Ronald Torreyes Continues to Exceed Expectations

Unless you’ve been following the Yankees this year, there’s a decent chance you have no idea who Ronald Torreyes is. That’s understandable. I’ve been monitoring him for a while, but that’s only because I spend an inordinate amount of time parsing through minor-league data to identify players like him: players who are way, way off the prospect radar, but who project to be impact big leaguers.

Torreyes is off to a torrid start this year. In limited action with the Yankees, the 23-year-old infielder is hitting .667/.667/1.000. That’s a 401 wRC+. In nine trips to the plate, he has two singles, a double, a triple and only one strikeout. I know: small sample, blah, blah, BABIP, blah, blah. But Torreyes’ first nine plate appearances have been about as good as it gets.

Torreyes has never been thought of as much of a prospect. He originally signed with the Reds out of Venezuela back in 2010, and he’s moved around quite a bit since then. Here’s an excerpt from his Baseball Reference page:

Torreyes

All that and he’s still just 23. Whenever I come across a prospect who’s changed teams multiple times, two conflicting thoughts run through my mind: on the one hand, I think multiple teams decided they didn’t really want him. However, multiple teams decided they did want him.

Given the nature of Torreyes’ transactions, it’s hard to make a case that anyone has ever truly wanted him. His first team included him as the third piece in a trade for a reliever. His second team sold him to his third team. His third team sold him to his fourth team. His fourth team sold him to his fifth team, who traded him with another player for a 27-year-old minor leaguer. His sixth team — the Yankees — gave him away on waivers to his seventh team. He was back on waivers just weeks later, and wound up with the Yankees again.

Three times this guy was traded for cash. His team literally just sold him to another organization without receiving another player in return. Even the Yankees didn’t seem particularly interested in holding on to him, seeing how they DFA’d him last winter to clear room for the unremarkable Lane Adams. Torreyes has always been treated like an afterthought, rather than a prospect.

If you’ve ever seen Torreyes, it isn’t hard to see why. Although he’s listed at 5-foot-9, he looks much shorter than that. Erstwhile lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel speculated last winter he’s actually more like 5-foot-7. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also rail thin. He looks more like a horse jockey than a baseball player.

Statistically, though, Torreyes looks like a pretty interesting prospect. It’s a bit hard to make out by looking at his player page since he bounced around quite a bit, but Torreyes hit fairly well last year: .263/.321/.403 overall, with most of that coming at Double-A. This included a solid .296/.348/.408 showing after he joined the Dodgers organization in June.

He was even better in 2014, when he actually stayed with one organization — the Astros — for a full season. He slashed .298/.345/.376 with 12 steals as a 22-year-old shortstop in Triple-A. Most impressive of all was his minuscule 5% strikeout rate. Dude’s a contact machine.

KATOH loves Torreyes. It pegged him for 5.2 WAR over the next six years headed into the season, which landed him at #52 on KATOH’s top 100. To put some faces to Torreyes’ unusual statistical profile, let’s go ahead and generate some statistical comps for the undersized infielder. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis Distance between Torreyes’ 2015 season and every Double-A and Triple-A season since 1990 in which a middle infielder recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar.

Ronald Torreyes’ Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Liu Rodriguez 3.6 0.0
2 Jorge Velandia 4.3 0.0
3 Luis Rodriguez 4.7 1.3
4 Aaron Hill 6.1 13.1
5 Neifi Perez 4.9 2.0
6 Jason Bates 3.6 0.0
7 Rey Sanchez 2.6 3.6
8 Chuck Knoblauch 7.0 33.6
9 Tomas de la Rosa 3.2 0.0
10 Wes Weger 4.0 0.0

His Mahalanobis comps are a bit of a mixed bag, but there are some interesting players in there, including Aaron Hill, Rey Sanchez and Chuck Knoblauch. Those guys may not feel like great comps for Torreyes, but they had somewhat similar minor-league numbers and had success in the big leagues. Take that for what it’s worth. Luis Rodriguez feels a bit more like Torreyes, and put up solid numbers as a part-time player in his rookie season.

Torreyes is perhaps the most pronounced example of my math vehemently disagreeing with the scouting consensus. I’ll concede that Torreyes feels like the type of prospect who might break KATOH due to his lack of physicality relative to his performance. But even if he falls short of his KATOH forecast, I still believe he can be a useful player — even if only as a utility infielder. It blows my mind that so many teams let him go for approximately nothing.

Not only did Torreyes hold his own in Triple-A at a young age, but he did so while making loads of contact, especially on pitches in the zone. Hitters like that tend to have relatively smooth transitions to the big leagues. There’s only one way to find out if Torreyes’ unusual profile will work at the highest level, and the Yankees are willing to run that experiment. We’re still looking at a teeny tiny sample, but thus far, the Bombers been rewarded handsomely.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Mario Mendoza
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Mario Mendoza

Love that AAA Z-Contact article. Looking at the leaderboard you posted, the Yankees had another leader in that category: Pirela. I’d like to see SD give him a chance.

RobM
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RobM

Pirela’s an interesting guy. I believe his bat can play in the majors, particularly against LH’d pitching, but he doesn’t offer a clear defensive position. 2B is probably the best option.