TAMPA — Off the crack of the bat, Gleyber Torres charged in from shortstop, fielding a slow chopper and firing a bullet toward first base all in one fluid motion. As the toss caromed off a plywood figure propped up adjacent to the first base bag, Torres threw his up arms in celebration.
Torres stood alone at shortstop during Friday's defensive drills at Yankees camp, cracking jokes with his teammates lined up at other spots around the infield while locking it in when it was his turn to make a play.
After struggling defensively in his first season as the Yankees' full-time shortstop, the 24-year-old worked hard this offseason to improve at the position. In fact, Torres started taking ground balls and making adjustments just two weeks after New York was eliminated from the postseason last fall.
"Overall, it was not really a good year for me," Torres said in a Zoom call on Friday. "I learned a lot of things and this year, I'm preparing myself during the offseason. I took many ground balls and I'm just trying to be confident in myself and my play defending my position."
Fresh off the departure of Didi Gregorius, Torres entered last spring as the franchise's starting shortstop. Then, Torres proceeded to make five errors in 13 spring training games before Major League Baseball was halted due to the pandemic.
Once the regular season began, the miscues at shortstop continued. Torres finished the shortened campaign with nine errors, making six over his first 21 games played.
While it's no excuse, Torres recalled that part of the reason for his lack of production—both on offense and defense—was that facilities were closed during MLB's COVID-19 hiatus (not to mention the mental challenge of staying ready in the midst of unprecedented circumstances). Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said last summer that Torres returned to the team out of shape as summer camp began. Factor in a pair of leg injuries midway through the season, and the phenom wasn't able to get going until the regular season was coming to a close.
Asked this week about how Torres looks so far this spring, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was overjoyed at the progress the shortstop made over this winter.
"He looks great," Boone said. "He's in great shape, and if you guys get a chance to see him up close, he looks good. He's moving well and I'm excited to see what he's going to go do for us."
New York's bench coach Carlos Mendoza, who works closely with the club's infielders, echoed those sentiments.
"He worked really hard during the offseason and you can see it with the way he's moving right now," Mendoza explained on Friday. "I go back to last year towards the end when he developed a really good routine, his preparation, and he just carrying it over. The attention to details, just being excellent at making the routine plays, the details, the way he prepares and you could see it on the early going. So we're very pleased with where he's at right now."
The shortstop made only three errors over the final month of the regular season and just one miscue in seven postseason games. That's not perfect, but showed he had taken steps in the right direction as the year progressed.
Torres mentioned that his goal is for pitchers in pinstripes to have confidence in him at shortstop, not worrying about balls being booted that come in his direction. With a new mentality after a long offseason, Torres is ready to start showing those improvements.
"The past is the past," he said. "I'm preparing myself right now and trying to get ready to play and help my team. Last year was tough for everybody. [It's time to] forget that and go into the future."
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