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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Yankees not so ready to let their top prospect go home after a strong spring

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Nobody really noticed when the Yankees’ first-round draft pick last year, Gleyber Torres, decided to turn pro out of high school. But New York’s minor league staff noticed. When Torres was promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a 22-year-old earlier this month, one scout told MLB.com it was the “first time he made us take notice of his play.”

“He’s really good,” the scout said. “He’s got a sweet swing, and he doesn’t strike out a whole lot.”

Not bad for a kid who became an overnight star after months of workouts in Arizona before the draft. Torres started developing after his junior year at Double-A Trenton, but really caught fire in the Arizona Fall League in the fall of 2016. He played three days in the league after the fall of his 19th birthday, which helped set him up for the big leagues. He hit .359 for the Indians’ Arizona League team while the media gawked at his gaudy .538 slugging percentage. A top-100 draft prospect, he was off to the races to steal the headlines. The Yankees weren’t leaving anything to chance, though, in sending their top prospect to Double-A.

Of course, Torres’s form in 2017 seemed to regress a bit, but that was to be expected for a young man who last year was the youngest player (22) in baseball’s minor leagues. He signed with the Yankees as a 15-year-old and had held a roster spot after impressing in the Arizona Fall League. But as I wrote last week, he wants a bigger leap than he saw last year. After being pulled from the top of the farm system, he’s expected to return to Trenton this season to work on his adjustments.

Yet many in the Bronx want Torres, who was on the verge of winning Rookie of the Year honors, to be with the Yankees already.

In what could be seen as a veiled dig at his young successor, Joe Girardi said this week that the Yankees’ main focus right now is on Torres. “We feel like we need to start getting Gleyber in there sooner rather than later,” he said. That remark is expected to further the notion of bringing Torres up sooner rather than later – but the Yankees declined to outright Torres to Triple-A, so even if they bring him up later than most would have thought, there’s really no rush for the slugger to join the big-league club.

Until Torres is ready, several promising prospect candidates will have to wait their turn. J.A. Happ, just released by Toronto, is no longer among that group, as I first wrote on Monday. Happ started strong with the Blue Jays, posting a 2.68 ERA through 10 outings, but his command struggled and his 2017 season ended. So soon, perhaps on Wednesday against Kansas City, he may join fellow starters Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.

Each of the three is expected to pitch at least 15-16 games this season, but only Tanaka will be expected to be in the rotation after the Yankee bullpen has its early work cut out for it in the World Series back-to-back years. Andy Pettitte, Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are each an unknown quantity; until they prove themselves, those names may remain.

And yes, it is true that other top prospects remain with the Yankees, including Clint Frazier, Dillon Tate, Chance Adams and Jorge Mateo. If Hicks, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird somehow finish strong, the Yankees may all be penciled in by September. But nobody seems to have the kind of edge yet this year that Torres’s 20-year-old bloodlines should bring.

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