Chicago Cubs: The curious prospect case of Daury Torrez

Despite complex analytics, talented prospects who defy popular metrics can get overlooked. Such may be the case with the Chicago Cubs’ reliever Daury Torrez.

No one said baseball is fair. Ask the Chicago CubsDaury Torrez. Last season the 24-year-old posted the best season of any pitcher with Cubs’ Double-A Tennessee affiliate. Yet, he remains unknown to most Cubs prospect geeks.

The tall, thin reliever handled 77 1/3 innings and posted an excellent 1.40 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. But while the parent club hunted this winter for low-walk bullpen upgrades, they not only left Torrez unprotected in the Rule-5 draft (no takers), but no major league team thought this performance merited a selection.

What’s the issue?

Why? Was he injured? No. Does he have a poor attitude? No.

But what he is not is a flame-throwing reliever. A ground-ball pitcher possessing excellent command, Torrez just gets outs, keeps opponents off base and prevents runs.

But since the sabermetric community has not found a dependably complicated way to quantify command (see this FanGraphs article), this essential pitching ability remains vastly undervalued as compared to speed-gun-popping velocity.

Compare Torres’ 2017 numbers to better known Cubs’ pitching prospects who pitched for Tennessee last year. (Minimum 15 innings.)

Player                            ERA         IP        WHIP      K/9
Daury Torrez                1.40       77.1        0.92       6.5
Jen-Ho Tseng*             2.99       90.1       1.14        8.3
Adbert Alzolay*          3.03       32.2       1.19        8.3
Dillon Maples              3.29       13.2       1.61      18.5
Justin Hancock            4.41       16.1       1.65        8.8
Duane Underwood*   4.43     138.0      1.30        6.3
Trevor Clifton*             5.20      100.1     1.56       7.7

            * denotes a starter

Not to begrudge other Cubs prospects for higher rankings, but it remains head-scratching how Torrez seldom cracks even top 40 Cubs prospect lists. (One exception: Baseball Essential, which ranked him a surprising 14.)

Commanding everything but attention

In keeping, praise was slight in his few online scouting assessments. “Pretty good season… but his upside is limited,” or “Slight build, low arm slot and so-so secondary stuff.”

Such comments are reminiscent of another low-WHIP, low-velocity prospect named Kyle Hendricks. Even after named Cubs’ 2013 minor league pitcher of the year, Hendricks broke few Top 10 Cubs prospect lists.

Further, Hendricks regularly ranked behind high-velocity hurlers like Neil Ramirez, Carl Edwards and Pierce Johnson. Many even ranked him after Arodys Vizcaino who missed the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons due to arm surgery.

Typical prospect review comments about Hendricks were: “He does not have frontline stuff.” Or “the right-hander could surface as a fifth starter, but his stuff is probably too fringy for that.”

Begging for a chance

Torrez’s situation also calls to mind now-forgotten Kansas City prospect Clint Robinson. He was blocked on the prospect org chart at first base behind No. 3 overall pick Eric Hosmer. Nevertheless, Robinson won the Double-A Texas League triple crown in 2010 and followed this with a .932 OPS at Triple-A Omaha. But not even a September call-up ensued.

Not until age 30 did he get a chance at everyday major-league at-bats. A 2015 injury to Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman opened the way for 77 starts. As a replacement, Robinson posted an excellent .809 OPS (actually higher than Hosmer’s career OPS of .781).

The next year, Zimmerman returned full-time, and Robinson was eventually cut when the Nationals signed lefty first baseman/DH Adam Lind as a free agent.

So Torrez wouldn’t be the first to have proven success overlooked. In this year’s spring training, he got the briefest of looks. He faced four batters, gave up no runs, and was returned to the minor league camp.

But the question remains: If given a chance, might Torrez surprise with his command out of the bullpen just as Hendricks did as a starter?

Hard to say. Hendricks did post more consistently low WHIPs, HR/9s and ERA in his minor league career. But the lesson of Hendricks, Torrez and Robinson is this. Sometimes to find a diamond in the rough, don’t argue with simple success.