Toolshed: Astros' Toro bullish with bat

No. 6 Houston prospect carrying AFL breakout into upper levels

Abraham Toro has been an All-Star in the Carolina and Texas Leagues each of the last two seasons. (Tim Campbell/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | August 9, 2019 11:50 AM

The line of demarcation could not be more clear. For Abraham Toro, there's the time before the Arizona Fall League, and there's the time after the Arizona Fall League. 

Over 50 games with Double-A Corpus Christi last season, Toro hit .230/.317/.371. Over 98 games with the same Texas League club this year, he hit .306/.393/.513. He was promoted to Triple-A Round Rock on Aug. 1 and has carried his hot bat with him, going 10-for-24 (.417) with three doubles while recording more walks than strikeouts in his first six games. His 16 homers this season already tie a career high, and there are still more than three weeks left in the campaign.

Toro has not only climbed within one level of the Major Leagues, he's also moved up from his spot as the No. 23 Astros prospect before the season to his current ranking at No. 6. This is a slugger on the rise, and it all started at last year's Fall League.

Video: Hooks' Toro lifts one to right

Following Toro's struggles in his first turn at Double-A -- his 89 wRC+ there was the lowest of his career with a full-season club -- both the player and the organization knew he could be exploited against the high-octane arms in the AFL. Thankfully, the Astros also sent then-Corpus Christi hitting coach Troy Snitker, who now serves in a similar role on the Major League staff, and the pair got to work.

"We worked a lot on simplifying my swing," Toro said. "I started using not as big a leg kick and a little bit wider of a stance. With the bigger leg kick, I was kinda getting my upper body a little far forward, and that meant a lot more groundballs and popups. The changes helped eliminate some of those, and the whole swing was better and more compact. The process took a couple weeks, but as soon as I started doing it, I could see the results and I wanted them to become more of a habit."

The results on the field were clear. In 19 games with Scottsdale, Toro finished with a 1.023 OPS, good for third-best in the Fall League and ahead of notable sluggers Keston Hiura (.934), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.851) and Pete Alonso (.849). He walked as many times (12) as struck out over 80 plate appearances, and his nine extra-base hits (two homers, one triple, six doubles) were tied for fifth-most. 

As promising as those results were against high-quality competition, Toro still had more to prove to the parent club, which wanted a closer look and issued the infielder a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. Given his natural position at third base, the Quebec native got plenty of looks with Alex Bregman limited following elbow surgery. Carrying the offensive changes he made from the Fall League, Toro took off again in his first extended taste of the Grapefruit League, hitting .341/.396/.591 with two homers and five doubles in 48 plate appearances. He also played 106 2/3 innings in the field, 91 at third and 15 2/3 at first before being reassigned late in the cycle on March 19 -- the same day Yordan Alvarez was also moved to Minor League camp.

Toro made sure to keep his eyes open around the facilities of the perennial American League contenders, specifically spending time with Robinson Chirinos to pick up hitting tips and pointers on the mental side of the game, but he always tried to stay true to the changes he made the previous autumn.

"First of all, I was just excited to go to Spring Training," he said. "That was a goal of mine, and I wanted to make sure I could get the most of it, especially working with all the big league guys. But the most important thing was that I didn't try to do more than I could do. I just needed to keep doing what I was doing, and I thought I'd be fine."

Video: Round Rock's Toro collects fifth hit

As Toro's stats has shown, he's had no issue carrying his momentum into the 2019 regular season. But as interesting as the results have been, it's also important to remember that Toro is essentially two different types of batters as a switch-hitter. A natural right-handed swinger, Toro started hitting from both sides when he was 16 and has actually shown more pop from the left side in 2019. Thirteen of his 16 homers have come as a left-handed hitter , and he is slugging .528 from that side of the plate compared to .441 from the right side. That's no accident.

"On the right-handed side, I can go line to line," he said. "I can look the other way. I'm trying to get more in the gaps. When I'm batting lefty, I'm more of a pull guy with more power. I'm not trying to hit home runs necessarily, but I can do it from there better. Yeah, I'm a normal right-hander, but I always had good loft with my swing from the left side, so that's what works for me there."

Toro's ability to hit from either side should help his Major League case, but the biggest factor could be an ability to play multiple positions. The 22-year-old has been a third baseman for most of his career, where his plus arm can be an asset. But without the range necessary for the hot corner, he has been dogged by questions concerning his ability to stick to the position. Knowing this, the Astros gave him looks at catcher at Class A Short Season Tri-City and Class A Quad Cities in 2017, hoping his arm would make him a weapon back there. It didn't quite stick, and he moved back to third base exclusively last season.

These days he's seeing time around the dirt, getting 12 starts at second base between Round Rock and Corpus Christi and six more at first. Even if Toro was a solid defender at third, Bregman's presence with the big club would loom large, and Toro knows he would have to fit the profile more of a Yuli Gurriel or the departed Marwin Gonzalez if he's going to find a place in Houston.

"It's been good for me to get to play multiple positions, especially with the Astros, because they like to play guys like that," Toro said. "We all know that. It's been going well so far, I think, and the more positions I can play, the better."

Either way, there's no doubt he's pushed up his timeline at a good point in his career -- he's Rule 5 eligible this offseason. Keep in mind, this isn't the first time he's beat perhaps even his own expectations, either.

Born to Venezuelan parents in Quebec, Toro went undrafted in his first opportunity in 2015 and chose to go the junior college route at Seminole State in Oklahoma, just hoping to get on the radar. He did more than that, hitting .439/.545/.849 with 20 homers and only 18 strikeouts over 55 games and catching the eye of the Astros, who are known to look to the Sooner State for JuCo picks. (Josh James and Ramon Laureano are just two examples of late.) Houston tapped Toro in the fifth round in the 2016 Draft, five spots ahead of where the Blue Jays selected Cavan Biggio, and gave him a below-slot $250,000 signing bonus.

2019 MiLB include

Ironically enough, that whole process may have come down to an earlier trip to the Grand Canyon State.

"My plan was just to go to a two-year school, and if things were good there, I could go to a Division I school," he said. "I didn't expect this, not that quick. It was around spring break when I thought it was possible. We went to Arizona for a tournament, and it was my first time with wood bats and I thought I did pretty well there. You could tell people were noticing. That was the part where I thought I could have a chance."

Toro has more than a chance to be a Major Leaguer now, and he knows if he can keep down that leg kick and stick to his defensive work, reaching Houston won't be a problem.

"If my bat continues to play like it is now, I think that's what can push me for sure," he said. "But if I can play those three positions, then it's only going to mean better things for me in the future."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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