The First Shall Be Last


Joe Torres was one of two Angels first-round selections in the June 2000 draft. In this August 2000 photo, he’s pitching for the Boise Hawks.

 

Joe Torres was arguably the top left-handed high school pitching prospect in the nation entering the June 2000 draft. He was selected by the Angels with the first of two picks they had in the first round, selected #10 overall.

(The Angels selected RHP Chris Bootcheck with the #20 pick, which was compensation from the Oakland A’s in exchange for signing a former Angel as a free agent. Who was that Angel? The answer is at the end of the article.)

Joe began his career with legendary manager Tom Kotchman, who at the time was running the Boise Hawks in the Northwest League. Not quite 18, he posted stellar numbers. In 46 innings, he struck out 52, walked 23, and had a 2.54 ERA.

Then it started to go wrong.

Torres suffered a sore shoulder in spring training. He finally reported to Cedar Rapids in late May but after four starts was returned to Tom Kotchman, this time in the Pioneer League with the Provo Angels (today’s Orem Owlz).

Joe got through a full season in 2002, posting a 3.52 ERA in 133 innings, but wildness crept into his game — a SO:BB ratio of 87:66 — and his strikeout rate showed an alarming decline.

Torres began 2003 with Rancho Cucamonga but clearly something was wrong, and eventually he underwent “Tommy John” surgery. He spent the next year and a half on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Mesa, joining another top high school pitching prospect — Nick Adenhart.


Top pitching prospects Joe Torres and Nick Adenhart show off their “Tommy John” scars while on rehab at Mesa in August 2004.

 

Nick’s recovery was successful, but Joe’s was not.

During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Torres walked more than he struck out. He found himself in the bullpen, and since 2005 has not started a game.

After 2006, he took his minor league free agency and signed with the White Sox.

The 2009 season found him in the Rangers’ organization, pitching for Double-A Frisco in the Texas League. This May 22 article in his hometown newspaper recounts Torres’ career history, and concludes with his optimism that a major league job was in his near future.

But he was released on the Fourth of July.

Perusing this morning the minor league transactions listed on MiLB.com, I saw that the Dodgers had signed Joe and assigned him to the Inland Empire 66ers in the California League, the same league as the Angels’ Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Joe is back in High-A ball for the first time since 2006, a big step backwards in his dream.

For all his years in pro ball, Torres is only 26 years old, turning 27 in September. He could still find his way to the big leagues one day; the baseball gods sometimes reward those who are persistent.

But his career to date is yet another reminder that first-round draft status guarantees nothing. Too much uncertainty awaits ahead.


The Angels got the A’s first-round pick in the June 2000 draft in exchange for Oakland signing reliever Mike Magnante as a free agent. A’s GM Billy Beane admitted making a mistake because he signed Magnante before the Angels could offer him arbitration. The penalty was losing his first-round draft pick.

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