Sometimes, you don’t need to see the readout on a radar gun to know a guy throws gas. Such is the case with Astros farmhand Jojanse Torres, a 24 year old Dominican righty who is currently with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. Though just 6’1”, Torres has a long, lanky build and supreme flexibility that allows him to fully involve his lower half and generate a ton of torque:
Here’s a name - Jojanse Torres. Heat is 97-99 and breaking stuff in the mid 80’s. Pitches with a lot of emotion. @MLBazFallLeague @astros @jakemkaplan @AstrosTalk @MinorGraphs @IsItTheWelsh @ProspectJesus @MiLB pic.twitter.com/WkeoytrUdY— Michael Caplan (@M_Caplan) October 7, 2019
The result? A fastball that sits around 95 as a starter and 97+ out of the bullpen, touching 100. Torres’ heater baffled minor league hitters in 2019, as the righty compiled a 1.71 ERA, 107 strikeouts and 46 walks across 94.2 innings with Quad Cities and Fayetteville this past season. He made 10 starts among his 24 appearances, often pitching deep into games when given the opportunity. His delivery has a lot of moving parts and big motions, but it translates into a combination of deception and extension that makes him incredibly difficult for hitters to square up- in 2019, he allowed just 59 hits, and only three of those left the yard.
While the upper-90s heater is his calling card, Torres is by no means a one-trick pony. When he was signed, his changeup was known as his best secondary, and it remains a strong offering for him, but his slider has made significant progress since he joined the Astros organization. With repeatable plus to plus-plus heat and the ability to make the ball move in either direction, Torres has the stuff profile to keep starting if the Astros so choose, and Astros’ brass have typically referred to him as a starting pitching prospect to this point. So long as the Astros don’t have a pressing need in the bullpen, he’s likely to continue throwing a minor league starter’s workload for the time being. His involved delivery might make it difficult for him to sustain the necessary command, but his 11-12% walk rates in 2019 are workable, and it’s important to keep in mind that, despite being 24 years old, Torres was signed in 2017, and 2019 represented his first stateside ball.
Clearly impressed by his efforts, the Astros tapped Torres as one of the club’s Arizona Fall League representatives, where he has joined fellow pitching prospect Forrest Whitley, among others, on the Peoria Javelinas. With Peoria, Torres has been throwing exclusively out of the pen, in one and two inning stints. This shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the Astros are planning to shift Torres to the pen- given his inexperience and velocity, they likely want to manage his workload after 94.2 live innings in the regular season, and starters’ innings are more valuable for players such as Forrest Whitley, who missed significant stretches of the MiLB season due to inactivity. Regardless, it has been a highly productive trip thus far for Torres, who has appeared in six games for the Javelinas to date, totaling 7.0 IP, 15 Ks, and 5 BBs. His loud stuff has impressed onlookers, including longtime evaluator Bernie Pleskoff:
I just found a pitcher. I hadn't seen #Astros JoJanse Torres until tonight. This guy is throwing an easy 99. Turns his back to the hitter and pitches from the stretch. Throws solid secondary pitches as well. Keep your eye on him.— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) October 7, 2019
I tweeted this the other day, but I want to repeat it: A guy I really, really like in the Arizona Fall League is #Astros pitcher Jojanse Torres. He has a live arm, can hit 100 with command and just needs lots of experience. He's raw, but I see huge upside. He's on my radar.— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) October 12, 2019
Torres development plan from here on out will be challenging for the Astros to put together. On the one hand, Torres continues to show plenty of untapped potential, and, if you squint hard enough, it’s not impossible to envision a starting pitcher, or, at the least, a multi-inning reliever, emerging from his current profile. He’s also not Rule 5 eligible until after the 2021 season per FanGraphs, so the need to iron out his long term role with the club is not quite pressing at this point. But, there’s also the tantalizing prospect of fast-tracking Torres in a relief role and adding another high octane arm to the big league bullpen- a unit that, while generally quite solid, has been far from infallible across the Astros’ dominant three-year run between 2017 and today, and is staring down likely departures in the upcoming offseason. Will Harris, Joe Smith, Collin McHugh and Hector Rondon are all set to be free agents when the World Series wraps up, and Harris is likely as good as gone. While there are ample in house options to piece together a strong pen, the Astros will need to settle on long term homes for a number of pitchers in the organization who straddle the starter/reliever border. This group includes Torres, but also hurlers like Josh James and Bryan Abreu, who are accomplished minor league starters but have pitched out of the pen exclusively as big leaguers, Framber Valdez, Cionel Perez, and even Brad Peacock, who has bounced between starting and relieving throughout his Astros tenure.
While arms like Torres generally get placed on the bullpen fast-track early in their careers, I’ve been pleased to see the Astros take their time moving hurlers like Torres and 5’11” fireballer Enoli Paredes slowly through the system, giving them ample opportunity to throw deep into games, as not only may they surprise onlookers by growing into true starter profiles, the experience often proves useful for developing pitchability in long-term relievers. Given just how well Torres handled himself in his 2019 stateside debut, and how well he’s performing against elite competition in Arizona, I’d expect him to stay on a similar plan in 2020 as he moves to the upper minors. Torres will enter next season as one of the most electric arms in the organization at any level, and there’s still plenty of room for him to grow. Look for him to start the season with Corpus Christi, with September call-up potential, next year.