At the tail end of the 2019 season, the Yankees hired Matt Talarico to be their new minor league baserunning coordinator. During his time in the college ranks, Talarico’s teams routinely ranked among the Division-1 lead in stolen bases and were known for doing it in an efficient manner. Talarico’s first chance to implement his aggressive running style was cut short due to the pandemic, but with the minor leagues nearing full swing, some of the results are starting to show up on the field.
During an interview with Pinstripe Alley in December Talarico said that the effort to implement his baserunning system was a grassroots program that would build from the lowest levels of the system on up. “Double-A, Low-A, High-A we are starting to get a little more aggressive, and then get really aggressive in the Dominican Republic and the GCL [now the Florida Complex League].
Some of the Yankees’ top young prospects have displayed an aggressive mindset early in the season. Shortstop Oswald Peraza began the season with High-A Hudson Valley and stole 16 bases in 17 attempts before being promoted after just 28 games. Peraza has a history of being aggressive on the bases, but his personal best of 23 stolen bases in 2019 is well within reach even if his pace has slowed with a promotion to Double-A.
Replacing Peraza as the shortstop at High-A Hudson Valley was another talented Yankees prospect, Josh Smith. After a thumb injury sidelined him for the first part of the season, Smith hit the ground running with a strong 11-game stretch with Low-A Tampa. He has continued to produce with the bat and his legs after jumping to High-A. Smith is 14 of 17 in stolen base attempts in just 28 games overall, and should easily pass the 26 bags he stole in a combined 99 games during his final year of college and pro debut with Short-Season A Staten Island.
Smith’s time at Low-A was shared alongside the player taken one round ahead of him during the 2019 draft, Anthony Volpe. Volpe has shown a very aggressive style on the bases early this season, stealing 19 bases in 22 attempts during his first 43 games. It is another tool for the prospect who is generating perhaps the most buzz of anyone in the system right now.
Other players such as Elijah Dunham and Ezequiel Duran have already reached double digit stolen bases on the season. With 14 stolen bases, Dunham is far past his personal best of 10 in a season while playing for the University of Indiana. Along with Peraza at the beginning of the year and Smith currently, they have helped Hudson Valley establish the league lead in stolen bases, even as they continue to refine their craft.
The system was supposed to be implemented from the grassroots up, and the lowest levels of the minor leagues are still getting started. The Florida Coast League kicked off on Monday and the FCL Yankees stole six bases without getting caught. Centerfielder Madison Santos, stole his way around the bases, including home after registering his first hit of the season. If that is any indication, then we can expect that team to put up big time stolen base numbers going forward. The Dominican Summer League will kick off on July 12th, providing another opportunity to see how Talarico’s system is taking hold in the lower minors.
At the major league level the Yankees are not known for their speed on the base paths. That is something the organization is making a concerted effort to change in the lower levels of the system. Some of the team’s top prospects have taken the lessons to heart and are stealing bases both at a high rate and efficiently early on in 2021.