MLB: Torres just hitting his stride in new role
By Alex Pavlovic
San Jose Mercury News
SAN FRANCISCO — Andres Torres can play all three outfield positions with ease and possesses surprising pop at the plate, but nothing excites his teammates more than watching the Giants' new leadoff hitter put a ball in the gap.
That's when the journeyman baseball player reverts to being the promising track star.
With his fingers spread wide, hands slicing through the air and arms and legs pumping in unison, Torres chews up basepaths with what first baseman Aubrey Huff calls "the perfect form."
"Oh man, he's fun to watch," Huff said. "I was joking the other day that I was going to try it, because he makes it all look very effortless."
Torres has made things look effortless at the plate recently, providing one of the few bright spots in a Giants lineup that sputtered through last week's 1-6 road trip. The 32-year-old is hitting .325 with nine extra-base hits over his past 11 games.
"He hits the ball and we're all thinking we're going to have to lasso him down to get him to stop," relief pitcher Sergio Romo said. "He wants to get that extra base and he wants to get us going.
"He's definitely the Energizer Bunny of this team."
For much of his life, it looked like Torres would one day be impressing on the track rather than the diamond. He was a high school sprint star in Puerto Rico, excelling in the 100 meters, 200 and 4x100 relay. Baseball was an afterthought until a scout handed him a business card during his senior year.
"It wasn't like I was trying to be a pro," Torres said. "I was a track guy. I've been made into a baseball player."
Torres went to Miami-Dade Community College, where by his own admission he was "just a guy who could run and catch." Those skills were sharp enough to get the attention of scouts, and he signed with Detroit after being drafted in the fourth round in 1998.
Torres had already qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association track championships in the 100 (with a time of 10.37), but passed on that meet and immediately switched all his focus to baseball.
There was just one problem: Torres still didn't really know how to hit.
His speed got him to the big leagues with the Tigers in 2002, but it wasn't until fellow Puerto Ricans Luis Alicea and Carlos Beltran pulled him aside that he realized how much he had left to learn.
"They told me I wasn't loading with my hands at all, and I had no idea," Torres said. "I didn't care about hitting but when I got called up I realized there are a lot of things that I needed to do to stay (in the majors)."
Another key lesson was learned at his next big league stop with Texas in 2005, when Rangers teammate Alfonso Soriano encouraged him to use a bigger bat. At 5-9, 191 pounds, Torres is the smallest position player on the Giants' roster, but he swings one of the biggest bats—a 35-inch, 33-ounce model
"I picked this big bat up during batting practice one time and it said 'Andres Torres' and I couldn't believe it. It's a monster," Huff said. "He's a beast—if you see him with his shirt off, he's just shredded."
Torres still trains like a track athlete, and he's adjusted his game this season by cutting down on the number of pregame swings he takes and focusing more on improving his on-base percentage.
In his 13th year as a professional, Torres is finally in a position where his name is in a big league lineup every day, and he's taking advantage of the opportunity.
"You don't really know what he's going to do next but he's a guy we can rely on day in and day out," Romo said. "He's one of those guys where you go, 'alright, glad he's on our side.' "