The bright spotlight rigged up to shine on the Chicago Cubs’ farm system in recent years has made it virtually impossible to miss any of the big names or big performances. When an exciting front office comes into a major market with a plan to revamp the minor leagues in a very visible way, attention will refocus on those minor leagues, and, especially here in the Internet era, the “oh wow, who’s this guy” phenomenon will all but disappear.
So I won’t pretend you don’t know Gleyber Torres.
Instead, let me submit to you that it’s possible to be completely aware of the Cubs’ next great shortstop prospect without entirely appreciating just how impressive he’s been in his time with the organization. The spotlight shines brightly upon the Cubs’ farm stage, but, hey, the man running the spotlight can only move it around so quickly. You may have missed some of the blocking.
When the Cubs made the then-16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop prospect one of the biggest IFA signings of the year back in 2013, there was reason to hope Torres could be a relatively fast mover. His game was polished, and his swing was steady. He also showed advanced instincts for his age. He was the type who could be Stateside by the time he was 18, and might even climb the ladder to full-season ball by the time he was 20.
Those hopes, clearly, were conservative.
Not only did Torres make it Stateside in his first year of organized pro ball, he got a look-see at short season Low-A. For the year—again, it was his first professional season and he was younger than the high schoolers being drafted that summer—Torres hit .297/.386/.440 between rookie ball and short season Low-A, demonstrating an advanced understanding of the strike zone against much older pitching, as well as an ability to barrel the ball to both fields.
So impressive was Torres’ debut that he was firmly on folks’ radar heading into Spring Training. I, myself, made sure to seek him out at the back fields to get a first-hand look, even if it was only practice. Torres showed a nice, level swing with consistent line-drive contact. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a guy with surprising pop—Torres is generously listed at 6-foot-1, 175 lbs, which might be where he winds up in a couple years—but he does make hard contact. Torres struck me as athletic and fluid in the field. I wouldn’t describe Torres as a burner, but he seemed to have good speed, too.
I wasn’t alone in being impressed by the young man who’d just turned 18. Torres was brought along as one of the handful of extra minor leaguers for several big-league spring training games this year—at one point driving an outside fastball 300 feet down the right-field line for a double. He appeared in five spring training games in total, which, given his youth and relative lack of experience, was a clear signal from the organization that this is a Guy.
From there, Torres started the year in full-season ball, at Low-A South Bend, and he hasn’t stop impressing. On the season, the 18-year-old (did I mention that he’s just 18?) shortstop (did I mention that he’s a shortstop?) is hitting .339/.426/.415 with a .315 TAv through 32 games and 132 plate appearances. Sure, despite the hard contact and decent speed, that .430 BABIP is going to come down. But this isn’t a fluke. The guy has a 12.5-percent walk rate and an 18.4-percent strikeout rate. The ability and understanding clearly goes beyond his years.
About which, well, Torres is the youngest player in the Midwest League by a half-year. Moreover, the average age of the pitchers he’s facing is right around 22 years old. Your typical full-season Low-A pitcher is either a college draftee or high-school draftee with multiple years of experience. These guys cannot handle Gleyber Torres.
On the year, Torres boasts the third best batting average in the Midwest League (behind a third baseman and an outfielder, each of whom is more than four years older than Torres), and the third best OBP (again, behind a couple non-middle infielders four years his senior). He’s got the 10th most walks in the league (17), the 12th most stolen bases (8), and he’s not even in the top 50 in strikeouts. Not that I’m crazy about counting stats, but this is a guy who is playing regularly, and doing incredible things on a daily basis.
If he keeps dominating, and if the glove is ready, it’s not inconceivable that Torres could see time at High-A Myrtle Beach before the year is through. I wouldn’t call it likely—a full year at South Bend would be just fine for an 18-year-old—but the fact that it’s even a conversation boggles the mind.
It’s already a forgone conclusion that Torres is going to shoot up the prospect rankings this year, and BP’s staff was ready for that possibility. Before the season began, Torres was right on the cusp of the Top 101 prospects in baseball, according to BP: “He was pretty darn close this year—about as close as you can get without making the cut. If he has even a solid developmental year he’ll likely debut with prominent placement. I love the profile and had to restrain myself some not to push him even further up the Cubs Top 10.”
In that Top 10, Torres came in at no. 8, just behind Pierce Johnson (who can’t shake the injury bug, and is at extended spring training coming back from a lat issue) and Billy McKinney (who was just promoted to Double-A after tearing up the Carolina League as a 20-year-old (I could probably do another one of these babies on McKinney, too). The discussion on Torres presaged his explosion this year:
“It’s not often you see this blend of upside, probability, and feel in a player this age and at this level, let alone at the shortstop position. With present power his only below-average tool, he has already begun to add some strength and it would not be a surprise to see him begin driving the ball with more regularity as early as next year. Torres is advanced enough to be challenged with a South Bend assignment to start next season, though the Cubs could opt to keep him in extended to wait out the worst of the weather while continuing to work with him on the finer points of his game. The young Venezuelan will play all of 2015 as an 18-year-old, so there is some flexibility as to how Chicago opts to move forward with his development. Further, the wave of young infield talent currently descending on Wrigley should permit Torres the luxury of progressing through the system at his own pace. The bat is impressive enough, however, that he could force his way into the major-league picture much quicker than any expected at this time last year.”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. The Cubs have no need to rush Torres, of course, and the pace of his promotions will be dictated by the needs of his own development.
But it’s exciting to even have this discussion now, even as the Cubs prospect spotlight rapidly tries to keep up with the offensive stars all over the stage. Soon enough, Torres will be taking his bow.
Even though he’s only 18, and is a shortstop. Did I mention those things? I feel like I mentioned those things.