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A talented middle infield duo is rising through the Yankees’ system

Josh Smith and Oswald Peraza will form a high-ceiling middle infield for the High-A Tampa Tarpons this coming season.

MILB: AUG 19 Gulf Coast League - GCL Braves at GCL Yankees West Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Yankees will put one of the best double play tandems in baseball on the field this season with Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu working up the middle. Down in the minors, the Yankees’ system is becoming flush with middle infield talent, and this season the High-A Tampa Tarpons will see another impressive combo working their way up the ladder. Josh Smith and Oswald Peraza both flashed exciting potential last season, and could find themselves manning the middle of the field for a Tarpons team that will be loaded with highly-ranked Yankees prospects.

Josh Smith arrived in the Yankees’ system as their second round draft pick in 2019 following a standout career at Louisiana State University, the same program that produced DJ LeMahieu. During his final season for LSU he slashed .346/.433/.533, leading his team in all three categories. He put up those impressive numbers while playing in the the Southeastern Conference, considered the toughest competition in college baseball by almost every talent evaluator. Assigned to the Class-A Short Season Staten Island Yankees, Smith immediately excelled this summer by becoming a spark plug at the top of the order. The lefty swinging Smith raked, showing off his impressive plate discipline and advanced approach as he hit .324/.450/.477 for an impressive 177 wRC+ in the NY-Penn League.

Smith played shortstop exclusively this summer for Staten Island, but has experience at other spots around the infield. As a freshman in college he played third base, and numerous scouts heading into the 2019 draft projected him as a future second baseman. His transition to second base could happen as soon as next season as he will likely be paired at some point with one of the best defensive shortstop prospects inside the Yankees’ system.

19-year-old Oswald Peraza made his way through the system as a relatively unknown prospect until the middle of last summer. Heading into last season he had caught the eye of some of the higher ups in the organization. “A lot of our (scouts) went in really impressed with his baseball instincts and intellect. For the most part he handled himself pretty well at (Pulaski),” said Yankees Vice President of baseball operations Tim Naehring last February. Outside of the system, he gained attention when Baseball America listed him as the Yankees’ fifth best prospect during their in-season organizational prospect updates, and stuck with that assessment following the season.

Signed in 2016 while the Yankees were still facing international signing bonus restrictions due to the overages of the 2014 signing period, he was not among the most heralded players in his signing class. Despite a modest assessment at the time of his signing, Peraza has risen fast thought the Yankees’ system. Peraza shows strong bat-to-ball skills, striking out only 12.6% of the time in 2019 while playing with the Staten Island Yankees and the Charleston RiverDogs. In his short career Peraza has utilized his plus speed to steal 44 bases in 54 attempts for an impressive 81% success rate. Scouts are also projecting that he is on the verge of tapping into some sneaky power, as he hit four home runs this season after only hitting one in his previous two minor league seasons.

Peraza’s defense is another tool that sets him apart from other prospects. Credited with a plus arm and fielding ability, some view him as the best defensive shortstop prospect in the Yankees’ system. “He has the ability to slow the game down and read swings at an early age,” said Yankees bench coach and former infield coach, Carlos Mendoza, after working with minor leaguers last spring. Peraza has above-average grades for his fielding ability and arm, and will be able to stick at shortstop as he moves through the system.

It is not certain that this will be the Opening Day tandem for High-A Tampa, as development and playing time at the right levels is something that the organization must gauge. They have been aggressive with Peraza in the past as he has consistently been a young player for the competition he has faced. It does look like that at some point in 2020, Smith and Peraza will form a double play combo that has the potential to rise through the system together all the way to the majors.