In less than one month, when the Yankees report to spring training, the organization’s highly-anticipated competition for playing time at shortstop will officially begin.
New York has three infielders in the running to start at shortstop on Opening Day.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa was the Yankees’ primary shortstop in 2022, his first season in pinstripes after being acquired—along with Josh Donaldson—in a trade from the Twins. Kiner-Falefa signed a $6 million contract for the 2023 season earlier this winter, his final year before entering free agency.
The Yankees can also give one of their youngsters a shot this spring. Oswald Peraza showed what he’s capable of in a brief taste of big-league action at the conclusion of last season, even making a few appearances in the playoffs. Anthony Volpe is knocking on the door as well, finishing last season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Volpe is ranked as New York’s No. 1 prospect, the fifth-best prospect in all of baseball, by MLB Pipeline. Peraza, meanwhile, is the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect (No. 50 in MLB).
Yankees manager Aaron Boone spoke about the shortstop situation in an interview with YES Network this week. Listening to his comments, while mixing in some context from the 2022 season, Peraza appears to be the favorite heading into spring training.
“I was really pleased how well he handled himself at the big-league level as far as his preparation, his work, the way he fit in, the way he performed between the lines,” Boone said, pointing out how Peraza has played well in the minors while climbing the farm system’s ladder. “He’s going to have a real opportunity and get a lot of chances. I’m really excited about him.”
Peraza looked comfortable over 18 games with the Yankees after he was promoted last September. He hit .306 (15-for-49), stole two bases, hit his first career home run and played spotless defense.
If his numbers with the Triple-A RailRiders are any indication, he’ll be a threat on offense over a full season. In 2022, the prospect slashed .259/.329/.448 with 19 homers, 50 RBI and 33 stolen bases in 99 contests.
In other words, Peraza has proven that he’s ready for a full-time opportunity with the big-league club. Sounds like he’ll have a chance to run away with the job this spring.
Still, in this “battle” to be the starting shortstop—as Boone called it—you can’t rule out the veteran.
“With IKF, we feel like we have a guy capable of being a starting big-league shortstop,” Boone said. “He could also fit in from a versatility standpoint with all he brings to the table moving positions. But we’ll let that shake out throughout the spring training. And then it continues to show itself throughout the season.”
Kiner-Falefa was benched in the playoffs last year, a liability on defense throughout the season with feeble offensive numbers (four home runs and a .642 OPS in 531 plate appearances). That said, Kiner-Falefa led the team with 22 stolen bases while showcasing his elite bat-to-ball skills. The shortstop had one of the best whiff rates (just 11.2 percent) in all of baseball, batting .261.
If Peraza struggles this spring, don’t be surprised if the Yankees roll with Kiner-Falefa to begin the campaign. They can also use him off the bench—Boone hinted at his ability to play multiple positions—or look to trade him to another team in need of a shortstop, opening the door for more reps for the prospects.
That brings us to Volpe. The former first-round pick appeared in only 22 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, but Boone made it clear that Volpe will also have a legitimate chance to make a lasting impression this spring.
“Obviously we’re really excited about Anthony Volpe and think he’s going to be a really good player for us for a lot of years,” said Boone. “We’ll see him in spring training, he’s going to get a lot of reps. He hasn’t had a lot of Triple-A time yet, but you never know. He could still kick the door in and force the onus on us.”
The way the Yankees have acted over the last two winters, passing on several top-tier shortstops in free agency, is a testament to the way the organization feels about Volpe. Volpe has been tearing it up in the minors recently as well. The shortstop slashed .251/.348/.472 with 18 long balls, 60 RBI, 31 doubles and 44 stolen bases in 110 games with Double-A Somerset to begin last season.
It’s only a matter of time until Volpe makes the jump to the Bronx and never looks back. That window will officially open in a few months. For him to leapfrog these other two options, however, it’ll take a very impressive performance this spring, both in workouts and games.