Andres Torres Prospect Retro
Two years ago, San Francisco Giants outfielder Andres Torres was hanging around in Triple-A as a 30-year-old former prospect, hoping to find a chance somewhere as a fifth outfielder. The last two seasons, he's been one of the Giants best hitters, hitting .270/.343/.533 in limited action in 2009, but matching that with a .287/.368/.501 mark in near-full time play in 2010. He's also stolen 29 bases in 36 attempts for the Giants, and has played great defensively. How did this guy go from being a forgotten man to being a strong major leaguer?
Andres Torres was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the fourth round in 1998, from Miami-Dade Community College North. He was considered as a classic tools player: very fast, wiry strong, good glove, with the chance to develop some power. He hit .234/.323/.323 in the New York-Penn League for Jamestown, stealing 13 bases in 15 attempts, drawing 25 walks in 192 at-bats but also striking out 50 times. I didn't write about many short-season players back then in the old STATS books, but would have given Torres as Grade C, as a young guy with good tools but marginal present skills.
Moved up to West Michigan in the Midwest League for 1999, Torres hit .236/.385/.324, with 39 steals in 57 attempts, 92 walks, and 116 strikeouts in 407 at-bats. His power was weak and he struck out a lot, but he also drew tons of walks and drew good reviews for his defense. I gave him a Grade C- (I was an even tougher grader then than I am now) in the 2000 book, noting that he had potential but needed to show more pop and improve his reads on the bases.
Torres took a big step forward in 2000, hitting .296/.399/.402 for High-A Lakeland, with 65 steals in 81 attempts, 62 walks, and 82 strikeouts in 398 at-bats. He drove the ball more effectively, struck out less, and in general was a more polished performer in most phases of the game. A late promotion to Double-A went poorly (.148/.220/.148 in 14 games), but it was still a very nice season. Defensive reviews remained positive. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2001 book, writing that I was "cautiously optimistic" but that it was still unclear if Torres would be a future regular or a bench guy.
2001 was a mixed season: he hit .294/.391/.393 for Double-A Erie, but was limited to 64 games by shoulder surgery. He hit just one homer, but overall held his own, swiping 19 bases in 30 attempts, still drawing walks and playing well with the glove. He did need to improve his use of speed on the bases. I kept him rated as a Grade C+.
Torres spent most of 2002 with Triple-A Toledo, hitting .266/.345/.364 with 42 steals in 54 attempts, 53 walks, and 116 strikeouts in 462 at-bats. He got into 19 games with the Tigers, hitting .200/.266/.243 in 70 at-bats, looking overmatched most of the time. He still had the good glove, but Tigers officials who had previously been optimistic about him started to change their tune and criticized his approach at the plate. I gave him a Grade C in the '03 book and projected him as a future reserve.
Torres split 2003 between Toledo (.255/.301/.347 in 70 games) and Detroit (.220/.263/.298 in 59 games, 168 at-bats). His inability to show much power seemed to doom him to a career as a reserve at this point; he was now 25. He requested his release after being outrighted in 2004, and signed with the White Sox as a free agent, hitting .295/.371/.429 with 23 steals for Triple-A Charlotte and looking more effective in many ways. He signed with the Rangers in 2005 but missed almost the whole year with shoulder problems.
Further Triple-A wanderings followed: the Twins system in 2006 (.236/.333/.353, 19 steals for Rochester), back to the Tigers in 2007 (.292/.372/.472 for Erie, .292/.348/.506 for Toledo), and the Cubs system in 2008 (.306/.391/.501 with 29 steals for Iowa). Note the improving performance here: he had a power spike in 2007 at the age of 29, then maintained the progress in '08. He finally got another major league opportunity and has made the most of it. His performance the last two seasons with the Giants is not out of line with what he did in the minors in '07 and '08.
So, what happened here?
I think this was a simple case of experience and maturity. Torres played very little baseball as a high schooler in Puerto Rico: he was a track star, and didn't start taking baseball seriously until the year before he was drafted. The tools were always here, and even when he was a struggling minor league player, he usually drew walks and showed some feel for the strike zone. Many players have a power and performance spike at age 26 or 27 as they reach full physical maturity. Give his lack of high school experience, it's logical that his spike would be delayed by a year or two. Losing considerable time to injuries in '01 and '05 was another factor.
Of course, many similar players have failed to develop in this way, and even some who do figure things out still get stuck in Triple-A once their cachet as a prospect fades.
UPDATE: Ironically enough, a story came out today about Andres Torres being diagnosed with ADD. He began taking appropriate medication in 2007, corresponding with his upsurge in hitting ability. I had not seen the article until a reader pointed it out in the comment thread. Obviously this has at least something to do with his sudden improvement.
I wonder how many other "failed" prospects have undiagnosed mental or physical conditions that keep them from fulfilling their ultimate potential?