gleyber torres cubsThe third entry in this winter’s round of Prospects Progress focuses on one of the most exciting prospects in the farm system, shortstop Gleyber Torres. Torres, currently the third ranked prospect on the Bleacher Nation Top 40, has as much upside as any prospect in the organization and is coming off a very strong season.

Over 514 plate appearance with the Low A South Bend Cubs, Torres, at just 18 years old, hit .293/.353/.386 with 22 steals and was a consensus pick as one of the best prospects in the league. He is certain to appear on a lot of Top 100 lists this winter, and could even appear as high as the Top 30 in some of them. His stock is definitely on the rise.

It is probably too early to say for sure if he’ll stay at shortstop long term. His fielding statistics with South Bend are mediocre at best, but that effectively means nothing. Plenty of teenagers have put up mediocre numbers while playing shortstop professionally and still gone on to play excellent defense at the position in the majors. From the video I have see it is clear he has work to do (as expected) and that he has the raw tools needed to stay at short, but it is possible that his ultimate future will be at second or third. For now, I think those debates are a little beside the point.

The point is that he a teenage infielder who played very good baseball in a full season league. That sentence alone is enough to put him in a lot top prospect conversations, but he backed it up with a reasonably disciplined approach at the plate that produced a healthy walk rate of 8.4%. We don’t typically expect to see the strike zone judgement and plate discipline needed to produce that sort of a walk rate from a guy of this age. That bodes very well for his future.

Unfortunately, his 21% strikeout rate with South Bend is cause for some concern. If the 8.4% walk rate means he is laying off pitches outside of the strike zone, and to a large degree (based also on some tape) I feel that is a fair statement, then the 21% strikeout rate suggests, at least in part, that he is swinging through some pitches in the strike zone. That isn’t a fatal flaw for a player at this level, but it isn’t something we can just ignore either.

By way of comparison, Starlin Castro spent his age 19 season partly in High A (he skipped Low A) with a strikeout rate of just 10.6%. Javier Baez, a player who has now become synonymous with strikeouts in the minds of many baseball fans, was 19 years old for his stint in Low A where he struck out 20.4% of the time.  History suggests that we can’t just assume that the swing and miss will stay flat or go away as Torres moves up the system.

A strikeout rate of 21% isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and if Torres projected as a power hitter it would not give me much pause at all. Baez, for example, slugged .596 in Low A and has gone on to reach the majors as one of the more exciting young players in the league. Torres, though, doesn’t currently project as a power hitter. His ISO of .093 is low for any age, and his slugging of .386 doesn’t exactly promise power to come. He does have plenty of room to grow into power (he is list at 6’1″ and just 175 pounds, after all (though the height looks generous)), but it will take a lot of added power to push him from his current production levels into a guy who looks like a power hitter in the making. I don’t see it happening.

That means a chunk of his value will come more from his base running, and there we do have some positives to build on. His on base percentage of .353 is a good foundation for a base running threat (step one is to get on base), and his 22 steals is a nice addition. He was caught 13 times in South Bend, but that success rate is likely to improve as he gains experience reading pitchers and fine tuning his timing. Projecting Torres for 25 to 30 steals a season doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, at least in his younger years.

Next season, if Torres is still a Cub, he will return to Myrtle Beach as the everyday shortstop. He was on the Pelicans’ roster for their run to the Carolina League championship in 2015, but did not amass enough at bats for his struggles at that level to mean anything. The key thing to watch in 2016 will be his bat. Is that strikeout rate nothing to worry about? Or is it the sign of a some contact issues that he will have to work through? I suspect we’ll spend a lot of time next year pondering exactly that.

If he is a Cub. The Cubs are known to be checking in on cost-controlled, high-upside starting pitching, and those players will not come cheap in a trade. Torres, as a teenage infielder who played well in a full season league, is a premium trade chip who could be a big part of a lot of pitching deals. From the standpoint of the Cubs, though, they can afford to let go of a young middle infielder in the right deal since their major league roster is full of them. And if the Cubs also have concerns over that strikeout rate long-term, they may be thinking in terms of selling high.

There is a lot to like about this young infielder, but, for now, my now optimism comes with a dose of caution. He has the potential to be great, but there is clearly work to do. That potential, though, does mean that one way or another he stands to be a big part of the Cubs’ future. Down one road he would continue his development with a potential Wrigley arrival as soon as late 2017, and down the other he would be a critical part of a major deal that would bring the Cubs some welcome reinforcements to the major league roster. In either scenario, 2016 is likely to be a key year for him.

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