The text message startled Austin Romine, in a good way. Before taking the field as the starting catcher on Sunday, Romine heard from a friend that he was the oldest player in the Yankees’ lineup. Back in the clubhouse later, Romine shook his head and smiled. It was not long ago that he was the young guy, surrounded by veterans.
“It creeps up on you,” Romine said.
At 29, Romine almost did not qualify for the Yankees’ don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 lineup, which cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. He batted ninth, just behind Gleyber Torres, who made his major league debut at 21 years 130 days old. He is the youngest player in the American League.
“A little bit surprised, excited and super happy,” Torres said on Sunday morning after a restless night of sleep. Less than 24 hours before, on Saturday afternoon, he had been facing the Toledo Mud Hens in Moosic, Pa., batting .347 for the Yankees’ Class AAA team, when Manager Bobby Mitchell pulled him from the game in the seventh inning.
“He told me, ‘Hey, just stay in the dugout,’” said Torres, who seemed to know what that meant. “I said, ‘Wow.’”
Soon enough, Torres had found his new locker, in a spot of honor at Yankee Stadium. He dresses between Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge: three pillars of a pinstriped youth movement. Torres got a jersey-number upgrade, too, from 81 in spring training to 25, like Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira, the former first basemen.
Those players came to the Yankees on free-agent deals worth a combined $300 million. Torres arrived in a much different way than almost any other Yankee: as another team’s sapling, not a redwood. Torres had never played above Class A when the Chicago Cubs traded him and three others to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.
“We were all extremely excited about it,” said the injured outfielder Billy McKinney, who was also part of the deal. “I thought it was really cool, because it was, I guess, a little bit different from the Yankees’ culture.”
Instead of pushing for a long-shot berth in the 2016 World Series, General Manager Brian Cashman played matchmaker for the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, who got reliever Andrew Miller for outfielder Clint Frazier. Torres said he did not watch that Cubs/Indians World Series, because he was playing in the Arizona Fall League. He had moved on.
“I think everybody wants to play with the Yankees,” Torres said. “I got the opportunity, and I’m excited for that.”
The Yankees could have given second base to Torres and third base to Miguel Andujar — who was 4 for 4 on Sunday — out of spring training. Instead, after camp began, they traded for Brandon Drury and signed Neil Walker. That was the Yankees at their best, protecting themselves with affordable veteran placeholders until the kids push their way up.
“They’re earning their time,” Manager Aaron Boone said. “Maybe a little bit different — this early — than maybe we thought, but hats off to them for putting us in that position right now.”
Think of Robinson Cano tearing through the minors in early 2005, bumping Tony Womack off second base in the first week of May. That could be Torres now. He had a forgettable debut on Sunday, with a strikeout, a ground-ball double play, a foul out and a fly out to right. But Cano went 2 for 23 in his first week, and turned out just fine.
Giancarlo Stanton compared Torres’s swing to that of another second baseman, Javier Baez, one of the infielders who had blocked Torres’ path in Chicago. Baez hit .273 with 23 homers last season and, like Torres, was a consensus top-10 prospect before his promotion.
“There’s a lot going on, but it’s very precise,” Stanton said of Torres’ swing. “He’s got some cool action in there and some pop at the end.”
Torres has played only 14 games at second base in the minors, and 23 at third. His main position, shortstop, belongs to Didi Gregorius in the Bronx. But McKinney called Torres an electrifying defender — “He can make fireworks happen, I like to say,” McKinney said — and Boone praised his overall acumen, without citing a standout tool.
“I don’t necessarily think there’s anything that’s ‘wow,’” Boone said. “He’s not going to go out in B.P. and hit the ball, like some of our guys, a mile. He’s not going to wow you with his speed. But he does everything really well on the baseball field.
“He can hit, he uses the entire field, his strike-zone recognition — I think he’s going to be a guy that walks, over time. He’s a really good defender at all three spots and can legitimately play short, that’s the kind of defender he is. That baseball I.Q., baseball clock — he just seems to have all those things.”
Torres sped up his career clock, and now he has arrived. The hard part awaits.
“Like I tell all the guys, making it to the big leagues, it’s like nothing,” Gregorius said. “Staying in the big leagues for a long time, that shows your worth.”
Published at Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:22:07 +0000