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40 in 25: Luis Torrens

After climbing all the way back from a disastrous start last season, Torrens is poised for a big 2022 - although likely in a smaller role.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Sometimes to make a real change, to take a true step forward, one has to hit rock bottom. Whatever that means to you - the suffering of a family member or close friend, the end of a relationship, sudden unemployment, or realizing you need help with any number of personal issues - reaching that point is something every human goes through at least once in their lives. After all, the worst day of everyone’s life is their worst one so far.

In mid-May of 2021, I think we can all agree that Luis Torrens hit that point, and what made it sting even more is that just six weeks earlier, he had entered the season on top of the world.

His path to landing a job share with Tom Murphy behind the plate was as unorthodox as you’ll find. After signing with the Yankees as a teen in 2012, he suffered a torn labrum and missed a full season in 2015, was picked in the Rule 5 Draft by the Reds and immediately traded to the Padres in the 2016-17 offseason, and opened the year on San Diego’s big league roster - all before he had played above Low-A and could legally drink in the United States. Quite a whirlwind for the often already-volatile years of one’s late teens and early twenties!

After sticking in the Majors all season despite turning in predictably dismal results with the bat, he was able to develop like a normal catching prospect once his Rule 5 status was lifted, and earned a traditional cup of coffee in San Diego in 2019 after putting up an excellent season both at and behind the plate in Double-A. He played sparingly with the Padres in 2020 before coming over to Seattle in the Austin Nola blockbuster, and a solid showing in the last half of the shortened season as the Mariners’ de facto starting catcher turned some heads. Strong Statcast numbers suggested a breakout could be on the horizon, and sure enough, he made an Opening Day roster for the second time in his career - although this time, it was all him that led to it.

I don’t need to get into a whole lot of detail about what happened next. Despite smacking a double in his first plate appearance of the season and putting up solid, if entirely BABIP-fueled numbers in his first six games, Torrens fell off a cliff hard and fast. A .178/.219/.300 slash and 43 wRC+ is pretty pitiful, but at catcher, you can maybe get away with it for a little bit if they bring good defense.

That was not the case here.

Torrens carried a plus defensive reputation all through the minors - throwing out 46% of would-be base stealers in Double-A will do that. He displayed decent if not spectacular glovework behind the plate in 2020, but for whatever reason last year, his skills completely disintegrated. He bobbled easy transfers, let wayward pitches get by him with guys on seemingly at least once a game, and worst of all, he committed a blunder that I have seen in pretty much every single blooper compilation made in the last year:

On May 20th, he was optioned to Tacoma amid a flurry of roster moves, with many in the fanbase expressing jubilation at his departure, hopeful that they had seen the last of him. Newly 25, it wasn’t quite at the point to write him off entirely, but his window had tightened significantly, and he was unrecognizable to his earlier self. He began transitioning away from catching, splitting his time with the Rainiers about equally behind the plate and at first base, and didn’t exactly wow with a 99 wRC+ over 18 games. With his final option year burned during his Tacoma stint, a year that had started as a golden opportunity was quickly turning sour, and it was difficult to see him as a future positive contributor.

As brutal as reaching rock bottom can be, with time, it often presents you a bittersweet gift: the clarity of a way through and out of it. Rather than succumbing to the temptation of toxic positivity or outright denial, accepting that things are going poorly and need to change - while believing and trusting yourself to have the ability to change them - is an act of radical self-empowerment. In other words, sometimes shit is just bad, but the sooner that is fully accepted, the sooner you can start working to pull yourself out of it.

Something changed in Luis Torrens during these three weeks.

He hit six homers in his Tacoma stint, with four of them either going out to center or the other way. The opposite field power was something he had shown flashes of, but nothing even close to as consistent as that. In mid-June, he was brought back up, and continued his power surge in his first game back:

This was a treat to see! In fairness, however, Griffin Jax was a pretty marginal pitcher last year, and that 90 MPH fastball caught quite a bit of a plate. It was fully understandable if you saw that and wrote it off as a random blip, a nice moment followed by two weeks of what we had seen.

Here’s the thing, though. It wasn’t. Two days later, he hit a dinger off of Rich Hill. Three days after that, he cranked another off of Shane McClanahan. In Chicago later that week, he crossed his first career multi-bomb game of the list, one pulled and one oppo.

If you’re keeping track, that’s five homers in the span of ten games, good for a .259/.316/.714 slash line for June - a torrid stretch for even the greatest in the game. He was back at catcher in his first handful of games back, and while he did look better than he had before, he quickly settled in as the club’s primary DH. He kept the hits coming in July, also managing a sturdy 15.9% walk rate for the month, and established himself as having both a flair for the dramatic and the Texas Rangers’ number.

In these two months, Torrens put up a scorching 157 wRC+ over 120 plate appearances, including 215 in four dozen chances against left-handed pitching. He scuffled a bit in August to a 77 wRC+ as the league adjusted back to him and he saw more action against same-handed pitchers - but he did treat us to a walkoff against none other than Texas.

Thankfully, he bounced back with a solid September, and at season’s end, his final wRC+ was 101 - a 58-point jump from his nadir in May, and after his recall, he sat right at 120. In a year full of chaos, magic, and cult heroes, none stood out to me more than him, and his turnaround was nothing short of inspiring, and as a cherry on top, look at this extremely pleasing spray chart!

Baseball Savant

Unfortunately, with a big offseason looming and Torrens seemingly positionless after Cal Raleigh’s arrival, his name was bandied about as speculative trade bait all winter. Jerry Dipoto has spoken very highly of his bat in the last week or so, though, and has stated that he will get reps at both catcher and first base this spring. Right before his demotion, I took a deep dive into what was going wrong with him behind the plate, and came to the conclusion that receiving on a knee - something he appeared to pick up when he came over to Seattle - was a major hindrance for him, especially with runners on. A couple weeks before the lockout ended, Torrens shared some footage on his Instagram of getting some work in with Chris Flexen, and what’s that in the second picture?

The traditional catcher crouch lives! Torrens also played a handful of games at first in Seattle last year, and made a couple garbage time appearances at third. If he can prove that his defense at catcher is workable, that kind of versatility is very attractive to have. It is the smallest of samples, but in his first game of the spring yesterday, I noticed that while he still received on a knee when the bases were empty, he switched to the normal crouch the second runners got on. More of that, please!

Everyone also loves a good old-fashioned lefty masher, and his 131 wRC+ against southpaws last year was third on the team behind Mitch Haniger and Ty France. At the plate, he seems to pair nicely with the newly-acquired Jesse Winker, and the Mariners could get a little creative with their deployment. While Winker slots in as the club’s regular left fielder, defensive metrics have been bearish on him throughout his career, and he could see plenty of rotating into the DH spot. Barring any injury, he’ll be playing every day against right-handed pitching, but he won’t be strictly platooned per Dipoto, meaning we could still see him in the lineup against a southpaw a couple times a week.

When this occurs, Torrens slots perfectly in the DH role, and could even spell France at first or the Raleigh/Murphy combo at catcher to let someone else get a breather there. He would also be an excellent option off the bench, particularly when a tough lefty is brought in. What seemed to be an awkward roster fit before the arrival of Winker and Eugenio Suárez now has found a perfect niche, and although Torrens will almost certainly see fewer plate appearances than he did in 2021, his overall production should be stronger given his new role.

Rock bottom sucks for so many reasons, none of which suck more than the certain feeling that you’ll never get out of it, that you’re doomed to be mired in whatever rut you’re stuck in for eternity. I wouldn’t be surprised if those thoughts crossed Luis Torrens’s mind at some point last May, when every part of his game was in shambles and he received a cascade of boos from the Seattle crowd after yet another defensive gaffe in the midst of the M’s being no-hit by Spencer Turnbull. He proved that while he may have reached that point, any malicious whispers of it being his permanent state of being were lying through their teeth, and he’ll enter his age-26 season with a new track record of destroying lefties and owning some real power. It is never too late to start the climb out.