The Yankees started out the 2018 season a bit more slowly than expected, playing just .500 baseball until they beat the Blue Jays on April 21.
That same night, they called up Gleyber Torres from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the first time and the 21-year-old second baseman made his MLB debut in The Bronx the next day.
“Obviously, I think you all realize how much we value him as a player, short term certainly and for our future,” Aaron Boone, then in his first season as Yankees manager, said before that April 22 game. “[Bringing him up] is something we’ve had conversations about over the last week, about when would be the right time. We feel like he’s ready, he’s checked all the boxes.”
And until the coronavirus brought baseball to a halt, Torres had continued to check those boxes.
He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting that season and has been named an All-Star in each of his two years in the majors. He was slated to shift back to shortstop — where he played frequently in the minors — following the free-agent departure of Didi Gregorius to the Phillies in the offseason.
There’s still questions that Torres has the range to succeed there on an everyday basis, but he’s already emerged as one of the top hitters in the sport.
Torres, active on social media, noted the two-year anniversary of his call-up with a Twitter post on Tuesday: “Wow! It’s amazing how time flies! Feels just like yesterday I was putting on the pinstripes for the first time in Yankee Stadium. Can’t wait to get back out there!”
He’s felt at home in The Bronx since the start. After struggling during spring training in 2018, Torres was optioned to SWB well before Opening Day. He was coming off Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow the previous June after injuring the elbow with a hook slide into home plate with the RailRiders.
At the time, general manager Brian Cashman cautioned against reading too much into the demotion, saying Torres needed to get more at-bats.
“You can’t always predict what’s gonna happen,” Cashman said on March 13. “We still expect [Torres] to perform at a high level and he could get his chance this year.”
“I’ll stay in my approach and play my game,” Torres said in Tampa the same day after receiving the news. “It’s not easy to miss nine months of games and come back perfect. You’re human. I’ll do my job and wait for another opportunity.”
The opportunity came soon enough, as Torres returned to form at the plate and Neil Walker, who the Yankees signed late in camp, slumped to open the season.
By mid-April, it was clear Torres would be on his way soon.
Less than a week before his MLB debut, then SWB manager Bobby Mitchell said he had no doubt Torres would do well when given the chance.
“He’ll be around a long time and hopefully he’s a star up there,” Mitchell said. “You see his ability and potential are off the charts. Once he’s up there and adjusts, he’ll stay there.”
Walker, who Torres replaced in the lineup, couldn’t argue with the move.
“He’s earned the right to come up here,” said Walker. “I’m not even hitting my weight.”
The timing of Torres’ promotion also allowed the Yankees to retain an extra year of control before free agency. And Torres joined Miguel Andujar as regulars in the lineup, as Andujar immediately excelled at the plate after Brandon Drury was plagued by blurred vision.
Andujar finished second only to the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but Andujar’s progress has been slowed by the shoulder surgery that cost him most of 2019.
But on this day two years ago, there was no guarantee Torres or Andujar would do what they’ve done.
Mitchell, the SWB manager, was confident Torres wouldn’t disappoint.
“Everyone has been talking about him, creating these expectations,” Mitchell said in April, 2018. “He reads it. I think he has a really great shot and he’s handling the attention fine. Obviously, there’s a lot of anticipation for him and he feels it, too.”
By June, when asked if he might listen to offers for Torres to improve the rotation, Cashman scoffed.
“On who?” Cashman said of Torres. “Come on now. I’ve got to walk around this city.”