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Gleyber Torres is primed for a huge rebound in 2021

The Yankees’ shortstop had a bad 2020, but he made substantial gains with his plate discipline and started to heat up in the playoffs after overcoming lower-body injuries and conditioning issues.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

After slugging 38 home runs with 96 runs and 90 RBI in 2019, Gleyber Torres entered 2020 with monster expectations. He did that in 144 games, and fantasy owners thought he would perform at a 40-homer pace during the shortened campaign.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The shortstop slashed a putrid .243/.356/.368 with only three home runs in 42 games.

To make matters worse, he suffered Grade 1 strains of his left quad and left hamstring in the middle of the season, and it took him multiple weeks to come back.

The root of Torres’ 2020 issues was the state of his physique. He reported to summer camp out of shape. As Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman recently explained:

“On his return from the shutdown, we spent a little bit … first half of the season playing catchup, maybe in the first 40 or 45 games of the season playing catchup. Once we got him back online and in shape, we saw, towards the last 20 games including the playoffs, the Gleyber Torres we’re used to seeing.”

One would think this is a pretty standard case of a team executive defending his player from media scrutiny, but there is some truth to Cashman’s remarks.

A closer look at Gleyber Torres’ 2020 numbers

He started in an ugly rut in the first 12 games of the season, batting 5-for-45 with a .119/.178/.190 line. Then he got hot for another 12-game stretch, although with no power (.361/.500/.417, 168 wRC+) and then he got injured and missed multiple games.

When he returned from the lower-body injuries, he slowly started to show his true colors, hitting .259/.377/.466 with two homers and a 134 wRC+ until the end of the regular season. By the time the playoffs arrived, he had already found his rhythm: he batted .714/.800/1.143 with a round-tripper in the series against Cleveland and .313/.450/.500 and another dinger vs. the Rays.

Reports out of Yankees’ camp say that Torres looks great and is in good shape, so he could be primed for a rebound season. I’m betting on it, for several reasons.

Despite the adversity, Torres took a significant step forward in plate discipline and pitch recognition. He managed to increase his walk rate from 7.9% in 2019 to 13.8% in 2020 (almost double!) and trimmed his strikeout rate from 21.4% to 17.5%. He also cut his swinging strike percentage from 13.2% to 10.6%, and decreased his chase percentage from 35.1% to 25.6%. Those are substantial improvements, even if the sample isn’t the biggest.

Torres’ 2021 fantasy outlook

He is still scratching his prime at 24 years old, and he had two seasons in the bigs with an isolated power (ISO) over .200. If you ask me, the .125 mark he had in 2020 is the outlier, even more so if we consider the small sample size and the fact he was injured and out of shape.

We are about to enter a relatively normal season, and Torres has had a normal offseason and actually started working out several weeks ago with Mariners’ uber-prospect Julio Rodriguez and Royals slugger Carlos Santana.

I firmly believe Gleyber Torres can have a .280/40 season if he is healthy, and the significant increase in walks could push his runs total even further. Achieving 200+ runs and RBI is a real possibility in the Yankees’ powerful lineup.

I think Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner, and Trevor Story are pretty safe as the top-3 shortstops for 2021 fantasy baseball, since they add an element that Gleyber lacks: stolen bases. However, if Torres takes the step I think he will take during the season, he could potentially become fourth in the position, ahead of Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, Bo Bichette, and other studs. That is his ceiling. A top-four shortstop is not too shabby if you think about it.