Every year, the baseball gods unravel the script for the newest season of Major League Baseball, and every year, through the twists and turns of the season, we search intently to see what kind of story they thought up. Sometimes, they spin together a tragedy, as the 2003, 2004, and 2012 Yankees would surely attest to. Plucky underdog stories, such as the 2019 Washington Nationals and 2021 Atlanta Braves that overcame long odds to win the World Series, have had their time in the limelight. Every once in a while, the opportunity to make history drives the season narrative, as we saw manifest in the 2016 World Series between long-suffering Cleveland and even longer-suffering Chicago.
And this year, at least for one pair of Yankees prospects, the baseball gods decided to try their hands at a little poetry.
Oswald and Oswaldo. Because of their names and similar positions — both began as shortstops within the organization — Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera were destined to be tied together from the moment both entered fans’ radars. But in a bit of nominative determinism, their stories have been remarkably similar. Both were born in Venezuela around the turn of the millennium, signed with the New York Yankees as amateur free agents after turning 16, and skyrocketed through the farm system after the canceled 2020 minor league season. Headed into the season, their minor league careers couldn’t have been more in lockstep if they were scripted by Stephen Sondheim.
While their initial call-ups continued these parallel scripts — both players received the call with the Yankees in a bit of a rut and in need of a sparkplug — the last two months have also seen Cabrera’s and Peraza’s careers take two completely opposite roads, but both headed in the direction of success.
Although he was the lower-ranked prospect (he was the Yankees’ 14th prospect according to MLB Pipeline and failed to place in the PSA preseason prospect rankings), Cabrera received the call first, making his Major League debut on August 17th. At the time, he was supposed to fill a super-utility role, taking advantage of the fact that he had extensive experience all around the infield. His first three starts were at three different positions (third base, shortstop, and right field), and with his start at second base on August 22nd, he registered a start at four different positions in the first week of his career.
With Aaron Hicks’ inability to produce either at the plate or in the field for large stretches of time and Andrew Benintendi’s injury, however, he quickly became a full-time outfielder despite only a couple of cameos out there in the minor leagues. Besides a pair of appearances at first base while both DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo were injured, Cabrera did not don an infielder’s glove again until late September — after both Harrison Bader returned from the IL and the Yankees clinched a playoff spot. A player intended to be primarily a supplementary piece had been thrust into a starting job in the middle of a pennant race.
From the beginning, Cabrera handled the assignment with a combination of grace and energy rarely seen from a rookie so early in his career. Despite his lack of experience in the outfield, he quickly became known for his defensive prowess. Among outfielders with at least 250 innings, his 7 Defensive Runs Saved is tied for 18th with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Eli White, while his 25.3 UZR/150 ranks behind only Trevor Larnach and is tied with Byron Buxton. At the plate, however, he struggled out of the gate, slashing just .188/.230/.261 in 74 plate appearances from August 17th to September 7th.
Since then, though, he’s been absolutely dynamic, posting a .296/.383/.578 slash line with five home runs, five doubles, and 10 walks in 81 plate appearances headed into yesterday’s doubleheader. Shrink that down even further, and things look even better: his 1.2 fWAR since September 15th trails only Aaron Judge and Taylor Ward, while his 201 wRC+ ranks fourth in the American League. He’s been batting third for the Yankees the last couple of days, and while that’s due in part to the team resting starters this week, he hasn’t exactly looked out of place at the top of the lineup.
As the consensus No. 3 prospect in the Yankees organization and veritable Top-100 prospect overall, Peraza entered the Bronx to high expectations. Because he was swinging a hot bat in Triple-A (.801 OPS in August) and incumbent shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa was not (.594 OPS in August), everybody expected Peraza to immediately seize the starting job. After all, why would you promote a top prospect to the majors to not play him? As the Yankees finished an awful month that caused the AL East lead to shrink to within four games, Peraza was, perhaps unfairly, seen as a potential savior.
And then Peraza...well, he played, technically. He started a few games in a row early in the month when Josh Donaldson was on the paternity list and served as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner while the team tried to lock up the division, but he did not truly get any regular playing time until after the team clinched the division. IKF maintained a grip on the starting shortstop job, inconsistent bat and all.
Many top prospects would fall flat transitioning to a bench role after starting every day in the minors. Not Peraza. Headed into action yesterday, he had a .333/.422/.410 slash line with three doubles and four walks in 45 plate appearances, good for a 148 wRC+ — and that’s before he hit his first career homer as part of a 2-for-4 afternoon (he was 0-for-1 in the nightcap at time of writing). Defensively, he’s flashed the leather, and while he’s made a couple of boneheaded baserunning mistakes, he’s demonstrated great speed that could be a weapon. He’s passed every test so far with flying colors, and even if he finds himself on the outside of the postseason roster bubble, he’s shown that he should be a core piece going forward.
After minor league careers that could not have been more similar, Oswaldo and Oswald have seen the first months of their careers go in wildly different directions. Both players, however, have risen to the roles that they were given, and in the process have set themselves up for important roles on the 2023 Yankees.