By Roberto Salvador Klapisch
It’s not often that a Hall of Famer will come down from Mount Olympus to weigh in on a rookie, especially after just 40 games, but Roberto Alomar figured there was no point waiting on Gleyber Torres. He has seen the Yankees’ second baseman become a secret weapon from the bottom of the batting order and turn double plays in a blur.
For Alomar, who was considered one of the best defensive second basemen of his lifetime, it’s like stepping into a time tunnel and looking at a younger version of himself.
“I think Gleyber has a chance to be one of the great ones,” Alomar said. “I watched him in spring training and loved his natural instincts and grace. Like me, the fact that he was a natural shortstop will only make second base that much easier.”
That’s high praise coming from arguably the greatest Latino second baseman in Major League Baseball history. The Puerto Rican legend was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2011, gaining 90 percent of the vote in only his second year of eligibility. He won 10 Rawlings Gold Glove awards, was a 12-time All-Star and led the American League in fielding percentage four times. Indians’ teammate Travis Fryman once called Alomar, “probably the most talented all-around player I’ve ever played with in my career.”
These days, Alomar lives in Toronto and serves as an advisor to the Blue Jays, with whom he had his best years (1991-95). But he’s not embarrassed to say it’s a young Yankee who has caught his attention. Alomar isn’t alone in the growing Torres fan club either.
Torres’ rapid ascent has already exceeded the Bombers’ first-year expectations. He was called up from Class-AAA on April 22 after which the Yankees went on an 18-3 run that established the Bronx Bombers as an industry powerhouse.
Coincidence? It depends who you ask. The Bombers were already loaded with power. Logic suggested they were due for a breakout anyway. But Torres’ presence allowed manager Aaron Boone to hide the rookie in the No. 9 spot where he was likely to see a steady diet of get-me-over fastballs. In terms of pure talent, Boone admitted, “Gleyber could easily hit higher in our order” but Torres served as a de facto second leadoff hitter who creates traffic for Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge behind him.
Just as Alomar didn’t hesitate to christen Torres’ debut, the Yankees themselves fell in love with the kid right away. A walk-off three-run HR off Indians’ reliever Dan Otero on May 4 served as Torres’ formal introduction to the Bronx and resulted in a celebration that was caught on video by Didi Gregorius. As the unsuspecting Torres walked up the staircase from the dugout to the clubhouse, the Yankees waited by the door, mobbing him the moment he walked into the room. It was a scene right out of Animal House that spoke not only to the Bombers’ unity but just how quickly Torres had gained their acceptance.
“It feels good to be able to help the team,” Torres said in a quiet moment days later. “I worked very hard to get to this point, and I want to make the most of it. Every day I try to stay focused and do something that will make a difference and help us win.”
This is how Torres normally speaks: he’s only 21 and markedly shy, the only Venezuelan among the Yankees’ everyday starters. Torres is glad to cede the stage to the Yankees’ bigger personalities. But as of May 19, he was hitting .325 with a .903 OPS – second only to Judge among the Yankees’ regulars.
Torres figures to cool off at some point, especially since 36 percent of the pitches he swings at are out of the strike zone. Still, the hot start has erased the memory of an underwhelming spring training. He batted only .160 (4-for-25) while showing obvious signs of rust after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow last June. The Yankees optioned Torres to Class-AAA in mid-March with an unspoken promise: see you soon.
He never pouted, never second-guessed the organization for choosing Neil Walker as their Opening Day second baseman. Torres simply said, “I’ll wait for another opportunity.” In the meantime, the Yankees watched closely to see if Torres was suffering any after-effects of last season’s devastating injury.
No one in the Yankees universe has to be reminded of the details: Torres, playing for the RailRiders, tore up his elbow on a head-first slide at the plate. Although it didn’t involve his throwing arm, the Bombers were nevertheless concerned about any peripheral damage, including how the rebuilt ligaments would impact his bat-speed and, just as significantly, if Torres would be susceptible to reinjury in future slides, especially the head-first variety.
Torres insisted, “I don’t worry” about the risks, but Boone admits he’d prefer the rookie stuck to more conventional feet-first slides. But the manager won’t force the issue. He’s instead more interested in whether Torres is playing with confidence and says he likes what he sees so far.
“Gleyber isn’t hesitating, which is an important part of not getting hurt,” Boone said. “Overall, I’m very pleased with how he’s performed.”
That’s an across the board endorsement, not just a thumbs-up on his decisions on the basepaths. Torres is turning into a buffet table of enviable skills. He hits for both average and power, goes to his left and right with equal dexterity and has hands to die for. But don’t take our word for it. Alomar, the master himself, has given Torres his blessing from Mount Olympus. That’s pure gold.
Featured Image: Alex Trautwig / Major League Baseball