Over the coming weeks and months, we will break down the Yankees’ farm system leading into the minor league season, position-by-position. The first group up is the shortstops. The Yankees have used high draft picks and big international signing bonuses over the last few years to add talent at the position, so the result is a deep but not MLB-ready group of prospects.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2016, Oswald Peraza was not considered an elite prospect through his first few seasons in the Yankees’ organization. That changed in 2019, as improved tools caught the eyes of scouts around baseball.
Yankees hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson was recently quoted by Baseball America saying that Peraza is “a guy who has exceptional bat-to-ball skills.” With the time off due to the canceled minor league season, Lawson said “A big focus for him has just been keeping the ball off the ground and seeing as many breaking balls as possible.”
Peraza’s offseason work has seen him recording exit velocities around 110 mph, on par with many major leaguers. He traveled to his native Venezuela in November and early December to play in the country’s winter league. Taking the field next to teammates with an average age of 28, Peraza hit .250/.400/.313 in six games. His glove has looked promising, as Yankees defensive coach Ryan Hunt recently said, “We are really excited about what he can do defensively and the value he can provide as he continues to develop.”
As a member of the 40-man roster, it is also likely that Peraza will see some action during spring training. He is consistently rated as one of the Yankees’ top five prospects and should start 2021 with either High-A Hudson Valley or Low-A Tampa.
The Yankees gave Cuban shortstop Alexander Vargas their top signing bonus issued during the 2018 international free agency period. The next summer, Vargas played briefly in the Dominican Summer League before jumping stateside to the Gulf Coast League. A frequent comment about the switch-hitting speedster was that he needed to add strength to better impact the ball. Reports are that when he arrived at the Yankees’ instructional camp in December, he had added 30 pounds of good weight over the last year.
Vargas stole 15 bases in 17 attempts during his first season of pro ball, including going a perfect 13-for-13 after jumping to the GCL. He also struck out only 28 times in 211 plate appearances at the two lowest levels of the minors. Based on where he finished the 2019 season and his reported physical gains, I would expect Vargas to be playing for Low-A Tampa very early in the 2020 season.
After signing Vargas in the late summer of 2018, the Yankees continued to add talented young infielders to the system when they selected prep shortstop Anthony Volpe with the 30th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. Volpe struggled out of the gate, hitting just .125 in his first 16 professional games. He did quickly adjust and was slashing .292/.413/.462 over his next 18 games when a bout of mononucleosis cut his season short.
Volpe has the range and arm to remain at shortstop and range from average to slightly above average defensively. FanGraphs notes that his scouting report looks a lot like Peraza’s prior to 2019, and like Vargas, he has reportedly added 15 pounds of good weight that should improve his power.
The Yankees continued to target shortstops in the 2019 draft, when they went after LSU’s Josh Smith with their second-round selection. Smith came out of the gate, strong posting a 177 wRC+ for Short-Season A Staten Island. Using great plate discipline, he walked 17.7 percent of the time during his first pro-season. Smith played every game at shortstop, but is considered a candidate to take on a utility role.
After struggling in 2018 while playing in Low-A Charleston, Oswaldo Cabrera really picked it up with High-A Tampa in 2019. The switch-hitting infielder finished his last 77 games with a 130 wRC+. He played 21 games at shortstop in 2019 while also seeing a lot of time at second and third base.
Tampa’s hitting coach from 2019, Joe Migliaccio, spoke about Cabrera’s progress during an interview with Pinstripe Alley last year, noting “He hit the ball more consistently hard, he hit it higher with fewer ground balls, (and) he made better swing decisions.” FanGraphs views Cabrera as the organization’s 16th-best prospect.
One of the Yankees top signees from the 2017 international signing period was Roberto Chirinos, who solid in 2019 for Rookie-Advanced Pulaski. He really turned it on over the last month, hitting .303/.354/.500 in his last glimpse of game action. Sharing time with Volpe on the infield, Chirinos saw time at second base and shortstop as well this past year.
Ranked as the Yankees 32nd-best prospect by FanGraphs, recent birthday boy Dayro Perez has all the athletic ability to remain at the shortstop position but the 19-year-old has yet to hit regularly. Also in the lower levels of the minors Hans Montero who the Yankees recently signed for a $1.6 million bonus will make his professional debut this coming season.
At the upper levels of the system, the Yankees have Hoy Jun Park, who posted a 120 wRC+ for Double-A Trenton in 2019 but will turn 25 in April. He played more second base than shortstop as he was paired with defensive wizard Kyle Holder.* Diego Castillo played with High-A Tampa in 2019 and was another player who finished strong for the team. Over the last 45 games, he posted a .292/.352/.373 line and is likely headed to Double-A Somerset this coming year.
*Holder was taken by the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft and flipped to the Reds, but he could return to the Yankees organization if Cincinnati does not keep him on its MLB roster.
Shortstop is among the deepest positions in the Yankees system. The depth is mostly concentrated at the Class-A levels, but could start to break through to Double-A this year. Surrounding those top young prospects are players with the potential to contribute at some point, but with far lower projections.