Alex Torres took the long route from signing with the Los Angeles Angels in 2005 to finally settling in to the major leagues as a vital member of the 2013 Rays bullpen.
In 2009 he was pitching with the Angels High A affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and found success posting a record of 10-3 with a 2.74 ERA striking out 156 batters in 156 innings but had difficulty with his control walking 85.
His performance with the Quakes earned him a promotion to the Angels Double A affiliate Arkansas Travelers where he made five starts before being traded to the Rays along with Sean Rodriguez and Mike Sweeney for Scott Kazmir.
After the trade the Rays assigned him to their Double A affiliate Montgomery Biscuits where he made a pair of starts to finish the season. Kevin Gengler of the former web-site Rays Prospects provided an early scouting report on Torres saying,
“Despite standing only 5’10,” Torres is able to create a good angle with his pitches, leading to a lot of groundballs. This helps neutralize the control issues since he can get a timely double play, and he’s only allowed 8 homeruns in 288 career innings. He followed up a 2.50 GO/AO in 2008 with a 2.47 mark in 2009. — There are few questions about Torres’ stuff, it will simply come down to whether he can limit the free passes and prove that he can handle a starter’s workload year in and year out.”
He spent the 2010 season with the Biscuits and made 27 starts with a record of 11-6 with a 3.47 ERA. He worked 142.2 innings striking out 150 while walking 70. He advanced to the Rays Triple A affiliate Durham Bulls in 2011 where he once again made 27 starts posting a record of 9-7 with a 3.08 ERA in 146.1 innings of work striking out 156 and walking 83.
The 2011 season was special for Torres as he made his major league debut at Tropicana Field against the New York Yankees entering the game with the game tied at 4-4 but gave up a hit and 3 walks in surrendering the lead and taking the loss in a Yankees 5-4 victory. Despite a rough debut Torres came back in September and played a key role in the Rays sprint that led to the famous game 162.
On September 24th Jeff Niemann took the mound against the Toronto Blue Jays but ran into early trouble allowing 2 runs in the top of the first inning. The Rays were desperate for a victory and rather hoping that Jeff Niemann could find his rhythm manager Joe Maddon called on the young inexperienced Torres to enter this very important game.
Upon his return to the Rays Torres had told his manager that he would be ready”I’m just going to make adjustments, because I’ve been a starter all year in Triple-A.’ Like I said to him, ‘If you’re going to use me in any situation, I’ll be ready for that.'”
Torres was ready and held the Blue Jays scoreless for five innings of work allowing 3 hits striking out 5 and walking 1 as the Rays defeated the Blue Jays 6-2 to move within 1.5 games of the wild card. The game was extra special for Alex Torres as he picked up his first major league victory.
Joe Maddon was impressed with Torres’ performance, “They hit some balls hard against him the first couple of hitters,” Maddon said. “Then after that, he really settled in and started making some better pitches. I thought he brought the changeup into the mix more consistently. “He knew where the fastball was going, too. And once he had those two things going on, he got really good. Definitely he’s a tough guy. He’s got the right kind of makeup to play here. He’s got AL East makeup, that’s fantastic.”
There were a lot of expectations on Torres come spring training 2012. The Rays starting rotation was already set but he was expected to be the first pitcher called up if needed. If not in the starting rotation Torres could be used out of the bullpen in any number of roles (vs lefty/righty/men on base/bases empty). As Jason Collette wrote for Draysbay “Alex Torres could be the swiss army knife for the Rays this season whenever the opportunity presents itself.”
The 2012 season was a nightmare for Torres as he struggled right out of the gate with the Durham Bulls. He had lost control and was getting hit hard. In 5 April starts he worked 17.1 innings and allowed 21 runs (20 earned) on 19 hits including 4 home runs and had struck out 23 batters but walked 20 batters. With a 10.38 ERA and a lack of control he was sent to the bullpen where he looked to find his control.
His next 11 appearances came out of the bullpen where he began to steady the ship. In 20.1 innings of relief he allowed 12 runs (11 earned) on 23 hits. Although he struck out 26 he was still struggling with his command walking 17.
He returned to the rotation on June 19th but his year long struggles continued and over his next 8 starts he worked 24 innings and allowed 24 earned runs on 23 hits. The problem was still his control as he struck out 28 but walked 23. The low point of the season came on July 29th when he lasted just 0.2 innings in a start against the Norfolk Tides allowing 6 earned runs on 3 hits and 3 walks. After the game he was placed on the disabled list with a shattered ego and sent to the Rays rookie league complex for a mental break and to attempt to retool his delivery.
In the stress free environment of the Gulf Coast League he was able to relax and worked 11.1 innings and allowed 4 earned runs but showed much better command of his arsenal striking out 17 and walking 4.
He returned to the Durham Bulls to finish the year and ended on a very positive note working the Bulls final game of the season against the Charlotte Knights. Their were some tedious moments in the first inning but he got through unscathed and then dominated the rest of the night. His final line was 6 scoreless innings on just 3 hits striking out 10 and walking just 1 batter.
After the game Adam Sobesy wrote for the Indy Week’s Column Triangle Offense that much of Torres success was due to the fact that he had ditched his curveball in favor of a slider. Sobesy also reveals that the Rays sending Torres down to the Gulf Coast League was not punitive rather it was an opportunity to work with pitching coach Marty DeMerritt.
DeMerritt is not only a solid pitching coach he has known Torres since working as a coach in the Angels minor league system and lives in Torres hometown in Venezuela during the off-season.
Venezuela is where Torres would report to try to wash away as much of the negative of the 2012 season and continue to work on his new repertoire developed with DeMerritt in the rookie league. Pitching for the Aguilas de Zulia he made 14 starts working 60.1 innings. He led the league striking out 86 hitters and was able to limit the walks to just 27 (4.02 BB/9).
Over the winter there was a misconception that Torres was out of options and would have to make the Rays out of spring training or be traded or exposed to waivers in order to keep him in the system. As it turned out Torres, despite being in the minor leagues for 7 seasons and spending 3 years on the Rays 40-man roster had not completed what is considered 5 professional years of service; therefore he was eligible for a 4th-option year.
The Rays took full advantage of the 4th year option and sent him down to the Bulls to begin the season but he wouldn’t remain there for long. He made 9 starts going 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA over 46 innings of work striking out 61 and walking 21 (one intentional).
His first call to the Rays came in May and after coming in to record the final out against the Red Sox on May 16th had an opportunity to display his skills in an extended form taking over in the 5th inning with the Rays trailing the Orioles 6-4 on May 18th. Similar to his outing against the Toronto Blue Jays he was dominant working 4 scoreless innings and holding the potent Orioles lineup hitless striking out 3 and walking 2. The Rays came back to win the game 10-6 giving Torres the victory and putting more distance of the nightmare of 2012 in the rear view mirror.
Torres returned to Durham but was recalled by the Rays on June 1st and once again came in for an extended appearance. On June 1st he entered the game against the Cleveland Indians in the bottom of the 5th with the Rays trailing 5-0 and once again he held the opposition scoreless over 4 innings allowing just 1 hit striking out 6 and walking 1.
On June 4th he entered the game against the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the 3rd inning with the Rays already trailing 6-1 but the Tigers had the bases loaded and nobody out and Torri Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder due up. Torres got Hunter to ground into a force out at home plate for the first out and then struck out both Cabrera and Fielder to end the inning.
In early June there was still some discussion of stretching Torres back out a a starter but Joe Maddon was already envisioning Torres as a weapon in his bullpen, “He’s becoming a little bit of a weapon right now. That’s what 1 hit in 11 or so innings that he’s pitched. But the composure was good. I was thinking how is he going to react to this moment? What is he going to look like? And he looked good. He was under control, threw his changeup, threw his fastball where he wanted to, and it was kind of nice to watch.”
After a bit of back and forth with Maddon on what role he envisioned for Torres said, “we haven’t really discussed that a lot right at this point, as far as I’m concerned he’s in the bullpen, and he’s a nice member of that bullpen right now. Because I mean he’s showing that he can be more than just length. He could actually spot them up in some tough moments and get some good hitters out – righties and lefties.”
Through his first 21 games Torres was dominant. He posted a 4-0 record with a microscopic 0.29 ERA. He had worked 34.1 innings striking out 42 and walking 11. and held the opposition to a .088 batting average against.
According to Elias he became the second major league pitcher in the last 50 seasons to allow fewer than 10 hits in the firs 100 AB of a season against him (9-100) joining the Red Arnoldis Chapman who had held the opposition to the same 9 for 100 to start the 2012 season.
Overall he finished the 2013 season with a record of 4-2 with a 1.71 ERA working a total of 58 innings striking out 62 and walking only 20. He held the opposition to a batting average against of just .159 (32 for 201). Quite an impressive season for a pitcher that spent 3 years in rookie ball, had a nightmare season in 2012 which earned a demotion all the way to the Gulf Coast League, and made the transition from starting pitcher to reliever on the fly.
The road is paved with gold as they say. The hard working Torres will enter spring training locked in as a member of the Rays bullpen and will look to build on the success he had in 2013 by garnering even more of the high leverage work.