clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Yankees’ short-term middle infield future is a unique situation

Looking across the league, few have a situation similar to the Bronx Bombers.

Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Middle infield depth is crucial to any contending team. Up-the-middle defense, speed, and a balanced offensive game are needed for a team with real championship aspirations. The Yankees are hoping Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza will both bring those skills to their team.

The last few years have been rough at shortstop, so having two realistic options in the pipeline is exciting, and also a privilege. Realistically, no other team has prospect depth like this, with both players expected to arrive in 2023. However, what some contending teams do have is legitimate up-the-middle combinations already contributing to the big league team. Either can work, but I’d like to compare what the Yankees have to their contending counterparts.

Starting in the division, let’s talk about the two real threats to the Yankees’ division and championship title hopes, the Blue Jays and Rays. For years, the Rays were applauded for incredible organizational depth up the middle. They had a myriad of prospects making their way up at the same time, with Wander Franco leading the charge. Today, that depth is more in question. Vidal Bruján isn’t looking like the offensive prospect the Rays hoped he would be, and Taylor Walls is simply not a good hitter right now. They will rely on Wander Franco, who I’m personally still highly confident in, and Brandon Lowe, who is coming off a rough season health-wise. These two might be the best hitters on the Rays’ roster, but they will need to prove their health is intact.

The Jays are in a slightly different position. Bo Bichette’s end of season run made him look like an elite hitter, but I’m not sure how much more time he has left at shortstop, even at his young age. Either way, he can still flat out rake. That was always his carrying tool. At second, the options are less definitive. Santiago Espinal and Whit Merrifield will get time here, but neither is an above average hitter. I actually like the Yankees’ depth here much more than the Jays. The two prospects plus Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu could potentially give the Yankees four above average hitters who can be at least average defenders. That’s something neither the Rays nor Jays could say despite having star shortstops.

Where the Yankees cannot compete with up the middle is with the damn Houston Astros. Their two guys, in José Altuve and Jeremy Peña, aren’t going anywhere. If they combined for anywhere between eight to ten WAR each of the next few seasons, I wouldn’t be surprised. To compete here, the Yankees need Anthony Volpe to be a sure thing 125-130 wRC+ hitter and Peraza to be an above average defender. That can’t be ruled out right away, but that is a big ask of two rookies. DJ and Gleyber provide leeway, but it will still all ride on the two prospects helping right away.

Moving to the NL East, there are the Mets, Phillies, and Braves. Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil, Trea Turner and Bryson Stott, then Ozzie Albies and Vaughn Grissom. The Lindor/McNeil combination has an argument to be the best in all of baseball, so no point in comparing there. The Mets have a sure thing here, and the Yankees can’t say the same. The Phillies opted for acquiring the best shortstop in the game for only money because they were well aware they had no depth there, while the Braves just let their star shortstop go. Each team has a different story but this division further shows you how the Yankees’ situation is unique. No team quite has the options the Yankees do in terms of quantity, albeit other teams have much higher floors while relying on two sure thing players. It’s nice to have stars.

If Yankees fans had it their way, the Padres’ route would be the preferred choice. This is basically a “Just grab the All-Stars, whatever the cost” strategy. It’s resulted in middle infield depth that includes Xander Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth and Ha-seong Kim. Two of those players won’t see much time in the middle infield, but that doesn’t take away from this major league depth in case one or two of the stars goes down.

What’s more interesting to me, is the Los Angeles Dodgers. This feels like the best comparison to the Yankees. The team’s floor is built off star power at a few positions and great pitching. The rest relies on a combination of young prospects and aging veterans who still have some bat left in them. But focusing on the middle infield, they plan to roll out a combination of Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor, Michael Busch, and Miguel Vargas.

Taylor feels weird in this combination of names. The other three are young hitters all with impressive hitting skills but with unclear defensive futures. Lux will take over at short, but some question his long-term fit there. Busch and Vargas’ success in the minors was offensively focused, and neither is a sure thing to handle second base, especially Busch. It’s not exactly like the Yankees’ situation, but the combination of impressive tools to go along with question marks is something very familiar to Cashman and Co. It could go wrong, but it could also go very right, and depending on your confidence in player development, the youth movement could be enticing.

The four man combination, plus IKF of course, could play out in many directions. If Josh Donaldson wasn’t here, maybe it’d be easier to just slot one of these guys in at third base, but as it stands now, it’s Donaldson’s job to lose. Most teams wouldn’t mind this depth the Yankees have created in their organization, but it creates a bit of a logjam that muddies the outlook for 2023.

If Volpe and Peraza are both ready to hit the ground running by late May, how do you play all these players? I really do not know! It would sure be nice to have the Mets’ or Astros’ situations, but that isn’t reality. Instead, this team has a lot to decide on with this weird combination of depth. The team we see in April could be very different from the team we see in July because of this logjam. Let’s just let it all play out.