photo: Jhon Torres (Joseph Freiday Sr.)
Some of you may have noticed our prospect articles were missing the past two days. This was in response to the trades of Carson Kelly and Andy Young. We made the decision to move other prospects up to fill their gaps, leaving nos. 21 and 22 open. This is a small inconvenience, and we wouldn’t think of delaying the annual November start of our top 50 as a result.
FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 continues into the top 20 with an 18-year old outfielder acquired from Cleveland who made an eye-opening Cardinals debut in the Gulf Coast League.
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Link to Jhon Torres’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2018 stats
TCN Scouting Grade: 6, Risk: high (click here to review scales)
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (27): Jhon Torres was one of the players the Cardinals received in exchange for Oscar Mercado. Torres checked in at #27 during the community vote. This was a little bit lower than the #21 The Cardinal Nation as a whole has him here. In the community balloting, RememberDiz supported Torres first, all the way up to #9 on his list.
Grenadier1 started the Torres discussion saying that Torres has the room to grow into a physical specimen and has as much potential as fellow Cardinal prospects Malcolm Nunez and Nolan Gorman. Robert Reed agreed, saying that the Cardinals appear to have unlocked additional power in Torres’ swing after acquiring him from the Indians. Reed also mentioned that Baseball Prospectus believes Torres defense was outstanding in 2018.
14NyquisT stated that the 6’4” outfielder is just 18 years old and tore up Gulf Coast League pitching to the tune of a .397 batting average. Reed echoed, noting Torres’ gaudy 163 wRC+ across two domestic rookie ball leagues. Stlcard25 said that Torres was a steal in the Mercado deal. He thinks the Cardinals may place him at full-season Class-A Peoria next year. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (14): As the Cardinals deployed scouts dedicated to the lowest levels of the minor leagues in 2018, they located and the front office acquired one of the more dynamite physical specimens on the backfields of the Arizona desert this past summer.
The Indians dealt Torres and outfielder Conner Capel to the Cardinals in return for Oscar Mercado at the July 31st deadline. Torres received rave reviews from scouts who saw him in the Rookie-level Arizona League, with that praise only getting louder after he arrived in the Gulf Coast League.
Torres, who hit .273/.351/.424 over 27 games for the AZL Indians 2, slashed an impressive .397/.493/.683 through 17 games for the GCL Cards in 2018. Overall, the 18-year-old slugged eight homers and drove in 30 runs between both teams.
“Jhon has a presence about him amongst the other players,” AZL Indians 2 manager Jerry Owens said. “You can kind of feel there is something special there as far as his overall game. He can play the outfield – play all three positions. He has an arm that plays at all three.
“His offensive tool-set is special. He has got some unbelievable power at the plate. He is also a good hitter, too. I feel like that is lost nowadays with all of the home runs being hit. He gives you a good at-bat and he is a good hitter as much as the raw power he has.”
The most impressive aspect about his game is the fact he is already tapping into his raw power at such a young age while controlling the strike zone relatively well.
In fact, Torres posted a combined 37-to-19 strikeout to walk ratio over 162 at-bats this past season.
“That is the most impressive thing for me that he is so young and he conducts himself like a professional,” Owens said. “Jhon embodies that when he plays.”
From a scouting perspective, Torres has the quintessential size (6-foot-4, 199 pounds) and strength of a power-hitting corner outfielder. And he still has growth potential from both a physical and mechanical standpoint.
Torres projects to have above-average power and a plus arm while his bat speed and strength allow him to have all-fields power.
Owens said Torres using the whole field as he advances and faces more advanced pitching in the higher levels will serve him well and unlock his ceiling.
“For Jhon to improve and progress, I told him this and I tongue-in-cheek asked him if he wanted to play in the big leagues,” Owens said. “Of course, he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘You need to use the whole field when you hit.’ He has power to all fields and it is common in young hitters to get pull-happy. I think he can grasp the idea of using the whole field and taking what the pitchers give him.
“Once he figures that out, he is capable, because I have seen him do it. I know he is capable of doing it.”
Scouts said his biggest in-season improvement in 2018 was that he controlled the zone and started making better contact, although he did have a tendency to struggle to pick up breaking balls from right-handed pitchers.
“He is so young and this was his first year playing in the States,” Owens said. “That comes with experience. You can count on one hand how many 18 and 19 year-old kids can do that right now. As he gets more experience, he definitely has it in him. I really am impressed by his approach at the plate as far as being a hitter not just a power guy, but being a hitter.”
With fringy speed, Torres is light on his feet and reads the ball well off the bat in right field, making all the routine plays.
Owens sees him sticking in right field down the road despite some questions about his limited range, especially as he fills out.
At maturity, Torres could be a 6-foot-5, 230 pound power-hitting force in the middle of the lineup, according to scouts.
That said, he is quite a ways off still, but it is hard to ignore how loud the reports were on him out of the complex leagues this past summer.
“He is kind of like a major-leaguer in an 18-year old body right now with everything that entails,” Owens said. “I think he is going to get to the major leagues as long as he continues to stay consistent and stay healthy. If he can make the adjustments as he moves up the levels and the pitching he is going to be seeing, his power plays and the arm plays. His defense plays.
“I think he is a guy that can hit .280. It is not a .230 boom-or-bust kind of a guy. He is a guy that is going to hit a lot of doubles. He is a special talent.”
Don’t be surprised to see Torres get his first crack at full-season ball in 2019.
Brian Walton (23): As I analyze and internalize what I have seen, heard and read about Torres, I have questions.
First and foremost, why did the Indians let the Colombian native go? And why at the bargain price he fetched? Finally, is his Cardinals debut a true indicator of how good he can become?
Capel is the more known of the two prospects to come over from Cleveland, because he has been around longer and has greater visibility, already having reached high-A. However, from almost the moment the trade was announced, one scout told me that Torres is “the get” in this trade.
Though the Cardinals appear to have made out well in the swap, I do not want to denigrate Mercado in any way. He was, in my opinion, the best hope of any player in the Cardinals system to eventually become a traditional leadoff man. Having already reached Triple-A and with a 40-man roster spot in hand, his St. Louis debut seemed close at hand, despite a lot of competition in the outfield.
Mercado had greatly improved his entire game, including significant increases in his on-base percentage and stolen base success rate. Yet, when the deal is reviewed, the Cardinals gave up their best base stealer for a slugger with tremendous potential who is five years younger, plus Capel, who is our no. 31 prospect for 2019.
At this very early stage, I gave Torres a scouting grade of “6 high” – the first 6 in this year’s countdown. That indicates his projected ceiling is as an above-average MLB starter, with reaching that still having high risk – due to his limited experience and current distance from St. Louis. That could change quickly, though.
As already noted in both capsules above, there is anticipation that next spring, Torres will become the next in a line of teen outfield sensations to make the jump from the Gulf Coast League to Class-A Peoria to open the regular season. If Torres continues his progress through spring training, it seems attainable. And if he can deal with the cold weather and stick in the Midwest League (like Dylan Carlson, but not Magneuris Sierra), then the sky could be the limit.
But still, remember that Torres’ GCL breakout occurred over a very short period – just 17 games – roughly two and a half weeks. His BABIP during that period was a very high .457, but then again, he batted .397. It was impressive enough that Torres was named the rookie-level league’s August Player of the Month as he helped the Cards win their division.
Yet, because of that short period, I was not quite ready to place Torres in my system-wide top 20, ahead of players who have performed well longer at much higher levels. Though that could change quickly once the 2019 season gets underway – if he is in full-season ball.
How he reacts to a 140-game Midwest League grind – if that is what is just ahead – will tell us a lot about how fast Torres can advance toward St. Louis.
Our 2019 top 50 series continues
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