When the Yankees announced that they were awarding the major league starting shortstop job based on spring training performance, Oswald Peraza had to like his chances. He had already impressed the team in his 18-game cameo in September 2022, slashing .306/.404/.429 with a 147 wRC+ in 57 plate appearances.
The combination of his seniority over fellow top prospect Anthony Volpe and Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s woeful performance as stopgap a year prior led many of us to believe that it would be Peraza’s job to lose in spring. Unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what happened, with Volpe’s red-hot performances that spring leapfrogging him over his teammate to win the shortstop competition, relegating Peraza to another year trying to earn a job on the major league roster.
2023 Statistics: 52 games, 191 PA, .191/.267/.272, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 53 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration (arbitration eligible in 2027)
2023 was Peraza’s chance to make the jump from Triple-A and carve out a permanent role for himself on the major league roster. Instead, he looked overmatched facing big league pitching and wound up riding the Scranton shuttle multiple times before finally being handed regular MLB game time with the Yankees out of the playoff picture and with Josh Donaldson no longer taking up space on the roster. To his credit, Peraza got to work in the minors after being surpassed by Volpe, turning in a 117 wRC+ in the two-and-a-half months from his initial demotion in early May to his next call-up in mid-July, but those results immediately dried up back in the majors.
His 53 wRC+ was fourth-worst among the 24 players to register a plate appearance for the Yankees in 2023. The biggest issue was that he simply could not catch up to the fastball — his -7 Statcast Run Value against the four-seamer was 27th-worst among 580 major league hitters with at least 10 PAs. His -9 swing/take runs in the heart of the strikes zone show that pitchers realized they could attack him over the middle of the plate without fear of being punished.
That being said, there were some positive strides Peraza took. He increased his average exit velocity and max exit velocity by six mph while almost doubling his average launch angle. Unfortunately, this harder-swinging approach brought a new set of consequences — namely, regression in the bat-to-ball department. He posted above-average walk and strikeout rates in 2022 but those both worsened significantly in 2023. In addition, his whiff rate almost doubled, his chase rate jumped five points, and his contact rate both in and out of the zone plummeted.
Peraza is one in a long line of recent Yankees position player prospects who have seen their hit tool degrade upon establishing in the majors. This of course is partially down to a massive jump in the quality of pitching they are facing, but nonetheless the trend is one of the most pressing issues the organization needs to address in the coming months. One of the main drivers of the Yankees being stuck in the position they find themselves — fringe contenders with a payroll clogged and bloated by hitters entering their mid-30s — is the inability for any of the top prospects not named Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres (we’ll reserve judgement on Volpe for now) to become everyday contributors.
After such a promising start to his big league career, there are now serious questions as to whether Peraza can become a regular major leaguer. The one thing going for him is his defense, which practically every modern model favors over teammate and 2023 AL Gold Glove winner at shortstop Anthony Volpe. Even though counting stats like DRS and OAA lag behind Volpe, this is purely due to the wide gap in innings at the position. On a rate basis, Peraza is the far superior defender, something which both UZR/150 (12.7 vs. Volpe’s 2.7) and the eye test back up. I’ve always said that Volpe strikes me as playing at the very limits of his capabilities on everything but the most routine groundballs whereas it looks second nature to Peraza.
There is still time for Peraza to prove that he deserves a full-time spot on the big league roster. The superb defense should prop up the floor of his value — now it’s on him to make the adjustments required of a major league hitter.