If you could pick the position in your minor league system that would be the strongest, shortstop would be a wise choice. Players who sign or get drafted as shortstops usually have the athleticism to move to other spots, and considering it takes a special defensive player to stick at short for the long term, the Yankees are fortunate to have several players who are both suited to move up the ladder as shortstops and equipped with the requisite skills to be successful at second or third base. The Yankees have enviable depth at short, it’s likely the strongest group of players they have at any position, and their best players are on the verge of the major leagues.
Who is the best prospect?
Anthony Volpe is universally regarded as the top prospect in the Yankees’ organization (and one of baseball’s best writ large), so he is the best shortstop prospect by default. It’s not that he hasn’t earned those plaudits. Any organization would love to have a player with Volpe’s work ethic, attitude, energy, and ambition, and those star-making traits have lifted him into the light in which he is now viewed, but he is a future big-leaguer because they complement his baseball skills. He can do everything well in all phases of the game, and he has shown the ability to make adjustments as he faces better competition. Oswald Peraza beat him to The Show, but Volpe is not far behind. His debut in New York will be arguably the most anticipated in recent memory, surpassing those of Gary Sánchez, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres.
Who will make it to the big leagues?
Oswald Peraza has already put some big-league time under his belt, including a start in the ALCS, and the likelihood is that he will be given the opportunity to be the Yankees’ shortstop in 2023. He could falter in spring training or get beaten out for the spot, but the Yankees would love to have his strong defensive tools and reputation take their place in the Bronx, and his offensive game has done nothing but improve throughout his journey up the development ladder. Peraza is the strongest defender at shortstop in the Yankees’ organization, and while it would be asking a lot of him to come up and play as an above-average regular right away on a team with championship aspirations, he has the talent to do it.
The Yankees have big plans for Volpe, and, while they may prefer that he gets some time at Scranton early this year, he could push his way into the major league lineup in 2023. He’s been told the competition for shortstop is open this spring. The presence of Torres, Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa gives the Yankees a lot of depth in the big leagues, but an injury or a trade could open the door for Volpe quicker than anticipated.
Trey Sweeney has the tools to reach the big leagues at some point, though his timetable is unclear and, considering he’s a Yankee prospect, he may get to the majors in another uniform.
Who could click in 2023?
Roderick Arias received the majority of the Yankees’ international bonus pool in 2022, and MLB Pipeline considered him the top player in the entire class. The Dominican teenager has been praised for his all-around tool set, and the Yankees hope he can maintain his physical skills and improve upon them as he progresses. At 6-foot-2 and 178 pounds, Arias is an exciting athlete at shortstop with attributes you would create in a video game avatar. He’s a switch-hitter with plus power, excellent exit velocities for his age, and ability to hit for average from both sides of the plate. On defense, has all the traits of an everyday shortstop, and some scouts have put a top-of-the-scale 80 on his throwing arm. Arias is the kind of player you dream about, and he likely will make his stateside debut in the Florida Complex League this June.
A look at some defensive work by Yankees SS prospect Roderick Arias, via his Instagram. pic.twitter.com/DwCehEmqB6— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) February 3, 2022
Who could move up the prospect list?
A good performance from Roderick Arias this year likely pushes him into the top ten prospects of the Yankees’ organization by September.
Sweeney has a first-round pedigree and reached Double-A in his first full professional season, but as the various prospect lists have come out, they seem to have left him out of the Yankees’ top ten. That matters little in both the long and short-term. Because Sweeney will likely return to Somerset for a full season in 2023, he is in a good position in that Peraza and Volpe are in front of him pushing into the big leagues and no one is forcing the issue behind him in Low-A. Sweeney needs time to adjust and develop, and he will have it. It is possible that the Yankees give him this season at short while they see how Peraza and Volpe work out, and then start moving him around for some time at third and second next year to increase his versatility and provide him with opportunities for promotion. He has the hands and arm to play third, and if he matures as hoped, his left-handed power bat could provide great value from any position in the infield.
Who needs to have a good 2023?
Alexander Vargas signed for $2.5 million later in the 2018 international signing period after the Yankees had put together additional bonus money through trades. Wiry, quick, and athletic, Vargas had the look of an electric player on the defensive side and a switch-hitting prospect who could be a force on offense once he gained some strength.
Those who watched Vargas in this past season with the Tampa Tarpons saw a player who still looked very raw years after his signing. Vargas has fallen off the prospect map just a year after FanGraphs considered him a top-15 prospect in the Yankees’ system and before that a potential top-100 prospect in the game. He just hasn’t progressed, and the numbers in 2022 were as concerning as the eye test. A wRC+ of 68, a walk rate under 10 percent and a strikeout rate bumping 30 percent does not make the resume of a prospect, and unless Vargas improves the quality of his at-bats and swings in 2023, he will risk losing playing time to less-heralded players. It is as possible that he repeats Low-A as it is that he moves up to Hudson Valley, so spring training will be an important time for him.
Hans Montero is only 19 years old, so it seems a little early to say he needs to have a good year, but considering the depth at shortstop and the competition within the organization, he could be in danger of becoming an afterthought if he doesn’t start hitting. Montero received the largest bonus the Yankees handed out during the 2021 international signing period, but he did not have the hype that preceded Jasson Domínguez or Roderick Arias. He was known as a well-rounded player as an amateur, with some certainty about his chances of playing in the middle of an infield, but he has struggled mightily on the offensive side as a professional. In two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Montero owns a slash line of .193/.341/.256 and a strikeout rate around 30 percent. That’s not going to cut it, and perhaps more damning are his reportedly-low exit velocities, which indicate a hitter who will continue to struggle. Montero needs to show some improvement in 2023 to stay on the radar, and it will be interesting to see where he is assigned for the season. A third year in the DSL will mean the organization is losing faith in him.
Who could move to shortstop?
No one is going to move to shortstop, but there will be those who move off of it. If Peraza wins the shortstop job in the big leagues, Volpe could move to second. Trey Sweeney could profile well at third base, and Keiner Delgado, who played the majority of his games at short in the Dominican Summer League last year, could become a second baseman if he continues hitting and Arias progresses along with him.
Who deserves a mention?
Dayro Perez might have the inside track to the lion’s share of shortstop innings in Tampa this coming season. His 123 wRC+ comes with some thump in his bat and he has the quickness to be an asset on the bases, but he struck out almost a third of the time in 2022 while playing in the complex league. The 21-year-old Perez has the athleticism and tools on defense to become a prospect, and a solid 2023 in which he puts the ball in play more frequently would greatly improve his outlook.
Brenny Escanio didn’t exactly light the complex league on fire last summer, but he had a solid showing that gives him a chance to get a significant amount of playing time up the middle at Low-A Tampa in 2023. Escanio, 20, played most of his games at short in 2022, and as he continues to mature and add strength he could become a sleeper in the lower minors. He’s a switch-hitter who makes contact and will need to put up some numbers to be competitive against a talented group of Yankee shortstops near his age.
Enmanuel Tejeda was not a heralded name in last year’s international signing class, but he tore it up in his age-17 season in the Dominican Summer League. The right-handed hitter had a slash line of .289/.463/.493, walked almost 22 percent of the time, and struck out at a rate of only 13 percent. It is important to not overrate a performance in a rookie league, but his debut was impressive enough to put him on the map. Tejeda will come stateside in 2023 and share time in the middle infield with Roderick Arias and Keiner Delgado in the complex league.
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