For the most part, the 2022 Yankees share little with the 2018 squad. Four years ago, the Yankees began the season with an abundance of confidence on the field and in the fanbase, the favorites to win the AL East after coming one win away from the World Series. They had the 2017 Rookie of the Year Award winner in Aaron Judge, a Cy Young finalist atop their rotation in Luis Severino, and the reigning NL MVP in Giancarlo Stanton. Things were looking up. In contrast, this year’s squad had slumped to the Wild Card, and the past winter was memorable more for what the team didn’t do than for what it did.
There is, however, one striking parallel. The 2018 Yankees began the season with Neil Walker, the epitome of a stopgap, as the Opening Day second baseman, holding down the fort for the fifth-ranked prospect in baseball, Gleyber Torres. This year, Isiah Kiner-Falefa got the nod at shortstop to start the year, but since two of the Yankees’ top prospects — Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera — are currently sitting in Triple-A Scranton, it feels inevitable that he won’t hold on to the job for long.
History might not repeat itself, but boy does it rhyme. That said, despite the similarities, there is little to suggest that the Yankees themselves are counting the days to a Peraza or Cabrera promotion, even if the fanbase is hoping otherwise.
Although Walker began the season as the second baseman, he split first base duties with Tyler Austin due to an injury to Greg Bird, leaving Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes to fill in at second. In fact, by the time Torres made his debut on April 22nd, Walker had started just four games at the keystone, while Wade and Torreyes had nine and six starts, respectively. On top of that, Walker (.183/.246/.217, a 23 wRC+) and Wade (.086/.158/.143, a -19 wRC+) were black holes at the bottom of the lineup, and although Torreyes had gotten off to a hot start (.417/.432/.528, a 166 wRC+), his high ground ball rate (50 percent) suggested that it was not sustainable. Meanwhile, Torres had gotten off to a blazing start in Scranton, posting a .347/.393/.510 slash with five extra-base hits in 14 games.
Small sample size alert, obviously, but after the first weekend of games, early indications suggest we’re headed in the same direction at shortstop this year. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has not exactly inspired confidence either at the plate or in the field: headed into last night’s game, he was 1-for-11 with one walk and three strikeouts, and had one error in the field (and had multiple miscues that were not charged as errors).
The other options on the big league roster are uninspiring, as Torres has proven that he can’t man the position full-time and Marwin González has played just 92 innings across 13 games there since the end of the 2019 season. Cabrera, meanwhile, has gotten off to a blistering start, with four extra-base hits in four games, while Peraza has five hits in his first 18 plate appearances. It’s easy to see why fans might look to Scranton for relief.
Even assuming that these trends continue, however, it’s still unlikely that we’ll see either of the two prospects before the latter half of May at the earliest. To begin with, neither player is in the same stratosphere as a prospect as Torres was. At the start of both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Gleyber was baseball’s fifth overall prospect according to MLB.com; Peraza is ranked 59th and Cabrera is unranked. Even FanGraphs, which was relatively low on Torres and high on Peraza, placed the former 12th overall and the latter 39th.
Additionally, Torres already had reached Triple-A Scranton the year prior, and there’s a decent chance he would have had at least a cup of coffee with the 2017 squad if he didn’t tear the UCL in his left arm while sliding into home plate in June. Because of this, he had a shot, albeit an outside one, at cracking the Opening Day roster in 2018. Peraza and Cabrera, meanwhile, played just a couple weeks’ worth of games with Scranton (including playoffs), and were among the first players cut in spring training this year.
All this combines to the fact that, barring anything unexpected, we really shouldn’t anticipate the Yankees to make an aggressive move and promote one of their middle infield prospects at some point in the immediate future. If Cabrera and Peraza continue to hit and IKF continues to stumble, they could force the issue at some point this spring, but ultimately, I would personally be surprised if it happened before the latter half of May at the earliest.