SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The business card that 17-year-old Andres Torres accepted from a New York Yankees scout might as well have been aflame.It lit Torres' desire to succeed, which has sustained him through 11 professional seasons -- all of it, save for one year and 115 days, spent in the Minor Leagues.
"From that day on, I haven't stopped working," Torres said Saturday. "That motivated me."Now 31, Torres is joining his sixth organization. But change and rejection haven't eroded his spirit. "I live for this," Torres said. "I have passion for this game. People make fun of me. Sometime I wake up at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning and go to my backyard to hit in the cage because I want to get better." The switch-hitter's baseball odyssey has brought him to the Giants' camp, where he has been perhaps their most electrifying performer. Among players with more than 10 at-bats, Torres owns a team-best .455 batting average. He tops the Giants with 15 runs, having scored in nine consecutive games until Sunday, and is second to Eugenio Velez in stolen bases with four. Torres also has demonstrated his speed in the outfield, where he has played a team-high 126 innings, including 110 in center. Entering Sunday, the compactly built Torres (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) led the Cactus League in runs and was tied for first with a .500 on-base percentage. "I can't say enough about how this kid has played," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Defensively, offensively, he makes things happen. He's doing all he can do to be on this club." Said Torres, who signed with the Giants in the offseason as a Minor League free agent after toiling in the Cubs organization last year, "All this work has been paying off." Yet Torres faces a challenge to make the 25-man Opening Day contingent. The non-roster invitee has no chance of supplanting anyone in the Giants' starting outfield of Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn. Projected fourth outfielder Nate Schierholtz has no Minor League options remaining, essentially forcing the Giants to keep him in the Majors to start the season. Ballclubs typically carry five outfielders, but the Giants might accommodate their excess of infielders, a group that includes two players capable of filling in as outfielders -- Velez and Kevin Frandsen. At the very least, Torres has played himself into consideration for a promotion from Triple-A Fresno, where he's likely to begin the season, when the Giants need outfield help. Torres said that he's frequently asked why he hasn't played more in the Majors despite being so apparently gifted.
"What can I say? I know I always play hard," Torres said.Torres played baseball at Dr. Carlos Gonzalez High School in Aguada, Puerto Rico, but looked as unrefined as he was enthusiastic.
"I didn't know how to hit or run or throw. I just played," he said.Torres also ran track and field. He recalled that his fastest clocking in the 100-meter dash was 10.4 seconds. That kind of speed will intrigue any scout in any sport, so it wasn't a mystery when the Yankees representative approached him. Torres' mobility also caught the eye of a recruiter from Miami-Dade Community College. Recalled Torres, "He saw me running side to side and said, 'Who's the little guy?'" A natural right-handed batter, Torres learned to switch-hit as a freshman at Miami-Dade and signed with Detroit as a non-drafted free agent in June 1998. Virtually each year since, he led his team or his league in at least one offensive category. But he never established himself in the Majors. Bad luck was one obstacle. Torres received his most extensive Major League action in 2003, batting .220 in 59 games for Detroit. But the Tigers released him the following April. While spending most of the remainder of 2004 with the White Sox Triple-A Charlotte affiliate, Torres dislocated his right shoulder, which worsened when he collided with an outfield wall during a stint with Texas in 2005. Moreover, Torres' relatively late start in baseball forced him to continue to learn the game's subtleties while playing professionally.
"I was just a fast guy. I didn't know too much about 'loading' and getting my hands going," Torres said. In this vein, Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans compared Torres to Lewis and former Major League outfielder Chris Singleton, whose development as baseball players was delayed due to their concentration on football earlier in their athletic careers."Having played other sports, sometimes you have to fully integrate yourself into the game," Evans said. That appears to have happened for Torres. "I never let my tools go away," he said.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.