In any big trade, there’s a player who gets a little forgotten about. In the trade that sent Austin Nola along with Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla to the Padres, the Mariners got Taylor Trammell, whose larger-than-life personality and thoughtful reflections on race in baseball have already made him a fan favorite; Ty France, who seems to live on base; and injured-but-exciting fireballing reliever Andrés Muñoz. They also got catcher Luis Torrens, and even though that’s the part of the trade no one seems to be talking about as much, so far he’s the player from the trade Mariners fans look to be seeing the most of in 2020. So who is Luís Torrens?
Luís Alfonso Torrens Sáez signed with the Yankees out of Venezuela back in 2012. Torrens would never get above A-ball with the Yankees, missing the entirety of the 2015 season with a torn labrum (shoulder), and then being selected by the Reds in the 2016 Rule 5 draft—a nominal selection, as the Reds then immediately traded Torrens to San Diego for pitching prospect Josh VanMeter and cash. The Padres kept Torrens—a 20-year-old who had never played above A-ball—on their major-league roster for the entirety of 2017, which is pretty much the textbook definition of baptism by fire. As soon as he was secure in their organization, the Padres sent Torrens to High-A Lake Elsinore for the 2018 season to resume a more normal developmental track. He went to fall instructional league and then straight to the Texas League in 2019, where he played the best baseball of his career.
All numbers from the Padres’ homer-happy stadium in Amarillo have to be taken with a grain of salt, but Torrens didn’t have extreme home/road splits in the Texas League: he slashed .315/.380/.536 at home vs .286/.367/.467 away, and of his 15 home runs, 10 were at home and five in away stadiums. Even more importantly, Torrens refined his defensive game, with 11 Defensive Runs Saved, the highest among all minor-league catchers.
Torrens threw out 46% of base stealers, and said he felt as excited about his overall game as he did on his first day in the big leagues with all the improvements he made in 2019. Here’s a little razzle-dazzle (listen to the whoops of the crowd turn to sighs of disappointment):
Luis Torrens is ridiculous back there. Smothering everything tonight, hitting the baseball, and the ability to do this on a regular basis to keep runners honest...— Austin Hartsfield (@HartsfieldPC) September 11, 2019
He’s been doing this all season. He loves those snap throws too
5-2 AMA@EVT_News pic.twitter.com/iLMqT3bM6l
One more, because we love a caught stealing when the catcher throws from his knees:
Torrens has shown off some framing abilities, as well, especially impressive considering how quickly he’s had to learn a new staff. It really stood out in Justus Sheffield’s last start, when Torrens stole a few strikes for Sheffield, including this one:
Torrens works from the ground up, like the Mariners coach their catchers to do, which allows him to receive the pitch and gently nudge it back into the zone. He’s a subtle framer and while Statcast doesn’t particularly like him (he’s listed at at -1 for runs/extra strikes), Stacast also says Omar Narvaez is the best framer in baseball and Mike Zunino the worst so I think it might behoove us to rely on some good old eyeball analysis here. Mariners catching coordinator Tony Arnerich is one of the best in the business—he helped Austin Nola become a better receiver and has helped Cal Raleigh refine his defensive game, as well—so I’m excited to see what further defensive improvements lie ahead for Torrens, who is already gifted with a much stronger arm than Nola.
So the defensive profile is solid. The offensive profile...is trickier. If you think the Mariners rushed Zunino, imagine being Luís Torrens, having never even seen High-A, never slugged more than .500 even in the low minors, and suddenly being thrown out against the best players in the world. Catchers usually develop a little more slowly because of all the various demands placed on them; throw a year-long pit stop to the majors into that, plus playing at one of the most offensively-inflated environments in minor-league baseball, plus limited playing time in 2020 due to the Padres’ depth at catcher, and there’s a lot of noise to sort through here.
One thing worth watching: Torrens’ average exit velocity is up from a slightly-below-average mark of 87 mph to a very good 95 mph (for contrast, Evan White, who absolutely tattoos the ball, has an average EV of 92.6). We’re only working with 125 batted balls here but it would track that a bigger, stronger, older Luís Torrens would hit the ball harder than his 20-year-old self. At age 24, he’s listed at 6-foot and 208 lbs, and perhaps the Mariners could beef him up a little more at High Performance Camp this fall. Torrens has never really hit for power, but if he’s capable of regularly hitting the ball this hard, maybe there’s some secret power reserves in there.
Torrens has never been a big striker-outer, and even if the power doesn’t come and Statcast hard-hit data is an illusion, if he could just get on base at a good clip, with that and the defense, that’s a solid backup catcher. Torrens hasn’t been a huge walk-taker in his minors career, although he bumped that up to about 10% last year in the Texas League, but he has some contact abilities and can spray hits around the field. Again, all of this is a very nice backup catcher profile.
But what if. What if Torrens can continue to hit the ball hard? Because I see this, taking 94 at the top of the zone oppo 368 feet, and I am feeling GREEDY.
In that same game he smoked a single at 105 off the bat, as well. That was the same EV as his first hit as a Mariner, this line-drive single off Kyle Gibson a few days earlier:
Congratulation to Luis Torrens on his first hit with the Mariners, a solid line drive to center. pic.twitter.com/AqGYkQXB2D— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 6, 2020
Torrens’ defensive abilities give him a safe floor, but if he keeps hitting the ball hard like this, we might have a nascent Spring Training battle on our hands when Tom Murphy is back to full health, at which point Torrens will have had much more time to absorb the Mariners’ coaching philosophies. The trading deadline gave us no shortage of storylines to follow through the end of 2020 and into 2021, but this is one I’m particularly interested in following. [Extremely GoT voice] Torrens is coming.