The Yankees’ publicly-stated need entering the 2021 offseason was a shortstop. As fortune would have it, the greatest shortstop free agent class of all-time was about to hit the market. Seager. Correa. Semien. Baez. Story. One by one, they signed with teams that were not the Yankees. Fans watched incredulously as the team opted to trade for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and then irritably tolerated a season of subpar offense and defense at short. Improbably, another stellar class of shortstops became available following the 2022 season. Correa again. Turner. Bogaerts. Correa again. Swanson. Correa again. The Yankees never went near any of them. This would all be inexplicable if it weren’t for Oswald Peraza.
It has been declared that the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees this year will be the winner of a spring training competition. How much of a competition it will be is unknown, because it certainly feels like the job is Peraza’s to lose. It probably should be. He’s already had his taste of the big leagues and even boasts a Game 2 ALCS start on his resume. There is a legitimate complaint that he should have had more of an opportunity in the month of September to establish himself, but it is too late to do anything about that. Peraza’s domain is now the future.
There is perhaps some undue pressure on Peraza entering the 2023 season in that the Yankees did not upgrade their position player group in any way this offseason. The only way they can meaningfully improve their offense without relying upon the increased performance of players from the 2022 lineup is to have Peraza come in and surpass the production of Kiner-Falefa. The good news is he’s up to the task. At age 22, the right-handed hitter had a 139 OPS+ in just 49 at-bats for the big club. While it would be a surprise if Peraza performed at that level for a full season in 2023, the brief glimpse of his success as a hitter is not out of line with his potential.
Evaluators noticed Peraza’s ability to square up the baseball before he ever had any numbers to show for it. MLB Pipeline mentions that, “pound for pound, Peraza hits the ball as hard as anyone in the Yankees system.” A superior athlete, he brings strength and body control to the batter’s box, along with an ability to make adjustments and close up holes in his swing and approach. After noting that Triple-A pitchers were attacking him with sliders breaking down and away, Josh Norris of Baseball America wrote that Peraza worked hard behind the scenes to improve against them. Meanwhile, he started to hit the ball in the air more often, leading to the 19 home runs and 16 doubles he hit with Scranton before coming up to New York.
While some scouts label Peraza’s power tool as a tick below average, others view it as average, and that passes the eye test. It will come as no shock if Peraza hits 20 homers in a full big-league season. Generally he is viewed as an above-average hitter, and he has maintained an upward trajectory throughout his offensive development. He is still on the ascent, but he should be able to contribute right away on the bases, with above-average speed that has produced 71 steals in the last two seasons combined. That coveted speed should play up due to both his efficiency in taking bases and his ability to put the bat on the ball and get on base.
Peraza has seen his offensive profile improve during his climb through the minors, but his ability to play shortstop has never been in question. His quickness, range, hands, above-average arm, and instincts leave nothing to be desired, and only repetition at the big-league level is missing from his report card. Peraza’s defensive prowess is enough to not only greatly impact the Yankees’ season this year, but it could also alter the career path of fellow top prospect Anthony Volpe. Whereas Volpe is a fine defender who can handle shortstop, Peraza could be mentioned among the league’s better defenders at the position in the near future. As long as Peraza is competent offensively, Volpe may be moved to second or third when he is eventually promoted to the Bronx.
Peraza likely enters the 2023 season without the hype or name recognition that will follow Volpe, but people know who he is and still have expectations for him. There are some who simply need him to be better than who played short last year, and others will see him as an upgrade as long as he doesn’t fall on his face. That’s really the only thing that could stop Peraza right now. He could struggle mightily in spring training and force the Yankees to go in another direction, but that is certainly not Plan A. Manager Aaron Boone has spoken about the impression Peraza made in September and October, noting the way he fit in and went about his business with the quiet confidence of a major league player.
The Yankees likely have their hopes set on him establishing himself this year next to fellow Venezuelan Gleyber Torres, making the plays at short and contributing to the lineup. Don’t be surprised if he does significantly more than that.
Other top prospects: