When Beau Torbert played for the Astros, he was a self-described worrier. He pressed, he replayed at-bats in his head, always wondering what he could do better or differently.
In a way, you could say that being released by the Astros has given him some freedom.
“Before I was let go by Houston I put a lot of stress on myself to perform,” Torbert said. “When I got to independent ball, I took a mindset that I’m in indy ball now, I can get back to basic baseball and having fun. Ever since I took that approach I try to not let too much good stuff or bad stuff go to my head.”
It’s hard to argue with the results of the new approach. In the three seasons since he was released by Houston, Torbert, an outfielder for the Sioux Falls Pheasants, has won two American Association most valuable player awards.
His first came when he hit .324 with 19 home runs, 71 RBIs and 14 steals in 2008. This year, he earned his second MVP award by blowing those numbers away.
Torbert flirted with hitting .400 this year. He needed to go 2-for-2 or 3-for-4 on the final day of the season to reach the milestone. Instead he went 0-for-4 which forced him to settle for a league leading .394 average to go with .435 on-base percentage (ninth in the league) and .684 slugging percentage (second in the league). Led by Torbert, Sioux Falls finished with the best record in the American Association before losing in the championship series to Shreveport-Bossier. For all that, Torbert is the 2010 Independent Leagues Player of the Year.
“He was a highlight film all year,” Sioux Falls manager Steve Shirley said. “He was phenomenal for the entire season. It wasn’t like he had one stretch where he was unbelievable. He was that good all year. It was something to stand back and watch him perform.”
As a 27-year-old, Torbert had the season of his life. He had usually hit for average with the Astros (.286/.338/.404 career averages that saw him reach Triple-A Round Rock in 2007), but he was a leadoff hitter who rarely hit for power. When Sioux Falls signed him, Shirley and the rest of the coaching staff looked at his build (he’s now 6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and his swing and saw that he could do more than set the table. After a slow start in Sioux Falls, Torbert quickly became a run producer in the middle of the lineup. After hitting 14 home runs in four seasons in affiliated ball, Torbert has hit 55 home runs in three years in Sioux Falls.
“The thing with Beau that has to be maddening for the opposition is that he’ll hit anything,” Shirley said. “He’s a very difficult guy to pitch to.
“He understands his role is to drive in runs. He’ll expand his strike zone because he knows he’s up there to drive in a run. I know there are times in the other dugout where they had to wonder how he hit that, because we’re wondering it. And he didn’t just hit it but rocketed it off the scoreboard.”
The last time Torbert won the MVP award, the Tigers signed him to a contract. He hit well in spring training, but as many independent league stars find, it’s hard to make a roster at a time where there are many more players than roster spots. He was back in Sioux Falls for the start of the 2009 season.
Torbert is hopeful of another shot, but he’s not pressing when he sees a scout in the stands at a Pheasants game. As he sees it, he’s done what he can do already. After all, if .394-24-100 won’t get him a contract with an affiliated team, it’s hard to see what he can do to change scouts’ minds next year.
“To come close to .400 it has to be a perfect storm,” he said. “It’s crazy to do that. It gives you much more respect for the guys who did it at the big league level. You have to get most of your solid hits to fall and you need a lot of cheap hits too.”
So he’ll keep playing and keep doing what he does, but he’s not going to put too much pressure on himself.
“At this point in my career, it’s not a deal where I prove myself to get a shot, it’s more of will a team give me that shot,” Torbert said. “My outlook now isn’t that I need to impress a scout. I feel like you can look at seven years of stats compared to the two innings you see me play. It goes back to relaxing and have fun. If there’s a scout there, good, but if not, it’s OK.”
That approach has worked for Torbert for the past three years, so he’s not about to change it.