Before the start of the season, MLB had just two Yankees’ prospects in its Top 100 list: outfielder Jasson Dominguez at 32, and pitcher Clarke Schmidt at 88. Infielders Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe were nowhere to be found, although the former wasn’t far from the list.
Fast forward a few months, and we can now firmly say that Volpe is the best prospect in the Yankees’ system (yes, he is now considered to be higher than Dominguez) and Peraza is firmly in the top 100.
The league’s official site has Volpe as the 15th-best prospect in baseball, and Peraza checks in at 59, while Dominguez remains well-ranked, at 17. Luis Gil, at 96, is the last Baby Bomber in the updated list, and Schmidt fell off it altogether because of the elbow woes that forced him to miss most of the season.
Volpe is perhaps the prospect with the biggest jump this season, not only on the Yankees, but in all of baseball. The 2019 first-round pick wasn’t supposed to have this kind of all-around threat, but he was always projectable.
Volpe was one of those prospects that saw the pandemic take away almost every developmental tool at hand: minor leagues, instructional league, everything. He wasn’t invited to the alternate training site either. He was in the “home development” group. And while most young players had a tough time showing real skill changes under those circumstances, Volpe raked from the start in the 2021 minor league campaign.
The 20-year-old shortstop hit .302/.455/.623 with a 186 wRC+ in 257 Low-A plate appearances. He homered 12 times and stole 21 bases, earning himself a promotion to High-A after 54 games. With the Hudson Valley renegades, Volpe is slashing .290/.394/.595 with a 157 wRC+, 14 more homers and 11 thefts in 241 plate appearances.
Naturally, his walk rate decreased (from 19.8% to 10.4%) and his strikeout rate went up (from 16.7% to 23.2%) with the promotion, but he is hitting the ball hard consistently, and his short, compact swing is producing an enormous amount of power. Defensively, he could stick at shortstop in the long term despite not having elite range because he has good instincts, hands, motions, and release.
Peraza, on the other hand, is perhaps a slightly better fielder than Volpe, but also a slightly worse hitter. He did, like Volpe, dramatically improve his stock among prospect evaluators with a step forward offensively in 2021. His offensive profile is now a very attractive one: he combines excellent bat-to-ball skills with major-league exit velocities, a recipe for success. He also knows and controls the strike zone and is very, very fast.
The Yankees assigned him to High-A Hudson Valley to begin the year, and he thrived there. Slashing .306/.386/.532 with five homers, 16 steals and a 143 wRC+, he found himself with the Double-A Somerset Patriots after just 28 games. It was evident he was ready to be challenged.
In Somerset, he has continued to perform offensively, though not at the rate he was doing it in Hudson Valley. In 76 games and 340 plate appearances in Double-A, Peraza is hitting .294/.350/.473 with 12 round-trippers, 19 stolen bases, and a 124 wRC+.
Like Volpe, the jump in level affected Peraza’s walk rate (from 9.4% in High-A to 6.8% in Double-A) and strikeout rate (18.9% to 22.6%), but it has been a very impressive year for him nonetheless.
Now, looking at the future, after watching Yankees infielders struggle every night offensively and defensively, one has to wonder if Volpe and Peraza can help soon. Neither is an option for this year, but Peraza could be up at some point next season, while Volpe is looking at more of a 2023 ETA if he keeps developing like he has in 2021.
In any case, having two quality infield prospects like Peraza and Volpe gives the Yankees even better odds of at least one of them paying off at the MLB level within a couple years. Having one top infield prospect is nice, let alone two (with more possibly on the way, too, depending on how Trey Sweeney, Alexander Vargas, Oswaldo Cabrera, and others develop.)
If both Peraza and Volpe prove capable of handling MLB pitchers in the not-so-distant future, they could both be regulars and resemble the Atlanta Braves’ current situation, with second baseman Ozzie Albies developing into a star and Dansby Swanson a good regular. That’s not a bad scenario to shoot for.
With Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, and Gio Urshela all having disappointing years offensively, Peraza and Volpe represent the hope of tomorrow.