The Texas Rangers knew catcher Kevin Torres would be a bit of a project when they selected him in the 45th round of the 2008 MLB Draft.
In fact, Torres had never spent much time behind the plate until a couple years before he was drafted.
"I played a big part of my life as a shortstop," Torres said. "When I turned 15, I wasn't a good runner. I played in the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, and they changed me to catcher. I caught for three years before Texas drafted me as a catcher."
Rangers Puerto Rico specialist Frankie Thon was the scout that monitored Torres' progress behind the plate, and he eventually drafted and signed the backstop as an 18-year-old out of the baseball academy.
Torres played a part-time role with the rookie-level AZL Rangers during the summer of 2008, going 13-for-46 [.283] at the plate in 27 games.
He repeated the Arizona League last season and showed little progress, posting a .254 average with just three doubles in 63 at-bats. Torres also had his troubles behind the plate, as he threw out only one of 25 attempted base stealers.
Overall, Torres took a backseat to catching prospect Tomas Telis when it came to playing time, appearing in only 25 games despite being available for the entire summer.
Torres says the sporadic playing time made it difficult to get into a groove.
"Last year I just didn't play too much," he said. "When I got the chance, I didn't have good timing. And with catching, I couldn't feel comfortable. I played one game and then got another eight games in the bullpen. It's just not the same feeling."
The prospect was able to get some valuable experience while playing winterball in Puerto Rico over the offseason.
Though Torres didn't get into any games with the main club, he worked out with the Criollos de Caguas throughout the offseason. Torres was able to work alongside some of his Rangers teammates [Miguel Velazquez and Ruben Sierra] as well as a handful of experienced big league catchers.
"I worked there with Pudge Rodriguez, Omir Santos, and a few other big league catchers," Torres said. "They helped me in the offseason and we worked every day."
When Torres came back to the U.S. to prepare for his 2010 campaign, the Rangers made it clear that he would need to add some muscle before he could begin moving up the organizational ladder.
Standing 6-foot-3, Torres always had a tall frame, but he was also always a bit skinny, lacking much muscle. His power numbers reflected that, as he had only three extra-base hits [all doubles] in his two summers with the AZL Rangers.
"Everybody told me that I needed weight," he said. "They said that I needed more pounds. I tried to get bigger, and I'm working hard. It's better than before. And now I'm getting results in the games with it."
That was apparently all Torres needed to hear, as he began to get after it in the weight room. After hitting the weights hard during Extended Spring Training, he is now noticeably stronger.
"I just try to get better every day," said Torres. "I wanted to get out of Arizona. I want to play in the bigs."
The extra weight should not only help Torres hold up behind the plate, but it's also helping his offensive game. The extra strength has made his swing look much easier, and he's hitting the ball with more authority.
"Last year I didn't have any home runs," said the left-handed swinger. "I got three in Extended Spring Training. It just feels very easy now. I'm feeling strong at the plate."
The 20-year-old also believes the weight training has helped his arm strength. Though Torres struggled to throw out runners last summer, he has done a much better job this season. In his first two games with Spokane, he has thrown out two of the three attempted stealers [already one more than last season] while also picking off a runner with a snap throw.
Torres is clearly proud of his improvement behind the plate, but it's not all in the arm strength.
"I'm working to catch the ball softly," he said. "I want to be a good blocker. I'm working on getting stronger with my arm. I work with Hector Ortiz. I've gotten much better.
"I've had a good percentage this year––better than 2008 and 2009."
While Torres is improving himself on the field, he's also doing his best to help his peers along the way.
Torres took young catcher Jorge Alfaro under his wing during Spring Training. He helped guide Alfaro, a Colombia native that speaks no English and had never visited the United States before March.
"I try to help every day because when I was a younger player in the system, a few older catchers tried to help me like I'm doing right now with Alfaro.
"I just told him to be on time every day and respect the rules. Be on time and work hard. If you work hard and be on time, you will be able to get better and stay away from troubles."
But for now, Alfaro is in the Dominican Republic and Torres is the newcomer, playing outside of the complex league for the first time in his career.
Near the end of Extended Spring Training, Torres said one of his goals this season was to make the short-season Spokane Indians' roster.
Now that Torres has done that––and been the team's opening day catcher––he would like to go one step further.
"I wanted to make the Spokane team this year," he said. "I wanted to play in the Northwest League. And then I want to come to instructs this year in the U.S. after the season."
Torres hitting the weights
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