Wednesday, October 5, 2022
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Yankees Magazine: Maturation Process

Yankees Magazine: Maturation Process

Still just 25 years old, Gleyber Torres is growing into a new Yankees role

In his first two big-league seasons, Torres hit 24 and 38 homers, respectively, offering elite-level offensive pop from the middle infield. But after hitting just 12 total in 169 games between 2020 and ’21, Torres had to work this past offseason to rediscover the offensive stroke that made him such an exceptional young superstar.New York Yankees

Gleyber Torres stood in a corner of the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, pondering the six years since his baseball life changed. The room should have been exceptionally familiar to the infielder; as a Cubs prospect, signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old, he was supposed to have played in the Gateway City nine or 10 times a year, a common villain on the wrong side of one of baseball’s fiercest rivalries. Instead, the 25-year-old Torres was making his first visit.

The rarer-than-expected trip seemed a good time to consider how the course and trajectory of his baseball life had changed so dramatically, due to a blockbuster trade in a week full of them. The 2016 Yankees, scuffling through a rare down season, sent All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman to Chicago in a deal highlighted by Torres, a stud prospect whom Brian Cashman had long coveted. Of the 14 players the Yankees acquired that week, in five separate trades, only Torres remains (unless you want to count Chapman, who re-signed with the team after winning a World Series title with the Cubs that year). Yet it seems as if the infielder has put together a few different careers in the six seasons since he joined the Yankees’ organization.

Called up to the Majors in April of 2018, Torres finished third in that year’s AL Rookie of the Year voting and earned a trip to the All-Star Game in each of his first two seasons. (He was also possibly single-handedly responsible for the change in the outfield dimensions in Baltimore, after torturing Orioles fans with batting practice–like displays to the tune of seven homers and a 1.667 OPS at Camden Yards in 2019.)

The next two seasons, though, saw Torres struggle both offensively and at shortstop, but he has spent the 2022 season displaying a rejuvenated bat, while also showing off reliably excellent glovework at second base. As the season entered the homestretch, the new father — his wife gave birth to a son in March — chatted with Yankees Magazine deputy editor Jon Schwartz (with assistance from Yankees bilingual media relations coordinator Marlon Abreu) about growing up in the game, recovering his home run stroke and using past success as a map out of the darkness.

Yankees Magazine: It’s hard to believe that we just passed the six-year mark since the trade that brought you to New York. When you came to the Yankees, you were so young, and now you’re a big-league veteran. Do you feel like those six years have gone by fast or slow?

Gleyber Torres: I feel like time has flown by. It’s gone by so quick. But that being said, I feel like everything that I’ve gone through over the years here have been really good experiences overall.

What are some of the things that stick out in your mind about that trade, from the logistics, or the details, or just the emotion of leaving the organization that you had signed with when you were so young?

Back in those days, I wasn’t looking at Twitter or anything like that. So when everything happened, it was very impactful, very shocking. They told me, “You’re getting traded to the Yankees,” so on one side of that, I’m leaving all of my teammates that I grew up with. Remember, I signed at 16. After growing up with those guys up until that point, I was leaving those friendships and teammates that I had at the time. And then, at the same time, understanding the opportunity that was coming. So I was excited for that, for the opportunity.

As we talk now, you’re married, you have a kid, you’re just about halfway to a decade of big-league service time. How different is your life now from what it was like back in 2016?

It’s been a year-by-year process, trying to mature every year. You mention being a dad now, and the whole process of maturing and understanding the challenges of being in this league for this many years. It’s all of that; becoming a dad, being happy with the way that things have progressed. And also understanding and learning from the negative side of playing. You learn from the challenges.

How is fatherhood different from what you expected? Nobody knows what it’s going to look like, and no two kids are the same, but for a guy that’s used to staring down some pretty tough challenges, how does this phase of your life compare?

At the beginning, you’re a little worried, because I’ve never been a dad before. So the doubting in your head of, How am I going to be? What kind of dad am I going to be? … You can think a lot about that. But I’ve been blessed to have the support that my wife has given me, and also her family. I’m learning every day how to be a dad, learning from them and their experience. I try not to think too much and now just react to being a dad and understanding what dad-life is.

You’re a pretty strong guy, and you’re used to being around world-class athletes. We’re talking about Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo. But I assume by now you’ve learned that they have nothing on the strength of a new mother?

I think my wife is stronger.

That’s the right answer. What are you better at now than you were a couple years ago? What can you definitively say that you do better than you did when you were rising up the Minors?

One of the key things is how to be more consistent mentally. It’s one of the things that, as a younger player, a younger Gleyber, I had to learn how to do that and how to learn from what was in front of me. Learning from the experiences every day and implementing changes and making adjustments at a quicker pace. And I think that’s something that took me a little bit to understand, especially at this level: Not to dwell on the past, and to understand that there are things you’re improving every day that you’re able to find. Finding ways to implement adjustments and decision-making opportunities that come every day, implementing those at a quicker pace, and at the end of it all, working toward being more consistent.

What’s harder now? What do you have to work at more? Obviously, you’re far from old, but you’re also not 22 anymore.

I don’t think there’s anything specific that I can pinpoint, but it’s just that every day, you’re trying to improve and be better as a player. It could be running the bases, it could be defensive positioning. It could be any aspect of the game. And every day you’re striving to be better in all those different aspects because if you do that, then you’re going to find consistency, which at the end of the day is what you’re looking for.

After struggling both at the plate and at shortstop in recent seasons, a move to second base has Torres once again flashing some special defensive chops. The two-time All-Star says that the success with the glove has no bearing on his revitalized offensive output, but is rather just a sign of maturing mentally.New York Yankees

You don’t become a star athlete without having a ton of pride, and obviously having success makes you want more of it. Does that make struggling harder?

I think it’s a combination, because you can have two really good years like I had when I started my career and then the following two years, not as great, right? But you’ve got to be able to learn from both. That’s what puts you above and what gets you to keep on growing as a player and keep on improving as a player, because you now have the experience of what it’s like when you’re doing really great and what it is when you’re not doing so great. And what you need to do to keep improving and keep working on your craft and finding that balance and that consistency that you’re always looking for.

So is past success, then, a road map for getting out of struggles?

Yeah, of course. When you’re struggling during the season, you can remember, Hey, I did this. I was able to do this, and do it productively, for a long period of time. So it’s just a matter of implementing whatever adjustments you’ve got to implement and then you get out of it quicker, whatever it may be. And also, at the end of the day, it’s important to remember, I am still Gleyber Torres.

Coming up, I know that you prided yourself on being a shortstop. But the fact of the matter is, you’re playing a very good second base, and the team is doing very well, too. Does that make the transition easier to handle, because everything is working? Or do you still allow yourself to be disappointed that you’re not a shortstop anymore?

No, not at all. It doesn’t affect me. You can’t let the ego take over how you feel. I played shortstop last year, and it didn’t work out in a way where I was really helping the team. And now I’m playing second base, a position that I played before, where I feel comfortable. I’m doing the job there. I’m helping the team. So it doesn’t affect me at all.

When you’re at the plate now, do you feel that success is feeding success, in the sense that not having defensive struggles puts you in a good headspace and makes the at-bats themselves easier?

No, defense and offense don’t have to affect one another. You have to play the game. You can only play one of those at a time. I just think things are working out very well for me now at second base. And at short, we have experienced guys. You’ve got to understand that you’re playing a game and that you have to enjoy the game and not overthink certain things. I’m glad with the way things are working out right now.

Torres has been chasing a championship ever since watching the Cubs celebrate their world title in the same year that they traded him away. The only player left in the Yankees’ organization from the massive influx of talent at the 2016 trade deadline, the infielder says that his motivation is at an all-time high as he takes the field with the 2022 Yankees.New York Yankees

But respectfully — and you certainly have a million times more experience in this than I do — that’s harder than you’re making it out to be. I get that the goal should be to separate offense from defense, but there are a lot of people who find it hard to do that, right?

Yeah, and to be clear, I’m not saying it’s easy to separate. But experience, the support process, the coaches that you have, the good advice from teammates — all that plays a very important role in overcoming challenges. Whatever it may be; maybe a challenge on defense on a certain day, or maybe a challenge at the plate on a certain day. But all that just helps. As you mature, you’re able to separate one from the other and work toward shrinking those moments.

You mention the coaching staff. You have so many new voices around the team this year. Who are the guys that were the most helpful to you in turning things around from the past two seasons?

All the coaches. We have new coaches here, and it’s been hard work since spring training. Defense, running. Even the pitching coach. You might say, “OK, but the pitching coach doesn’t work on defense with you, doesn’t work on offense with you.” But at the right moment, a good point or a good message helps you improve and helps you keep gaining that experience. Writing things like that in your own personal book of experiences, all that helps. At the end of the day, it helps you mature, prepare and get better.

Obviously, you’re not listening to the broadcast while you’re playing, but any time you come up in the ninth inning, if the team is trailing, Michael Kay is going to say some version of, “Here comes Gleyber Torres, and he has a history of coming through in big spots!” How much pride do you take in that being something that’s attached to your name?

You feel proud! Those are crucial moments in the game, and I’ve been able to come through for my team, so yeah, you feel proud about it, and you hope for more moments like that: Game on the line, and I’m able to come through and do it for my team.

Going back to the trade, you leave the Cubs organization, and they win a World Series that year. Obviously, it’s different, because you were a low-level minor leaguer then, but how much does not having had that experience yet in your career continue to drive you?

It means a lot. The types of experiences we’ve had in the playoffs, and not getting to where we want, the way we’re playing this year makes a bigger motivation to get it done. We have a lot of games to be played still, it’s important to keep in mind. But for sure, man, the motivation is at an all-time high.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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