LOS ANGELES — To understand how much of an anchor Gleyber Torres has been for the Yankees this season, look at the team’s opening day lineup on March 28.
Eight of their nine hitters in that lineup have spent time on the injured list this season, some — like outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and first baseman Luke Voit — more than once. Miguel Andujar, a promising young third baseman, had season-ending surgery in May. Troy Tulowitzki, the starting shortstop that day, retired in July.
The only one of those nine hitters who has avoided the I.L. entirely is Torres, who appeared in all but 12 of the Yankees’ 131 games through Saturday.
At 22, Torres’s accomplishments already stand out in franchise history: Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio are the only other Yankees to make multiple All-Star teams before turning 23. Last week, Torres joined DiMaggio as the only Yankees under 23 to hit 30 home runs in a season.
“People should not be surprised,” Didi Gregorius, the Yankees shortstop, said of Torres’s production. “He showed what he can do last year and he’s doing the same thing this year — and getting even better.”
Torres has indeed been better than his rookie season, mostly because of improved discipline at the plate and an ongoing effort to reduce his mental mistakes. He was hitting .289 entering Sunday’s series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his .904 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage was second on the team behind Gio Urshela.
Despite missing a handful of games with a core ailment, Torres still smashed 12 home runs — three against his favorite opponent, the Baltimore Orioles — in August. It raised his season total to 32, which, entering Sunday, was first in baseball among full-time middle infielders.
Still, Torres, with 56 career home runs and counting, has insisted that he is not a power hitter, but one simply looking to make contact.
“He’s the star of this team,” right fielder Aaron Judge, 27, who is the face of the Yankees, said of Torres earlier this summer. “The future of this team.”
Torres’s ability to play shortstop, his primary position in the minor leagues, helped the Yankees weather the absence of Gregorius, who was recovering from elbow surgery. Torres then slid over to second base, where he played last season, when Gregorius returned in June. Although some advanced metrics rate Torres’s defense at both second base and shortstop as below average, Yankees coaches disagree with that assessment.
Torres’s best trait, however, is his bat. And among his biggest refinements this season has been his ability to make good contact. He was swinging more this season but missing the ball less. Entering Sunday, his strikeout rate has fallen to about 20 percent — a five-percentage-point drop, the 10th largest improvement in the major leagues, since last year.
“There were a lot of situations where I got to two strikes and I worried a lot about not striking out, and I struck out,” Torres said in Spanish. “What I’m doing now is having fun, hitting and taking advantage of every pitch. I understand that strikeouts are part of the game and I try to minimize those things by seeing the ball and putting it in play.”
It has helped that Torres has a potent swing, has become an even more aggressive swinger early in at-bats and has been quick to adjust his plan at the plate when needed. Torres, who was a highly regarded prospect from a young age in his native Venezuela, has not sought out drastic changes in his approach, choosing instead to attack the margins of his game.
“I talk to him, ‘You’re going to go out there and play in a lot of All-Star Games,’” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s about continuing to challenge yourself: ‘Where can I get a little better at the little things to make me an even more complete player?’”
The little things Boone was referring to with Torres involve his control of the strike zone, his baserunning and his defense. Boone applauded Torres, who plays with a natural ease, for becoming more attentive to the smaller details and fundamentals of the game. In a 5-3 loss last week to the Oakland Athletics, Torres’s footwork on a throw was lazy, resulting in a throw that went over first baseman Mike Ford, allowing a run to score. Torres corrected that mistake on later plays.
In Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Dodgers, Torres missed a ground ball hit toward him when playing second base, and as a base runner he was doubled off first base on a fly ball hit to center field. Torres said he was trying to steal second and was confused because he didn’t hear his teammate Brett Gardner make contact.
Despite the recent miscues, Torres’s bat has helped the Yankees overlook some of them. He was 9 for 20 with three home runs through the first five games of the Yankees’ road trip through Oakland, Los Angeles and Seattle.
To overcome injuries and pitching struggles this season, the Yankees have received contributions from unexpected sources: Urshela, for example, but also the outfielders Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin. But they are undoubtedly a better team when their stars, such as catcher Gary Sanchez, Judge and Torres, play like stars. After battling injuries and ineffectiveness, Sanchez and Judge started to get into a groove in recent weeks.
Torres, of course, has been there all along.