12/31/09 10:00 AM EST
Torres excelled with new stuff
White Sox righty earned MiLBY as best Triple-A starter
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
"He's the kind of guy that isn't flashy, but each coach that has had him has respected his work ethic and his desire to always get better and compete," said Kirk Champion, the White Sox's roving pitching instructor who has worked with Torres since his pro debut in 2004. "He just goes to each next level, and while he's not a guy who will blow you away when you watch him, from outing to outing you appreciate what he does."
It took Torres five seasons to come to the ultimate plateau in that level-to-level climb. He made his big league debut July 22 in a start against Tampa Bay, getting two pre-September starts before coming back to the bigs for good for the stretch drive.
The rest of the time, Torres was dominating hitters in the International League with the Charlotte Knights, going 10-4 with a 2.39 ERA in 23 games en route to earning the MiLBY as Triple-A Starting Pitcher of the Year.
Torres, originally drafted out of Kansas State in 2004, fanned 130 batters in 128 innings, allowing 96 hits and limiting hitters to a .200 average. He ranked 11th overall in the Minors in ERA among full-season starters and third among that group when it came to the all-important average against.
The season included an unofficial five-inning perfect game against the Pawtucket Red Sox on June 18 in a rain-shortened game. He also made technically three relief appearances, but those all came after rehab outings by big league starters Bartolo Colon and Jake Peavy.
Of his 20 starts, he went five or more innings 19 times, showing his durability and consistency.
The 27-year-old's first full season at Triple-A was successful to a large degree thanks to the addition of two off-speed pitches -- a curveball and a changeup -- to his existing arsenal of a fastball and a cut fastball, both of which were plus pitches.
Was there something that "clicked" for Torres this year that enabled him to do so?
"Yes and no," he said, from his home in central California. "With the curveball, I came into Spring Training and asked what I needed to do to get better. They said, 'You need to also be able to throw off-speed,' and I just said 'Done.'"
He felt comfortable almost immediately working his curve regularly into the mix. The changeup, he admitted, took a little longer and, in fact, is still what he terms "a work in progress." But the White Sox allowed him to work with it and develop it on the job. They've been very pleased with the results so far.
By the time Torres got to Double-A Birmingham in 2007, there was some thought that he might profile better as a reliever because he didn't yet have the confidence in his offspeed stuff. But when he arrived in Charlotte, pitching coach Richard Dotson worked with him even more in that area.
"He continued to reinforce that he needed to use all of his pitches," Champion said. "He started utilizing his changeup enough to have more weapons. And he can still drive and cut the fastball, which have been plus pitches for him."
Coming into 2009, Torres' climb had been slow but steady, and he'd seen time in both starting and relief roles.
His pro debut at short-season Bristol in 2004 was as a reliever. In 2005, he saw time at short-season Great Falls and Class A Kannapolis as a starter, and remained chiefly in the rotation in '06 at Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. In '07, between Winston-Salem and Birmingham, he was back in the bullpen, while in '08 he started for the Barons and then moved to the Charlotte bullpen in a late-season promotion.
With the expansion of his repertoire, he was back in the rotation this year with the Knights, but his big league future may be as a reliever, a role Champion thinks he could be well suited for.
His Major League debut again saw a combination of the two roles as he made five starts (6.65 ERA) and three relief appearances (3.38), though his best outing came as a starter vs. the rival Chicago Cubs on Sept. 3 when he tossed seven shutout innings of five-hit ball.
The White Sox's offseason moves thus far have opened up some spots in the 'pen, and Champion thinks Torres is a candidate to fill one of the slots as early as this coming spring.
The rotation appears to be full with Mark Buehrle, Peavy, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Freddy Garcia and rookie sensation Dan Hudson in the wings as a swingman reliever/starter. But Champion sees Hudson as more of a long man and starter, while he thinks Torres' stuff profiles better for shorter stints.
"I think he could be a power guy for four outs or as a setup man," he said. "He can pitch long relief because of his experience as a starter, but he could also be effective later in the game."
And Torres? He truly has no preference, happy in either role as long as the Sox will give him the ball.
"Both roles have huge pluses," Torres said. "And being able to do both is better than being able to do just one. As long as I'm pitching, I'm happy."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.