Every team’s worst nightmare is losing a key player to injury during the World Baseball Classic. The
Kansas City Royals
received a pretty good scare two weeks ago when
Salvador Perez
suffered a knee injury while playing for Venezuela, though he escaped with only inflammation.
Martin Prado
pulled a hamstring during the WBC and will miss the start of the season for the
Miami Marlins
. They weren’t as lucky.

The
New York Yankees
are all too familiar with WBC injuries. Back in 2013 first baseman
Mark Teixeira
suffered a wrist injury while taking batting practice with Team USA, and the injury effectively sidelined him the entire season. Now they’re facing the possibility of losing another key player to a WBC injury. Shortstop
Didi Gregorius
left the Netherlands team on Monday with a shoulder problem,
and will rejoin the Yankees and go for more tests
.

Here’s what manager Joe Girardi told reporters, including NJ.com’s Randy Miller, about the Gregorius injury Monday morning:

“The doctor was really encouraged by his strength and felt good about it, but we thought we’re going to cover ourselves,” Girardi said before the Yankees’ spring game against the
Washington Nationals
.

“It’s obviously not what you want to hear, but hopefully it’s something short,” Girardi said. “But again, we have not seen him. The evaluation from the doctor was his strength was really good. But we’ve got to see him.”  

Needless to say, losing your starting shortstop is a huge blow for most teams. Not too many clubs have multiple starting caliber shortstops on their roster. Gregorius is by no means a star, but he socked 20 home runs last season and plays very good defense. Replacing him won’t be easy.

A few hours after Girardi announced the Gregorius injury, top shortstop prospect
Gleyber Torres
continued his strong spring with a two-run hustle double in Monday’s game. Here’s the video:

That double raised Torres’ spring batting line to a ridiculous .464/.484/.964 in 31 plate appearances. Spring training stats don’t mean much of anything, but that’s exactly what every club wants to see from their top prospect in spring training. MLB.com recently ranked Torres, who went to New York from the
Chicago Cubs
in last year’s
Aroldis Chapman
trade, as the third best prospect in baseball, and it’s been easy to see why this spring.

Naturally, as soon as the Gregorius injury was announced, Yankees fans began to wonder whether Torres would replace him on the roster and take over at shortstop. It’s only natural. The top prospect shows up to camp, rakes and rakes and rakes, then the guy who plays his position at the MLB level gets hurt, creating an opening. That’s how Derek Jeter got his chance, after all. Tony Fernandez hurt his knee in spring training in 1996, and the rest is history.

That said, I wouldn’t expect the Yankees to replace Gregorius with Torres, even though the club is pretty committed to their youth movement. They’re going with young players at catcher (
Gary Sanchez
), first base (
Greg Bird
), right field (
Aaron Judge
), and in two of the five rotation spots (
Luis Severino
,
Luis Cessa
, etc.). It stands to reason they’d also go young at shortstop with Torres, right? Well, no. For a few reasons.

The odds are against Gleyber Torres taking over for Didi Gregorius at shortstop in 2017.
USATSI

1. Torres has yet to play above High Class-A.

As talented as he is and as dominant as he’s been in spring training, Torres turned only 20 in December, and he’s yet to play a game above High Class-A. He spent the entire regular season at that level last year, then got some more work in the Arizona Fall League. (Torres became the youngest MVP and batting champion in AFL history.)

Jumping from High Class-A to MLB is not unprecedented, but it is extremely rare. The late
Jose Fernandez
made that jump and had a Cy Young caliber rookie season in 2013. He was a big-time outlier, however. Jumping a 20-year-old kid over both Double-A and Triple-A is more likely to hurt the player’s development than result in an immediately successful big leaguer, no matter how impressive he looks during Grapefruit League play.

2. The 40-man roster situation is complicated.

Thanks in part to their trade deadline sell-off, the Yankees have a very deep farm system and a fully loaded 40-man roster. Torres is not yet on the 40-man roster, so they’d have to designate someone for assignment to clear a spot for him. That part shouldn’t be a problem. Like everyone else, the Yankees have some fringe players in their 38th, 39th, and 40th roster spots. They could make room if they really wanted.

The bigger issue is that once Torres is on the 40-man roster, he’s going to stay on the 40-man roster. The Yankees aren’t going to put him on waivers to get him off the 40-man should he need to go back to the minors. Adding Torres to the 40-man roster now will limit the team’s flexibility. That’s a roster spot tied up. They won’t be able to use it to call up one of their other top prospects, who may be in better position to help the MLB team immediately. There’s a roster flexibility component here that has to be considered.

3. The Yankees have several other shortstop options.

Like I addressed earlier, very few teams have a backup starting caliber shortstop ready to replace their regular shortstop should he get injured. It’s not realistic. The Yankees, even with their deep farm system, signed several veteran players capable of playing shortstop to minor league contracts over the winter. Here’s the list in order of MLB games at shortstop:


  1. Ruben Tejada
    — 438 games at shortstop (616 MLB games total)

  2. Pete Kozma
    — 206 games at shortstop (275 MLB games total)

  3. Donovan Solano
    — 19 games at shortstop (370 MLB games total)

All three of those guys are ticketed for Triple-A in a perfect world, which obviously it isn’t because Gregorius is hurt.

Also, that list does not include
Starlin Castro
, the team’s starting second baseman who has spent the vast majority of his career at short. The Yankees carried
Ronald Torreyes
as their utility infielder last season and he did solid work for them. He’s another shortstop option. (Torreyes started Monday’s game at shortstop. Not Torres.)

The Yankees signed those veteran players for a reason. Because if Gregorius (or Castro) gets hurt, they don’t want to unnecessarily rush Torres to the big leagues. Gregorius getting injured doesn’t suddenly make Torres more MLB ready. The veterans were brought in for exactly this reason, and they’d also help maintain roster flexibility because the Yankees would be willing to put them on waivers to get them off the 40-man roster when the time goes.


If the Yankees are going to stick with their youth movement and replace Gregorius with a prospect rather than a veteran journeyman, the smart money is on that prospect being
Tyler Wade
. The 22-year-old spent the entire 2016 season as the starting shortstop at Double-A, and while he’s not putting up Torres numbers this spring, he is hitting a healthy .394/.430/.484 in 35 Grapefruit League plate appearances. Wade is opening eyes too, and he’s a full level closer to MLB than Torres.

It goes without saying the Yankees don’t want to think about replacing Gregorius. They’re hoping Tuesday’s battery of tests reveal inflammation that can be knocked out with some rest and medication. Something minor. The team does have to be prepared for the worst case scenario though, and while it would be tempting to go with Torres at shortstop given his big spring and prospect status, it might not be the best thing for him long-term. The last thing the Yankees want to go is bring their prized prospect to the show before he’s ready and cause irreparable harm to his development.


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