Over the past few years, the Yankees have built their farm system to be strong up the middle. Using high draft picks and convincing international bonuses, they’ve stockpiled talented middle infielders who are regularly ranked among their top prospects. The organization has prioritized depth up the middle, but right now the Yankees have a middle-infield log jam at the High-A level and some of the organizations best prospects are using the opportunity to develop their defensive versatility.
Ezequiel Duran and Josh Smith are no strangers to playing side-by-side. After Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2019 draft, the two players formed the top double-play combination in the New York-Penn League over the second half of the season. During their time together on Staten Island in 2019, Smith exclusively played shortstop while Duran handled second base.
Scouts questioned if either player could remain at their position long-term, but their bats were explosive and easily good enough to carry them to the next level of the minor leagues. Duran led the NYPL with 13 home runs, while Smith posted a 177 wRC+ in his 33 games at the Short-Season A level.
After losing a year to the pandemic, the talented duo had to wait a little longer to be reunited. Smith battled a thumb injury while Duran found himself playing every day in High-A Hudson Valley alongside one of the best prospects not just in the Yankees organization, but all of baseball: recent Baseball America Top 100 honoree Oswald Peraza.
Smith opened the season with Low-A Tampa, finding time on a crowded infield with fellow shortstop Anthony Volpe, another of BA’s fastest-rising prospects in all of baseball this season. When Peraza was promoted to Double-A Somerset in June, Smith earned the call to High-A, where he joined Duran. Following close behind was Volpe, who led the Low-A Southeast in home runs, triples, and doubles at the time of his promotion.
Now, the Yankees face a log jam of middle-infielders in Hudson Valley. Not only has Duran improved his defensive play enough to improve his long-term outlook at second base, but the team has also played him at shortstop 16 times this season. Natural shortstops Volpe and Smith will have to find a balance to continue honing their defensive instincts while getting enough at-bats to continue their rapid development and climb through the system.
Lastly for now...this was one of the best damn plays I've seen in a long, long time in person.— Mike Ashmore (@mashmore98) June 10, 2021
Ezequiel Duran at shortstop, ladies and gents. pic.twitter.com/dcAev7Oc67
On Tuesday night, Volpe played second base for just the second time this season. He made two errors, but it is likely a role that he will find himself in more often. While teams generally want elite shortstop prospects to develop at the position as long as possible, the Yankees will also embrace his potential to become more versatile.
With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, there is plenty of speculation that the logjam will work itself out. The Yankees already traded two middle infielders in Hoy Park and Diego Castillo on Monday. Volpe and Double-A shortstop Peraza are regarded on a short list as the team’s top trade chips. Still, there is more talent seeking to move up the ranks from below. Second baseman Trevor Hauver has a .341/.483/.560 line over his last 28 games for Low-A Tampa and would almost certainly be on the radar for a promotion if he could find a place to play in High-A. Behind Hauver, the Yankees selected two middle infielders in the top four rounds of the draft, including first-rounder Trey Sweeney. Those draft picks will likely be in action soon.
The Yankees as an organization must find the right balance for their middle-infield prospects. The club is in a good position in that it has significant organizational depth at the key positions up the middle, though it needs to make sure that the prospects are getting the right reps at right positions. Anthony Volpe, Josh Smith, and Ezequiel Duran can make a lot of noise with their bats but they must now adapt to the regular rotation through different spots on the defense.
The Texas Rangers will receive RHP Glenn Otto, 2B Ezequiel Duran, SS Josh Smith and 2B/OF Trevor Hauver as part of the package from the New York Yankees in the Joey Gallo trade, sources tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 29, 2021
Rangers are getting massive haul of prospects in this deal. Others involved, too.
Well, that’s one way to solve it! Welcome to New York, Joey Gallo.