MadFriars: Nick Torres adjusting well in Fort Wayne
FORT WAYNE -- Every year in mid-June, many baseball players' dreams come true; they are drafted by major league clubs, and begin the next step toward realizing goals they have had since Little League.
But for a few college players, actually playing that first professional season after they are drafted can be a bit of a letdown after the grind of the college year. Many of them had daily winter workouts and played regular season games beginning in February.
Some players go directly from the College World Series to their new clubs in June. Others have too much time off between the conclusion of their college year and when they have to report to their new clubs and get out of sync.
Outfielder Nick Torres, a fourth-round selection by the Padres in 2014, found out for himself just how long that first year can be. After coming off of a strong junior season at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, he struggled in short-season Eugene hitting only .254/.292/.373.
"It was tough," said Torres before a recent game in Fort Wayne, where he has been one of the mainstays of a young TinCaps lineup. "But no excuses. I knew what I was signing up for."
"I signed late and had about a month off, so that can really screw up your timing."
One of the main differences between professional baseball and college, which is particularly true in the short-season and complex leagues (their seasons begin after the draft in mid-June and end just before Labor Day), is the overriding emphasis on development as compared to winning games.
"It was an entirely different style of baseball than what I was used to in college. There you have 35 guys pulling for one goal. But in the pros, it's more about development and winning tends to be secondary."
"It was still fun. I got a chance to play with guys from all over the world, but it was kind of a culture shock too."
In the off-season, Torres got a chance to rest his body and train for the upcoming year. Despite a first year that may not have gone the way he wanted, it was still a big advantage to get his first experience in pro ball out of the way before going to a full-season league.
"Absolutely," said Torres on the advantages of playing short-season baseball. "It wasn't the type of season that I wanted at Eugene but it was also something I needed. I learned that I could compete at that level and what I needed to work on."
"Also this past off-season was the first time I ever had six months off from playing competitively."
After his subpar debut in Eugene, he has been one of the better players in the Midwest League in 2015, a productive corner outfielder hitting in the middle of the line-up. Torres has been among the league leaders in doubles and extra-base hits. Additionally, he has been solid in the outfield, seeing time in both right and left field.
"I am really happy with how things are going so far," Torres said on his performance this year. "The kind of game that I am playing now is sort of what I expect for myself. I try to not look at numbers too much, but what I was doing in Eugene is not what I am used to at all."
"It was tough for me to swallow. I'm glad that I have been able to turn it around this year."
Another aspect of the game that changed this year is that the competition in the Midwest League is closer to his college experience. Rosters have 25 players as compared to 35 in the Northwest League. There is less player movement and the season stretches from early April to early September.
"At this level, you are more of a team than in short-season where guys are constantly funneling in and out," said Torres on the differences. "This year we are really playing for something, to win a Midwest League championship."
At only 22, he is one of the "elder" leaders on a young team, and according to people who watch him on a daily basis; he has emerged as a leader.
"Francisco Morales preaches that winning teams need their best players to be their hardest workers, and that's the case with Nick," said John Nolan, the TinCaps' play-by- play man.
"He is one of the toughest athletes I have ever seen. He was hit by a pitch this year on his left elbow that left arguably the largest welt I've ever seen. He didn't go on the disabled list and managed to play through the pain and not see much of an impact on his production."
Torres, along with left-handed pitcher Thomas Dorminy, was named to the 2015 Midwest League All-Star Game and his next stop should be High-A Lake Elsinore before the year is up, but it probably won't be his last.
"He knows how to put the barrel of the bat on the baseball," said Fort Wayne manager Francisco Morales about the right-handed power hitter. "He is a competitor and doesn't give at-bats away."
"Because he does this on a consistent basis is what impresses me the most."
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