Feature Photo: Gleyber Torres, INF, Yankees
I have now seen a week’s worth of AFL games, and while there have been many promising players, three have stood out to me so far in the early going – outfielder Eloy Jimenez from the Cubs, Yankees infielder Gleyber Torrez, and Blue Jays right-handed pitcher Connor Greene. While it’s still early, all three players are already showing significant present skills while still having plenty of upside left. Jimenez and Torres are both just 19 years old while Greene is 21 but with plenty of room left for physical growth. Here are my early impressions:
Signed as a somewhat raw, gangly 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Jimenez has undergone a maturation process that has seen him fill out physically (he’s listed at 6’4″ and 205 pounds, though he looks like he is comfortably carrying more weight than that) while also mastering the mental aspects of the game.
Jimenez always had a knack for barreling up the baseball, but a level swing plane, a skinny frame, and an aggressive approach kept him from tapping into his power early. He has since added some muscle along with a bit more lift to his swing.
The raw power has been there for the last two falls, where one could frequently find Jimenez depositing baseballs atop the Under Armour Performance Center roof adjacent to Field 6 of the Cubs training complex in Mesa.
The question after last year’s instructional league and this year’s spring training was whether Jimenez can translate that raw power into game power. He began to answer those questions in the 2016 season, and its carried over to the AFL, where he is continuing to show some pop. He has become more disciplined with his approach, and while the walk rates do not yet reflect his patience at the plate, he’s shown a willingness to wait for pitches he can drive and work the count in his favor.
On Friday, Jimenez hit a scorching line drive home run that just cleared the left field wall, but we’ve almost come to expect that sort of thing. What was almost just as impressive was his first at-bat of the day. With a runner on second base and first base open, Brett Martin (LHP, Rangers) was cautious with Jimenez, feeding him a diet of breaking balls and fastballs just off the plate. It wasn’t that long ago that the 19-year-old slugger would have taken the bait and chased those pitches. Not this time. Jimenez let those pitches go and took the walk and trusted his teammates to do the damage, which they ultimately did. Sometimes the most important lesson a young slugger can learn is that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.
In his third at-bat, Jimenez lined a single, showing his versatility has a hitter by taking the pitch right back where it was thrown and driving it up the middle. While power figures to be the tool that carries him, Jimenez projects to be at least an average hitter as well.
He has also improved in the field, particularly in terms of his reads and routes. Along with a lot of extra work, a shift to left field seems to have helped him in terms of seeing the ball off the bat and getting better jumps. The arm is above average, though he doesn’t have the raw arm strength of current Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler.
The Cubs are undoubtedly counting on that bat to carry Jimenez, but he is by no means a one tool player. He figures to give the Cubs at least average production in all other phases of the game – defense, arm strength, base running, and hitting for average.
Gleyber Torres is the big price the Cubs had to pay to acquire elite closer Aroldis Chapman for the stretch run and postseason. He’s not an elite athlete at shortstop and has a thicker build for the position, causing some to question whether he can stay at the at shortstop for the long term despite excellent instincts, a strong arm, and good footwork. He played second base today, a position he has played more frequently since joining the Yankees organization.
Like Jimenez, the 19-year-old Torres has matured physically since signing and while that may have cost him some in terms of raw quickness, he has compensated by showing more extra base power with the occasional ability to turn on a pitch and show some pull-side power.
That is exactly what the right-handed hitter did on Wednesday, taking a 93-mph fastball from righty Duane Underwood and taking it out halfway up the berm beyond the left-center field wall.
In his next at-bat, Underwood took a different approach and kept Torres off balance with his curveball, a pitch he didn’t show much feel for in the first inning, and jumping ahead with two quick swinging strikes. Torres, however, made the adjustment, protecting the plate and taking a good pitch just off the outside and lining it over the first baseman’s head for a double. It was a very different at-bat from the first one where Torres jumped all over a first pitch fastball. He had to battle and make adjustments. To me it was his most impressive at-bat of the day, though it didn’t start off that way.
Torres would walk in his last two plate appearances, showing yet another part of his game that has matured over the last couple of seasons. He has shown flashes of that patience, but the approach wasn’t always consistent until about midway through this season.
The Cubs likely felt that they could part with Torres because of the presence of Addison Russell at shortstop, Ben Zobrist at second base, and Javier Baez at both of those positions — not to mention that Ian Happ has been taking the bulk of his defensive reps at second base as well. That he was expendable, however, does not take away anything from Torres as a starting-caliber infielder in his own right.
The only question is where he will eventually land. We’ve mentioned the mixed opinion as to whether he is a shortstop long term. but I feel that he can more than hold his own there, though that opportunity may not come with the Yankees. He has shown some power, but whether he will have enough to carry third base is another question. It seems the most likely destination is the position he played today – second base, where he should be an above average player on both offensively and defensively.
I’ve seen quite a few pitchers already this fall with some MLB potential, but none have been more impressive than 21-year-old Greene. The first thing you notice is the ideal, athletic pitcher’s frame at 6’3″ which still shows some projection. He’s listed at 185 pounds, and while I do not know how accurate that is, it’s clear that there is still some room to add lean muscle weight. It’s hard not to take a look at Greene and not dream of what he can become.
But Greene isn’t just projection. There is plenty to like about his present stuff, athleticism, and delivery. Greene already shows a double-plus to elite fastball at 96-to-98 mph (T99) from an easy, clean delivery with good downhill plane. He adds a hard 86-to-87 mph slider with good tilt that one evaluator rated as a plus offering. The changeup also has the makings of an above-average pitch. He throws it with good arm speed at 84-to-85 mph and the pitch shows some nice fade, making it a potential weapon against opposite-side hitters.
Greene has added some strength over the past season, and he was able to maintain the increased velocity over his 2.1 innings on Saturday, never once dropping below 96 mph. Whether he is able to maintain that velocity deeper into the game is a question he will need to answer as he continues to develop and mature physically.