t be riddled with holes. So why don’t we take a look at what Baseball Prospectus thought production could be from Gleyber preseason over 450 plate appearances, conveniently a bit more than Gleyber would muster if called up today.
2017 PECOTA 50th percentile – .231/.297/.382, 12 HR, 9 SB, 52 R, 47 RBI, .240 TAv
It’s relatively pessimistic, but acts as a bucket of cold water for anybody expecting elite production out of the gate as we’ve seen with other prospects. Our original Headley nesting doll is projected to post a .259 TAv for the rest of the 2017 season, perfectly league average, with another average asset in his fielding metrics (.4 FRAA – fielding runs above average). Removing the development and progression we’ve seen from Torres’ 42 games in 2017, Headley is expected to be league average and Baseball Prospectus’ number 15 overall prospect expectations would fall below average.
Magic happens when we fill in the gaps with information from what we’ve seen in Torres during this neglected 42 game, 2017 sample.
For one, Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA metric believes he improved defensively. After not exceeding the 1.0 mark at any point last season, Torres has improved to post a 2.2 FRAA at Trenton and a 1.7 FRAA at Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Important to note is that after only one appearance away from shortstop last season, he’s started 45% of his games between levels away from short. This seems consistent with the scouting report that Gleyber would be a below-average glove if he stuck at his drafted position. Edge to Torres, as it seems his glove will outplay Headley’s defensive expectations.
Speaking of bats, is it crazy to expect Torres to achieve Headley-level league average production with any improvement we’ve seen from 2016 to 2017?
There is nothing we can admire more than incremental improvement as Torres refines his approach. Everything is pointing in the direction we want and contextual extra credit with the promotion to AA only helps to solidify the case that Torres’ bat is already advanced. If PECOTA were to re-project what to expect from Torres, I’d guess it falls somewhere into what Headley is projected for, a TAv right around .260 with a nice OBP, some pop, and probably a tinge more production on the stolen base front.
Mark Barry wrote a great comparison between Torres and Athletics’ prospect Franklin Barreto, two players with debuts I would bet fall close to each other in the second half of 2o17. Although the analysis a fantasy baseball minded approach, the takeaways are important in trying to gauge just how much of an impact Torres’ bat can have out of the gate and beyond. In Barry’s player-versus-player comparison, Torres wins OBP, homers, and counting stats, while Barreto takes average, steals, and the overall profile. Easy to debate Barry’s ultimate decision, but most notable is the speculation on one skill that I would bet gave Torres the number two spot on MLB.com’s competing prospect list; the development of power. Settling into the 12-15 home run range as Barry predicts isn’t exactly number two prospect material, so my assumption is that MLB.com believes more in the 20-25 potential that is ever so hard to gauge. If Torres takes the Francisco Lindor route of fly balls and homers, we’re looking at one of the game’s greats. But settling on something similar to Dansby Swanson’s power profile will leave New York with some thoughts of what could have been in Torres’ early 20s.
Our new Russian nesting doll covering Headley’s spot at third in the coming weeks isn’t a crazy leap to make. If Torres debuts in 2017, he’ll be unable to celebrate a potential playoff series with Champagne, fresh faced, and pinstripe clad; with – I hope – less media pressure to perform now that Aaron Judge has wrapped his arms around the city like the 6’8″ teddy bear we all knew he was. I encourage the fanbase to give Torres some time to settle in upon promotion. The initial difference between Torres and Headley may be smaller than perceived.
I wrote a post titled, “It’s Not Gleyber Time… Yet,” earlier this season, marking the first in this eventual trifecta of columns. Closing this circle, I’m glad to inform you upon Torres’ arrival, a post titled “Yes, It’s Gleyber Time,” will make its way to the medium of your choosing.