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08/27/10 10:00 AM ET
Torres' attention to detail paying off
Outfielder's hard work has Giants in thick of playoff chase
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Andres Torres works, in more ways than one. Assigning Torres to the leadoff spot has worked splendidly for manager Bruce Bochy, whose Giants are 49-34 when Torres tops the batting order. But Torres works too diligently to bask in his success. Given the opportunity to become a regular after spending most of his previous 12 professional seasons in the Minor Leagues, the 32-year-old outfielder takes nothing for granted. For him, extra batting practice is a requirement, not a supplement. Reporters hoping to interview Torres after one of his increasingly frequent highlight-filled performances know they must wait patiently for him to finish his exercise routine. "I need to respect the organization for giving me this job," said Torres, who'll resume activity with the rest of the Giants when they open a three-game series Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I want them to know I'm going to work hard, try to get better and help the team win." Accomplishing the first two objectives has helped Torres meet the third. He ranks second in the National League with 41 doubles and is on pace to finish with 52. That would break Jeff Kent's San Francisco-era franchise record of 49 set in 2001. Torres, who's batting .287 with 13 homers, 57 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 30 attempts, also has 59 extra-base hits, more than anybody in the league except for St. Louis' Albert Pujols, Washington's Adam Dunn and Philadelphia's Jayson Werth. This reflects Torres' versatility and athleticism, since he's not a power hitter like Pujols or Dunn. Employing advanced metrics, the switch-hitting Torres compares just as impressively with his peers. According to fangraphs.com, Torres ranked fourth in the NL as Thursday's play began with a 5.7 WAR -- wins above replacement, which incorporates offensive and defensive prowess in calculating the number of victories a player has accounted for beyond what a Major Leaguer of ordinary ("replacement value") skills would provide. Torres actually leads all NL outfielders in WAR. The only NL players ranked higher in this category were Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (6.1), Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto (6.0) and Pujols (5.8). Bochy, who typically avoids offering empty praise, has felt compelled to endorse Torres' Gold Glove candidacy when he chats with fellow managers. Torres has not committed an error this season and leads all NL outfielders in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which measures a fielder's ability to reach batted in balls in his general vicinity. "Without question, this guy's got to be considered, if not get a Gold Glove," Bochy said. "People in baseball know Torres' name. They know the talent he brings on both sides of the ball. He's a topic when I talk to managers. As well as he's played, I wouldn't be surprised if he did get one this year." It all gets back to the essence of Torres: He works. Nothing has been handed to him, with the possible exception of the map he followed for his uphill climb. After spending most of 11 professional seasons with five different organizations in the Minors, Torres made the Giants' Opening Day squad in 2009 despite being a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. This year, he essentially had to wait for three other outfielders to slip before he claimed an everyday role. John Bowker couldn't maintain his status as the Opening Day right fielder. Nate Schierholtz, the first choice as Bowker's replacement, didn't stick. And Eugenio Velez was San Francisco's initial alternative after center fielder Aaron Rowand was beaned by Los Angeles' Vicente Padilla on April 16 and sidelined for two weeks. As Torres awaited his chance, he kept striving to refine his game -- a career-long process that continues to this day. "I'm still learning my swing," Torres said earlier this week. Torres readily admitted that baseball did not come naturally to him. He played only sporadically while growing up in Aguada, Puerto Rico. "I had no idea how to hit," Torres said. He earned a baseball scholarship to Miami-Dade Community College only because a recruiter noticed Torres' remarkable speed while he shagged flies at a workout meant for showcasing other prospects. Recalled Torres, "They saw me running from center to left, left to right, and they were like, 'Who's that little guy catching all the balls?'" Torres' development accelerated at Miami-Dade, where the natural right-handed batter learned to switch-hit. Though his skills remained raw, he played impressively enough to be selected by Florida in the 23rd round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft. He signed the following year after Detroit took him in the Draft's fourth round. But Torres remained little more than a "slap" hitter during his first few seasons. "He was basically just a pure speed guy," said outfielder Cody Ross, the newest Giant who also was in Detroit's organization at the time. Torres tried to capitalize on that gift. Ross recalled seeing Torres run sprints at midnight in the parking lot at the Tigertown training complex. "He was trying to get quicker and better," Ross said. Though anecdotal accounts differ, Torres ran the 60-yard dash -- a standard baseball yardstick -- in either 5.9 or 5.95 seconds. A 6.2-second clocking is considered exceptional; 6.8 is rated Major League average. Torres, who excelled as a sprinter in high school, was world class. "For me, everything was running," Torres said. But he still couldn't grasp the subtleties of hitting, though he received brief big league stints with the Tigers from 2002-04 and Texas in '05. He never hit .300 in the Minors until '08, when he hit .306 in 118 games for the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa affiliate. "With coordination and mechanics, some guys are natural. I'm not," said Torres, who experimented with a variety of stances and styles. "I tried to do everybody. Some days I was like Pujols, or Barry Bonds. I had to find my own [style]. I was always changing or doing different things." Two factors hastened Torres' progress. Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) in 2002, Torres didn't begin taking a more suitable amount of medication until '07. That improved his concentration, particularly in the batter's box. "Now I focus more," said Torres, who recently started talking openly about ADD in the hope that others who share the affliction will seek proper help. "I had so many things on my mind: 'Lift your leg. Steady your head.' When you think too much, it's tough." Also, during his lone season with the Rangers organization in 2005, he worked with renowned hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Under Jaramillo's tutelage, Torres finally began to understand the principle of "separation" (moving the front foot forward while drawing the hands back) and other fundamentals. Though Torres repeatedly has attributed much of his success this year to Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens, he remains grateful for Jaramillo's influence. "Rudy breaks everything down," Torres said. "Every year I call him in the offseason." Jaramillo has valued Torres' appreciation. "I'm always willing to help somebody who treated me with a lot of respect," said Jaramillo, now with the Cubs. "He's a good kid. I really like him." Asked to summarize how he helped Torres, Jaramillo focused on intangibles instead of technical explanations. "Like with anybody else," Jaramillo said, "you're just trying to give people confidence." Torres currently inspires that same feeling.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.