With the All-Star voting underway, the National League outfield would look a little interesting if we went solely by WAR going into yesterday’s action:
While Willingham has had a solid major league career, and Jason Heyward is the Chosen One, seeing Andres Torres starting in center may be a shock for some people. The truth is that it should be. A fourth round draft pick in 1998, Torres was a known entity only in the minds of the most passionate fans before the 2009 season. By the end of the 2005 campaign, Torres had spent four fragmented seasons in the major leagues with Detroit and Texas. In his only consistent playing time in 2003, he hit .220/.263/.298, a wRC+ of a measly 45, nothing at all worthy of major league playing time. From 2002-2005, Andres contributed -1.0 WAR for his respective teams; needless to say, he was seen as a non-factor within baseball circles.
After the 2005 season, Torres went back to the minors and continued to struggle. In 2006, as a twenty-eight year old in Triple-A Rochester of the Twins organization, he hit .236/.333/.353 while striking out in 25% of his plate appearances. Torres returned to the Tigers organization in 2007, and since then has become a completely different player. After starting the ’07 season in Double-A Erie, Torres earned a promotion to Triple-A by putting up an .844 OPS. Although he posted a .366 wOBA in forty-two games for the Triple-A club, he was promptly released the following year, finding a home with the Cubs for the 2008 season.
At thirty years old in Triple-A, it seemed as though Torres’ peak was as a Quad-A player. However, Torres lit it up that year, hitting .306/.391/.501 while swiping 29 bases in 33 attempts. After playing just a handful of minor league games for the Giants in 2009, Torres got called up to the majors and slugged .533 with a .379 wOBA while playing solid defense, totaling 2.0 WAR in just 75 games. So far in 2010, Torres has had his best year in professional baseball at thirty-two years old, hitting .286/.375/.479, good for 2.0 WAR thanks to a UZR/150 of 42.7 in the outfield.
Although we know that late bloomers are a part of the game, Torres’ story makes his sudden arrival less surprising. From the San Jose Mercury News:
For much of his life, it looked as if Torres would one day be impressing on the track rather than the diamond. He was a high school sprint star in Puerto Rico, excelling in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the 400 relay. Baseball was an afterthought until a scout handed him a business card during his senior year.
“It wasn’t like I was trying to be a pro,” Torres said. “I was a track guy. I’ve been made into a baseball player.”
Torres went to Miami-Dade Community College, where, by his own admission, he was “just a guy who could run and catch.” Those skills were sharp enough to get the attention of scouts, and he signed with Detroit after being drafted in the fourth round in 1998…
…There was just one problem: Torres still didn’t really know how to hit.
His speed got him to the big leagues with the Tigers in 2002, but it wasn’t until fellow Puerto Ricans Luis Alicea and Carlos Beltran pulled him aside that he realized how much he had left to learn.
“They told me I wasn’t loading with my hands at all, and I had no idea,” Torres said. “I didn’t care about hitting, but when I got called up, I realized there are a lot of things that I needed to do to stay (in the majors).”
A really incredible story, and the Giants have to be thrilled to have gotten the best out of Andres Torres. He probably won’t make the All-Star team, but his value for San Francisco has been above and beyond what anyone would have projected just two years ago.
Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat