Some things haven't changed since Joe Torres
first started playing in the Minor Leagues. Tulsa's left-handed reliever can still look out on the field and see Brandon Emmanuel, with whom he once toiled as an Angels farmhand, and former coach Todd Takayoshi.
Except Emmanuel is now pitching coach and Takayoshi the manager for the rival Arkansas Travelers. Torres, on the other hand, is still in uniform as a player after 10 professional seasons.
"It's kind of funny to see those guys and recognize their faces more than the players," said the 28-year-old Torres, who was drafted by the Angles out of high school in 2000.
Torres was once a whip-armed youngster who threw a no-hitter for Gateway High School, located close enough to the Houston Astros' Spring Training complex in Kissimmee, Fla., that the high school team held its tryouts there.
"When you see those fields, you never want to get off them again," Torres said.
It was fair for Torres to assume he would be walking plenty of big league fields after the then-Anaheim Angels took him 10th overall and signed him for just over $2 million. But Torres is still looking to crack a Major League roster.
"I've come a long way," he said. "I've had a lot of injuries. I've endured a lot."
Torres looked to be well on his way to the Angels when, at 17, he went 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA with the short-season Boise Hawks of the Northwest League. But he never got past Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga in the Angels system, dealing with arm trouble that cost him all of 2004 as he underwent Tommy John surgery.
His comeback did not go well as he went 0-4 with a whopping 18.00 ERA at Rancho Cucamonga in 2005 and 1-6 with an 8.50 ERA with Class A Cedar Rapids. He returned to the Kernels in 2006 and went 2-4 with an 8.14 ERA, and the Angels chose not to re-sign him.
"The first year I had a lot of issues with the elbow. The second year it was a big mental block, a big mental struggle," Torres said. "It was one of those things -- my time was up with [the Angles]. They said, 'You know what, we gave chances with you and it's time to move on.' "
The Chicago White Sox signed Torres before the 2007 season, and he found new life under pitching coach J.R. Perdew, reaching Double-A with the Southern League's Birmingham Barons in 2008.
"It was a good time to just get away and start fresh. That's kind of where I feel like my career started almost, in '07," Torres said.
He was 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in 59 appearances in Birmingham and pitched solidly in Minor League stints with the Rangers and Dodgers in 2009 and again with the White Sox last year before catching on with the Colorado Rockies, who sent him to Tulsa to start the season.
No longer the loose-armed slinger, Torres has improved his velocity and, with a recently developed cutter to complement his slider, curve and two-seamer, he is 3-1 with a 2.58 ERA and 12 holds as a middle reliever. He's also a Texas League All-Star after filling in for injured teammate Stephen Dodson late last month.
"It's a little thing to take away at the end of the day, saying, 'Hey look, I've bounced back from some really bad things. This is pretty positive,'" Torres said.
Power surplus: When Frisco plays these days, balls are leaving the park at an alarming rate. The RoughRiders pounded out a franchise-record eight home runs, led by Tommy Mendonca's three round-trippers, in Friday's 19-4 victory over Corpus Christi. Frisco edged the Hooks, 2-1, on Sunday on homers by Jose Ruiz and club leader Mike Bianucci, who hit his 23rd.
Shoe fits: Three-time Texas League Pitcher of the Week Matt Shoemaker helped Arkansas end a seven-game losing streak, the longest of the year for the first-half North Division champs. Shoemaker, who had allowed two earned runs over his last 32 innings and leads the Minors with five complete games, allowed one run on six hits over seven innings in Sunday's 5-1 victory over Tulsa.