LAKELAND, Fla. — For now, the Yankees can protect shortstop Gleyber Torres with the shift all they want, with third baseman Gio Urshela even able to move into the spot in certain situations.
The shift helps make up for Torres’ lack of range — something Torres worked on this offseason as he tried to improve several aspects of his defense with bench coach Carlos Mendoza.
But the rule changes being implemented at Double-A this season — in which all four infielders must be on the infield dirt and which might mandate having two players on either side of the infield for the second half of the year — could have an impact on Torres and the Yankees down the road.
Because the rule changes being made in the minors are clearly with an eye toward potentially being implemented in the majors in the future.
Torres has impressed the Yankees with his improved conditioning after his well-chronicled arrival at spring training 2.0 last summer in less than ideal shape following the COVID-19 shutdown.
Though scouts are still weighing how the improvements Torres seems to have made since the end of last season will translate to 2021, it’s clear range will never be a strong point for the 24-year-old.
The Yankees shifted their infield 35.5 percent of the time last season, according to Baseball Savant, which was 15th most in the majors.
“He’ll always have his issues with covering a lot of space, so not having the shift would hurt,’’ one AL scout said. “If they bring that to the majors, he’d be exposed more than some others.”
For now, though, the Yankees’ focus is on this season and how to get more out of Torres than they got a year ago, when he was among many throughout the sport to have a season to forget.
From the work he did in the offseason and continued during spring training with Mendoza, as well as his work with hitting coach Marcus Thames to regain his power stroke, the Yankees expect a different type of player.
Torres said he is in good form physically.
“I feel like I’m 200 percent right now,” he said.
And his goal is to be more consistent in the field. The offense will come on its own, Torres believes.
In his work with Mendoza, Torres said he tries to create difficult situations in order to better prepare himself for those plays during actual games.
But if Torres gets back to being the hitter he was two seasons ago, when he had 38 homers, his defensive shortcomings will be much easier to live with — shift or no shift.
“Last year, I got in a little bit of trouble when I’d go to the plate with timing,’’ Torres said. “This offseason, I hit a lot in the cage and figured a few things out.”
In particular, Torres pointed out the need to be more patient at the plate.
“Just waiting for a pitch I want to hit,’’ Torres said. “Last year, I swung at too many bad pitches and tried to do too much.”
He insisted that won’t happen again this season.
“This year, I’ll follow the plan I had in 2019 and try to swing at pitches I can hit,’’ Torres said. “If I have the opportunity to hit a homer, I [will]. I know I can hit homers [with] no trouble.”