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Abraham Toro is Surging. What Should the Astros Do With Him?

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It’s been a long, winding journey through the minors for Abraham Toro, but he looks to have taken his game to a new level in 2021.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2019, Abraham Toro was among the hottest prospects in baseball. He crushed Double-A to the tune of a .306/.393/.513 line with 22 home runs in 98 games, and, after a promotion to Triple-A, posted a ridiculous .424/.506/.606 slash in 16 games to force a call up to the bigs. While his major league debut had its moments, he wasn’t able to carry over his momentum from the upper minors, and hit just .218/.303/.385 on the whole. Enough to build on, for sure, but also not enough to solidify a role going forward.

In 2020, like many others, Toro struggled to find a groove. The nature of the shortened season threw everyone off of their routines, and for a player like Toro on the fringes of the major league roster, there was nowhere for him to get consistent plate work against equal competition. This showed in his results, as he managed just a .149/.237/.276 line in 97 PAs, and his >5:1 K:BB ratio was by far the worst of his pro career.

The poor performance, while likely at least partially due to extenuating circumstances, put Toro in a position where he needed earn the confidence of the Astros’ brass back entering 2021, but the return to routine seemed to make that an easy job for him. In his return to the Triple-A level, Toro slashed .352/.485/.593, and remarkably posted his lowest K rate at any minor league stop to date at 11.8%, alongside a career high 16.2% walk rate. Toro has always been seen as a strong hitter, with at least an average hit tool by major league standards, and the early 2021 returns reinforced that view, which took a bit of a hit after his major league struggles. When some injuries opened playing time in the big league infield, he was a natural choice for a callup.

Thus far, it looks looks like Toro may have found a bit more comfort against big league pitching than in years past. His K rates in the 2019 and 2020 samples were in the low 20s, which is palatable, but he’s been able to slash that figure all the way to 5.9% through 34 plate appearances this year. He’s been able to pounce on his pitch early in plate appearances successfully, translating to a .290 batting average and low-by-his-standards 8.8% walk rate. While his overall batted ball quality is a bit down compared to his past big league stints, it’s important to consider the highly reduced whiff rate alongside that- replacing swings and misses with weak contact is bad for your batted ball data, but it’s a sign of improved hitting ability. Were there also a reduction in top-end exit velocity, I might be concerned that Toro were making a power tradeoff for the improved contact rate, but that’s not the case- his max exit velos this season are the highest of his brief big league career thus far. If the weaker contact can in turn become a greater rate of hard contact, there could be more improvement in store- and that’s not an uncommon path for young players to follow.

Much of what’s written above is highly positive, and indeed, there’s very little to gripe with when it comes to Toro’s bat. He’s a twitchy switch hitter with above-average bat speed and raw power, and his hitting skills have gradually improved over the course of his pro career. there’s little doubt that his offensive skillset could play at a number of big league positions, but unfortunately, at least in the short term, the spots where his glove fits best - the corners - are all but locked down in Houston. While the Astros have experimented with him at second base, including 3 games at Triple-A this season, scouts haven’t been glowing in their reviews of him there historically. I haven’t studied his fielding chances there in 2021 especially closely yet, but based on his athletic profile, I’d be surprised if he could return positive defensive value there. Toro is a good underway runner, but his short area quickness is more fringe average, and his footwork and hands haven’t always shown consistency, so a middle infield fit has always felt like a stretch to me. It’s true that the defensive bar has been lowered a bit at second in recent years, but that’s more in the range department, and the slower, power-oriented second basemen that we’ve seen are generally sure-handed.

The best defensive trait in his profile is a plus to plus-plus arm, which can play at any position. He hasn’t seen much opportunity in the big league outfield to date, but to find run for his bat, it may be worth exploring- he could help spell Michael Brantley, and if Kyle Tucker ever sees center field work, he’d be a very sensible right field option. Combine that with backup work at the infield corners, and you have a decent sized role for a valuable bench bat. With all of that said, it’s also true that it’s a role that shrinks precipitously with a healthy Aledmys Diaz (and Alex Bregman, for that matter) in the mix, and Diaz has more of a true utility profile defensively. This puts the Astros in something of a tricky spot- they’ve been able to manage fine with a combination of Toro and Robel Garcia to back up spots around the diamond as of late, but Aledmys is capable of providing that versatility in a single roster spot, and offers nearly as much offensive upside as Toro to boot. Of course, he’s also been anything but reliable from a health standpoint, so depending too heavily on the availability of his services could be dangerous.

It’s no secret that the Astros have some needs at the trade deadline, and while there’s a bit of minor league depth to draw on, Toro is their only, or at the very least their best, fungible big league asset. The club may not plan to make any especially big moves- and they likely don’t need to if the starting rotation stays healthy between now and the end of the half- but if they aim higher than the mid-range relief market, he’s likely to be a popular demand. Depth- both offensively, and in the bullpen- is seen as central to postseason success, and the Astros aren’t exactly stacked in either area, so the prospect of moving one for the other could be a complicated decision. One way or another, it looks as though Toro is positioned to have a more significant impact on the 2021 club than was anticipated.