PHOENIX – At the 2021 MLB Trade Deadline, new Milwaukee Brewers utility man Abraham Toro packed his belongings in the Houston Astros clubhouse and walked over to join the Seattle Mariners. The two division rivals had made a last-minute trade – Seattle sending standout reliever Kendall Graveman and reliever Rafael Montero to Houston for Toro and veteran reliever Joe Smith.
The trade sent shockwaves throughout Seattle one night after the team had experienced a memorable 7-run comeback against Houston. After heavy criticism of the move, Toro refueled the chatter with a home run for his new team the next evening.
Fast forward a month later. Toro stepped in the box with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and Graveman on the mound. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Toro mashed a go-ahead grand slam into the summer night, dismissing any remaining criticism about the deal.
“That was crazy how the whole situation played out,” Toro said. “At that point Seattle was still in the race for the playoffs and playing in the division. It was a huge moment for sure.”
Unfortunately, Toro’s time in Seattle was not as poetic. His 2022 campaign became defined by a lack of playing time and inconsistency at the plate. He posted a .185 batting average and an OPS+ of just 63 in 109 games.
Entering this offseason, Toro’s future in Seattle was up in the air. On Dec. 2, Toro was included in a package with outfielder Jesse Winker in exchange for Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong.
The transition to Milwaukee offers Toro a clean slate and a golden opportunity to find consistent playing time in the big leagues. He enters camp in competition for the second base job with former first-round pick Brice Turang, Mike Brosseau and Owen Miller.
“I’m still getting to know these guys, but it’s been fun so far,” Toro said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with the infielders, which is important, especially with guys in the middle infield getting good communication, and so far, so good.”
Winker, who is also looking forward to a fresh start, was happy to have his Seattle teammate along for the ride in Milwaukee.
“There’s already some other guys here that I know well, but coming over with Toro is great,” Winker said. “He’s an outstanding teammate and player, great family as well, so it’s nice to see him here for sure.”
The switch-hitting Toro predominantly played a second and third base utility role in Seattle, making him an obvious candidate for the Brewers’ depleted infield. His fielding is serviceable, and his versatility defensively should provide value that Milwaukee can utilize at multiple positions.
Another plus: Toro frequently found himself in late-game situations at his previous stops. Due to his switch-hitting prowess, the Mariners looked Toro’s way many times for late-game pinch-hitting duties.
Toro’s strength comes from the left side of the plate, where he boasted a .352 slugging percentage last season, however, he got on base at a higher clip (.265 OBP) from the right and struck out significantly less (19 SOs).
Brewers manager Craig Counsell says his ability from both sides of the plate offers him a fair shot to make the major league roster.
“I think Abraham falls in the group of guys competing for a spot with Mike, Owen Miller, and some of the other guys we brought into camp,” Counsell said. “How that all shakes out, who knows. I feel it’s a spot that we have a lot of experience at. Guys that have had success in the league, and that’s gonna be a difficult decision right there. I think we’re really protected in that spot so we’ll see.”
A positive Toro can take from 2022 was his continued display of power. Hitting 10 home runs last season and 11 in 2021, he has shown the ability to leave the yard at a solid rate for a utility player. Hitting the long ball begins in the weight room, and Toro decided this offseason he needed to change his ways.
“It all starts with the gym, (and) I did things a little differently,” Toro said. “Instead of going all heavy workouts, I did a little more explosion and a lot of supersets. I feel really good with my body because of that.”
Toro, 26, debuted in the big leagues at 22 years old, with an already-loaded Astros team. Counsell says his new utility player’s quick rise will determine how the team handles his reps in spring training.
“Abraham got to the big leagues really young, and that sometimes can hurt and help a player,” Counsell said. “He probably lost some at-bats somewhere along the way by being in the big leagues and being a utility guy for some good teams, so we’re gonna definitely focus on getting Abraham a good amount of at-bats this spring.”
If things go according to plan for Toro this spring, he should find himself getting those lost at-bats in Milwaukee.
“Well right now I’m focusing on winning a spot on the team. After that whatever they need me I’m ready,” Toro said. “We already talked a little bit with second (base) and third (base) mostly but I’ll be ready for anything.”