The Yankees are comfortable shifting Gleyber Torres to shortstop if immediate plans do not pan out in 2019. But the Yanks should reconsider the move (one that feels almost certain to be required) as a last resort -- not the first response.
Torres enters his sophomore season in the big leagues needing a clearer focus with increased expectations. Despite a very good overall rookie campaign, he did show that he's still a young man learning the game.
The 22-year-old shot hot out of the gate, riding his bat to an All-Star selection. A right hip strain sidelined and slowed down Torres' shot at the Rookie of the Year Award (he came in third place in the voting).
Torres, who hit .271 with a .340 on-base percentage and a .480 slugging percentage (118 OPS+), roped 24 home runs and drove in 77 batters, demonstrating his bat was clearly Major League ready. Torres, predominantly a shortstop in the minors, was learning second base on the fly as a rookie, too.
That's no small feat, and while he dazzled at times, he looked lost in others as he made errors on routine plays. In fact, while Torres' teammate Miguel Andujar received critique upon critique of his defense, it was Torres who gaffed more in the field, finishing with 17 errors.
Torres also showed his rookie flaws several times on the bases and in the field, which did not show up in the boxscore. Torres' brain lapses can be erased over time, however the contention here is that his entire game will benefit if he's left alone to play second base.
Yet, Yankees manager Aaron Boone has already stated the team will be comfortable shifting Torres to shortstop if newly-inked Troy Tulowitzki, who the team is taking it slowly with, is unable to answer the bell. As such, Torres is taking grounders at shortstop as well as second base this spring.
Torres has stated that he is fine with the work at both positions.
"I'm ready for any opportunity,'' Torres said, according to the New York Post's Dan Martin. "If it's at short or second, I'll do my job. I'm working at both positions like I did last year. I don't want to forget anything about playing shortstop."
This isn't about whether Torres can handle moving back and forth between second base and shortstop because he is young and adaptable. Yet, the shifting brings about a question as to whether it detracts from his ability to thrive at one position.
Yes, the game is built on versatility, but Torres has the potential to be an elite talent. Players of his youth and caliber are not shifted around like veterans desperately looking to hang onto jobs. As such, Torres' focus should be as narrowed as possible. Movement from one position to the other, neither of which he has mastered with the glove, could adversely affect his overall game.
The Yankees have more or less cornered themselves into this situation.
Signing Tulowitzki of all players, brought about an almost certain chance that someone else would have to play shortstop in Didi Gregorius' extended absence. Then signing DJ LeMahieu, who is a far superior fielder at second base instead of a more durable option for shortstop essentially pushes Torres into the shortstop role when Tulowitzki invariably cannot play.
The Yankees can still avert shifting Torres off second base if (when) Tulowitzki hits the injured list, but the team would need a player like Tyler Wade to step up and prove he could handle the role. There is little empirical evidence this is a viable option. The Yanks still have time to reconsider its shortstop depth from outside of the organization, which would be a wise decision.
If the Yanks move forward as is, instead of aiding a potential star in reaching a comfort zone at one position, the team has created a situation that could hold Torres back from completely attaining his upside in 2019.