NEW YORK — Sure, they all thought the kid would hit.
But no one — absolutely no one — predicted Gleyber Torres would be this powerful at the plate.
Torres — the New York Yankees’ next superstar in the making — just posted the best month of his young career, belting 13 home runs in August. And, as of Monday, his overall total of 33 in 2019 ranked sixth in the AL.
The 22-year-old is currently on pace to finish his sophomore season with 39 homers, after connecting for 24 as a rookie.
“He’s hungry to be amazing at what he does,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Yahoo Sports when asked about the franchise’s wunderkind at second base. “He’s driven to be one of the best in the game. And he’s backing it up.
“But his power has surprised me. Because now, he’s knocking on the 40-home run door if he goes off in September. And that’s not something I was envisioning.”
For what it’s worth, Torres still thinks of himself as a contact hitter.
However, when asked recently if reaching the 50-homer plateau would change his mind, Torres laughed and responded: “Man, we’ll see. We’ll see.”
During his minor-league career, Torres hit all of 19 homers in 373 games over five seasons (a career-best 11 of them coming in 2016). So comparisons to former NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez made a lot more sense than, say, Jeff Kent, who hit more balls out of the ballpark than any second baseman in major-league history (351).
“I never saw the power coming, but he always had a great line-drive stroke,” said a scout who saw Torres as a teenager very early in his pro career. “It’s hard to predict power at that age.”
Torres has credited his power surge to preparation and rigorous workout sessions during the offseason.
“It’s surprising — just in terms of how many he has,” said Jimmy Gonzalez, who managed Torres in his first two seasons of pro ball with the Chicago Cubs organization (2014-15). “He was able to hit some balls out of the ballpark — mostly to right field. But for him to show the type of power he has now — and the pull power — he’ll hit them anywhere. Left. Right. Center. Doesn’t matter. It’s incredible to see what he’s doing.”
The injury-riddled Yankees have been the beneficiaries.
In fact, Torres is the only player from the team’s Opening Day lineup who has yet to appear on the IL.
Aside from briefly dealing with a core issue, Torres has been a rock for the Bombers, hitting all over the lineup — though it’s mostly third or cleanup now — while manning shortstop with Didi Gregorius sidelined for a significant period of time.
Torres, who is hitting .285/.348/.539, ranks second on the team in FanGraphs WAR behind D.J. LeMahieu. He’s also just the third Yankee in franchise history to make multiple All-Star teams before his 23rd birthday. The others: Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
“He’s the star of this team. He’s the future of this team,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said in June.
Opposing teams have tried their luck at acquiring Torres, who won’t become a free agent until 2025 (if he isn’t extended), with the Yankees receiving a lot of calls about him over the winter.
More recently, Detroit and Toronto both gave it a shot.
But Torres obviously isn’t going anywhere.
“C’mon now. I’ve got to walk around in this city,” Cashman said in June 2018 while nixing the idea of Torres wearing something other than pinstripes.
LIVING UP TO ALL THE HYPE
With Chicago, they used to call Torres “El Nino” or “The Kid.”
Before the Venezuelan native signed with the Cubs for $1.7 million as a 16-year-old in July 2013, Torres was in Arizona for his physical — as well as other procedural things.
“He wasn’t supposed to be on the field,” Gonzalez said. “And the next thing you know — I didn’t even realize it — they were hitting him ground balls and he’s at shortstop. We’re like, ‘Hey, get outta there!’
“He was just a young, little kid. He wasn’t as strong as he is now. Now, he’s a man.”
Aside from tremendous bat control, Torres’ maturity also stood out to Gonzalez.
“He knew what he wanted,” Gonzalez said. “Not every player has that mentality and that mindset, but those are the guys that separate themselves. A lot of them have similar abilities, but it’s their whole mindset. How are they approaching their work? Are they eating right? You saw that with Gleyber, how he carried himself. He wasn’t goofing off. And then you remember how old he was and you’re like, ‘Wow.’”
Just as impressive: Torres’ ability to thrive under pressure, amidst great expectations.
“Pressure always comes with being a high prospect, but I don’t think he was ever affected by it,” Gonzalez said. “He had one goal in mind, and nothing was going to derail him from attaining it.”
Torres had to deal with a lot of personal issues early in his career, though he politely declined to get into details, saying he wanted the situation to remain private.
In 2015, Gonzalez pulled Torres from a Single-A game for not running out a ground ball. Two days later, he scored from second on a flyout.
“I think a lot of life has matured him even more,” Gonzalez said.
THE NEXT GREAT YANKEE
The oft-told story goes like this:
After the Yankees finally acquired Torres from the Cubs in a 2016 trade deadline deal, Cashman called international scouting director Donny Rowland and said: “We got him. We got him.”
The team had been in hot pursuit of Torres on the international market before he signed with the Cubs.
The kid who used to sit inside mentor Starlin Castro’s locker during his first spring training as a Yankee quickly proved he was worth all the hype, overcoming season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2017 and then bursting onto the scene in 2018 with his surprisingly prolific power.
On May 4, 2018, Torres became the youngest Yankee to homer since John Ellis in 1969.
He finished his first season with an All-Star nod as well an .820 OPS.
“He’s hit absolute nukes at Yankee Stadium,” said Cubs INF/OF Ian Happ, Torres’ double-play partner in the minors for a short time. “It’s so cool. It was just a matter of time before he put everything together. He’s an incredibly talented guy.”
Torres grew up idolizing Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel and watching fellow Venezuelan star Miguel Cabrera. And like both Vizquel and Cabrera, Torres can make it look easy on the diamond (despite occasional lapses on defense or running the bases).
This season, he absolutely feasted on Baltimore Orioles pitching — to the tune of 13 homers and a 1.512 OPS in 18 games. He also became the second Yankee in franchise history to hit 30 homers in his age-22 season or younger, joining DiMaggio.
After Torres was initially left off the AL All-Star team before eventually being added, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said: “It’s a joke that he’s not on the team. Gleyber Torres not an All-Star? You can kick rocks on that one. That’s ridiculous.”
At this rate, however, more awards and accolades are sure to come for Gleyber Torres.
“I just love his slow heartbeat,” Cashman said. “He’s really driven to succeed.”
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