The Situation: If it seems like we’re always discussing the benefits of the Cubs’ never-ending stream of offensive depth, it’s because it always seems to come in handy when injuries strike. This time, it’s Starlin Castro, who pulled up lame trying to scratch out an infield hit and will miss at least 3-4 weeks with a strained hamstring. This presented the Cubs with two options: slide Addison Russell over and call up Ian Happ—downgrading at two defensive positions in the process—or give the organization’s best shortstop, Gleyber Torres, the big stage. Most teams would kill for just one of those options, but for now, Happ is going to have to wait.
Background: The Cubs gave Torres $1.7 million in 2013—the days before the international draft was put into place—out of Venezuela, and though they’ve taken it relatively slow with the 20-year-old infielder, their patience appears to have paid off. He hit .322 at Low-A South Bend, but took another step forward in 2016; posting an .880 OPS at stops in Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. That improvement saw him rank second on the Cubs top-ten prospect list, and No. 19 overall on the BP 101 prior to the start of this year.
Scouting Report: Torres’ best assets are his hands—some of the best in baseball—and they make him a high-level shortstop prospect both with the bat and in the field.
At the plate, Torres possesses a smooth, level swing and his ability to pick up spin and get extension allows him to hit the ball hard to every part of the field. He’s an assertive hitter who will swing at the first pitch, but he’s also seen an improvement in patience over the last two years, and will draw his fair share of bases-on-balls.
While his frame and swing path aren’t conducive to putting up big power totals, Torres’ power numbers have improved each season, as he continues to gradually add some good weight, which allows him to tap into his increasing power. That said, he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter, and that along with his above-average speed make him a threat to hit 30 to 40 doubles a year, with 12-to-15 homers also possible in his peak years.
There have never been big questions about Torres’ defensive ability, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a shortstop in the short or long-term. The arm is easily plus, and though he doesn’t have elite speed, there’s more than enough athleticism to allow him to make plays to his left and right with soft hands. If he isn’t a 60 defender at shortstop, he’s pretty close.
Immediate Big League Future: The Cubs have been very fortunate to have hitters like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell perform well early at the big league level, but they’ve also seen some struggle early, like Javier Baez and Billy McKinney. If I was to guess which group Torres was going to belong to, I’d guess the former. The offensive upside isn’t as high as those names listed, but the floor is similar, and there’s reason to believe he’ll be a competent starter at shortstop, and a quality replacement for the injured Castro. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Impact: The Cubs are like a clown car of fantasy goodness—of course, unless you’re into pitching. Thankfully, Torres isn’t a pitcher. And while he’s only likely to be up for a little less than a month, his game translates well to immediately production, as long as you’re not expecting him to recreate what you were getting out of Castro.
Torres’ high-contact approach is going to give him a fighting chance to be a positive contributor in batting average right off the bat, and when he does get on base, those big bats hitting ahead of him are pretty good at bringing runners back to the dugout for celebrations. On the bases, he’s not the fastest of runners, but his speed plays up due to great instincts. He’s unlikely to be much of a contributor in the power categories. He’s likely to be hitting down in the nine-spot, which will limit his RBI opportunities, even in a lineup as deep as the Cubs have, and while he could flash 15-homer potential down the road, he’s not there yet.
In his prime, Torres could be a potential. 300 hitter with the ability to hit for enough power to reach double digits and steal close to 30 bases. With the power (and average, to an extent) being a work in progress, expectations for 2017 should be somewhat similar on a per-game basis as the Phillies have gotten out of their own rookie at the keystone, Scott Kingery. If he were to somehow stick for the remainder of the season, we could be looking at a .270 hitter with 3-5 homers, 30-35 runs and 12-15 steals. Even with offense up this year, that’s still someone who would be missed if he returned to the minors in August.
Since we’ve already seen most of the prospects we thought we were going to see debut in 2017, Torres should be worth investing in across the board. In NL-only leagues, the specter of every day at bats at least in the medium-term should make a $15-18 bid perfectly reasonable; and you may have to go $20+ to roster him. In mixed redraft leagues, Torres should be owned in 12-team mixed leagues and deeper, and should likely go right into the starting lineup if you have a MI slot. For the DFS crowd, Torres will debut today with a $3,200 price—and considering the tasty matchup against Travis Wood, he could be a bargain option for his debut even if he is hitting out of the nine-spot.
In dynasty leagues, you’re mostly out of luck unless you either have a time machine or a league full of people who hate prospects. If either applies, he should be picked up now. In keepers, it’s a tough call on whether to use the top waiver priority here. There’s very little chance that we'll Brendan Rodgers in the second half, as he still hasn't been in Double-A for long, so there's not a ton of worry that you'll miss out on the clear top fantasy prospect left in the minors. Assuming he doesn’t, both Dansby Swanson and Ian Happ could be a nice consolation prizes. For anyone outside the top priority spot, go for it. —Bret Sayre
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