Don't count on Yankees prospect Gleyber Torres to replace the injured Didi Gregorius
New York needs a shortstop after Gregorius picked up a shoulder injury in the World Baseball Classic
Every team’s worst nightmare is losing a key player to injury during the World Baseball Classic. The Royals received a pretty good scare two weeks ago when Salvador Perez suffered a knee injury while playing for Venezuela, though he escaped with only inflammation. Martin Prado pulled a hamstring during the WBC and will miss the start of the season for the Marlins. They weren’t as lucky.
The Yankees are all too familiar with WBC injuries. First baseman Mark Teixeira suffered a wrist injury while taking batting practice with Team USA in 2013, and the injury effectively sidelined him the entire season. Now they’re facing the possibility of losing another key player to a WBC injury. Shortstop Didi Gregorius left the Netherlands team on Monday with a shoulder problem, .
On Tuesday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters (Bryan Hoch of MLB.com) that Gregorius could miss all of April, which is roughly 1/6 of the season.
Replacing Gregorius won’t be easy. He is by no means a star, but he socked 20 home runs last season and plays very good defense.
A few hours after Girardi announced the Gregorius injury on Monday, top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres continued his strong spring with a two-run hustle double in Monday’s game. Here’s the video:
That double raised Torres’ spring batting line to a ridiculous .464/.484/.964 in 31 plate appearances. Spring training stats don’t mean much, but that’s exactly what every club wants to see from their top prospect in spring training. MLB.com recently ranked Torres, who went to New York from the Cubs in last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade, as the third best prospect in baseball, and it’s been easy to see why this spring.
Naturally, as soon as the Gregorius injury was announced, Yankees fans began to wonder whether Torres would take over at shortstop. It’s only natural. The top prospect shows up to camp, rakes and rakes and rakes, then the guy who plays his position at the MLB level gets hurt, creating an opening. That’s how Derek Jeter got his chance, after all. Tony Fernandez hurt his knee in spring training in 1996, and the rest is history.
I wouldn’t expect the Yankees to replace Gregorius with Torres, even though the club is pretty committed to its youth movement. The Yankees are going with young players at catcher (Gary Sanchez), first base (Greg Bird), right field (Aaron Judge), and in two of the five rotation spots (Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, etc.). It stands to reason they’d also go young at shortstop with Torres, right? Well, no. For a few reasons.
1. Torres has yet to play above High Class-A
As talented as he is and as dominant as he’s been in spring training, Torres just turned 20 in December, and he’s yet to play a game above High Class-A. He spent the entire regular season at that level last year, then got some more work in the Arizona Fall League. (Torres became the youngest MVP and batting champion in AFL history.)
Jumping from High-A to MLB is not unprecedented, but it is extremely rare. The late Jose Fernandez made that jump and had a Cy Young caliber rookie season in 2013. He was a big-time outlier, however. Jumping a 20-year-old kid over both Double-A and Triple-A is more likely to hurt the player’s development than result in an immediately successful big leaguer, no matter how impressive he looks during Grapefruit League play.
2. The 40-man roster situation is complicated
Thanks in part to their trade deadline sell-off, the Yankees have a very deep farm system and a fully loaded 40-man roster. Torres is not yet on the 40-man roster, so they’d have to designate someone for assignment to clear a spot for him. That part shouldn’t be a problem. Like everyone else, the Yankees have some fringe players in their 38th, 39th, and 40th roster spots. They could make room if they really wanted.
The bigger issue is that once Torres is on the 40-man roster, he’s going to stay there. Adding Torres to the 40-man could limit the team’s flexibility. That’s a roster spot that the club won’t be able to use to call up one of its other top prospects who may be in better position to help the MLB team immediately. There’s a roster flexibility component here that has to be considered.
3. The Yankees have several other shortstop options
Very few teams have a starting caliber shortstop ready to replace their regular shortstop should he get injured. It’s not realistic. The Yankees, even with their deep farm system, signed several veteran players capable of playing shortstop to minor-league contracts over the winter. Here’s the list in order of MLB games at shortstop:
- Ruben Tejada -- 438 games at shortstop (616 MLB games total)
- Pete Kozma -- 206 games at shortstop (275 MLB games total)
- Donovan Solano -- 19 games at shortstop (370 MLB games total)
All three of those guys are ticketed for Triple-A in a perfect world, which obviously it isn’t because Gregorius is hurt.
Also, that list does not include Starlin Castro, the team’s starting second baseman who has spent the majority of his career at short. The Yankees carried Ronald Torreyes as their utility infielder last season and he did solid work for them. He’s another shortstop option. (Torreyes started Monday’s game at shortstop. Not Torres.)
The Yankees signed those veteran players for a reason. Because if Gregorius (or Castro) gets hurt, they don’t want to unnecessarily rush Torres to the big leagues. Gregorius’ injury doesn’t suddenly make Torres ready for the big leagues. The veterans were brought in for exactly this reason, and they’d also help maintain roster flexibility because the Yankees would be willing to put them on waivers to get them off the 40-man roster when the time comes.
If the Yankees are going to stick with their youth movement and replace Gregorius with a prospect rather than a journeyman, the smart money is on that prospect being Tyler Wade. The 22-year-old spent the entire 2016 season as the starting shortstop at Double-A, and while he’s not putting up Torres numbers this spring, he is hitting a healthy .394/.430/.484 in 35 Grapefruit League plate appearances. Wade is opening eyes, too, and he’s a full level closer to MLB than Torres.
It goes without saying the Yankees didn’t want to think about replacing Gregorius, but it looks like they need to for the first month of the season. While it would be tempting to go with Torres at shortstop given his big spring and prospect status, it might not be the best thing for him long-term. The last thing the Yankees want to go is bring their prized prospect to the show before he’s ready and cause irreparable harm to his development.
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