Is it Time to Worry About Gleyber Torres' Defense as the Yankees' Starting Shortstop?

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Gleyber Torres committed his fifth error of the spring on Tuesday, bobbling another ball that was ruled a hit. With five errors in Grapefruit League play thus far – tied for the most in all of baseball – is the 23-year-old not ready for a full-time role at shortstop?

When Didi Gregorius departed this offseason via free agency, after five seasons as the Yankees' starting shortstop, filling the void that he left behind defensively was set to be a seamless transition. 

Although the majority of his second big-league season was spent at second base, Torres made 77 appearances at shortstop in 2019 (just three fewer than Gregorius, who spent half the season recovering from Tommy John surgery). With DJ LeMahieu willing and able to settle in at second base, Torres appeared to be the no-brainer replacement.

That's brings us to Tuesday – a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays. His defensive performance in the first two frames at George M. Steinbrenner Field was indicative of his entire Spring Training on that side of the ball so far. 

In the top of the first, with Gerrit Cole on the mound, Torres ranged to his left on a hard-hit one-hopper up the middle. He made it to the spot, extending his left arm to get his glove on it, but the ball popped out of his mitt allowing Randal Grichuk to reach without a throw. The play was eventually scored as an infield single. 

One inning later, on a routine ground ball off the bat of Teoscar Hernandez, Torres missed his target. His throw across the diamond to Luke Voit was high, forcing the 6-foot-3 first baseman to jump up. The errant toss pulled him off the bag as Hernandez sprinted past safely.

Bad games happen. In fact, that's the beauty of baseball – across a 162-game season, a defender could have several multi-error games and still win a Gold Glove Award. Taking over a position as essential as shortstop, however, is a monumental task – Torres' struggles this early in the year are unsurprisingly cause for concern.

Tuesday marked the 23-year-old's 10th appearance at shortstop this spring. In 56 innings – and on 23 total chances – he's made five errors. Wynston Sawyer, a catcher who was reassigned to minor-league camp last week, is the only other Yankees player to commit more than one error this spring – still three fewer than Torres. 

In 2019, despite glimpses of greatness and plenty of potential, Torres' cumulative defensive production was nothing to write home about. Under Statcast's metric OAA (outs above average) – factoring in the number of plays made by a defender and the difficulty of them – Torres finished tied for the eighth-worst output (minus-7 OAA). 

His double-play partner LeMahieu posted a plus-6 rate (tied for 22nd in baseball) for his stellar performance at second base. Torres, on the other hand, was ranked 129th.

READ: Using Statcast's new defensive metric, will defense be a strength or liability for the Yankees in 2020?

Let's take a step back for a moment and acknowledge that for Torres, these errors haven't been egregious mistakes. If Torres didn't have so much range, he wouldn't have gotten to the ball in the first inning on Tuesday. His smooth hands secured the routine grounder in the second frame, he just straightened up too quick rather than following through. 

Besides, Spring Training stats inevitably don't matter. As we've seen firsthand with players like Masahiro Tanaka – who has ended up playing better during the regular season when they struggle in the month of March – Grapefruit League stats couldn't matter much less. 

Internally, the only other infielders to appear at shortstop this spring – that presently have a spot on the Yankees' 40-man roster – are Thairo Estrada and Tyler Wade. With rosters expanding to 26 players this season, in a new rule installed by Major League Baseball, both utilitymen have a shot to start the regular season with the big-league club.

As for Torres, it's not time to panic just yet. Adjusting to a new position is a task that takes time. It's not like Torres has never played there before anyway – instead, he is readjusting back to the position he grew up playing. 

"I'm back at my position, I feel more comfortable," Torres said back in early-February when receiving the Thurman Munson Award for his devotion to helping the community. "I don't feel pressure in anything, just want to play my game and play to win games."

At the moment, wins and losses don't count. In a shade over two weeks, however, errors will begin to be impactful for a club with lofty expectations. Torres has some time to figure this out, but the clock is ticking.

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