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Exploring the idea of Oswald Peraza, Yankees leadoff hitter

Peraza’s name has been at the top of the order for back-to-back nights, and it makes perfect sense.

New York Yankees v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Yankees have cycled through several different leadoff hitters throughout 2023, but Gleyber Torres has been used the most at 29 times. He found himself in that slot for the first there games of the second half in Colorado, too. Torres has done a good job there, with a 117 wRC+ as the first batter in the order this year. Overall, the second baseman is slashing .263/.332/.422 with a 110 wRC+ in 395 trips to the plate.

Yet prospect Oswald Peraza, who has been with the Yankees following Josh Donaldson’s potential season-ending calf injury, could be a slightly better option for the leadoff spot.

Ideally, Torres would be a better fit in the middle of the lineup with his power and good contact skills. He rarely strikes out (14.3-percent rate) and now has 14 home runs after going deep last night, so if there is another good fit for the leadoff spot, Gleyber would be better deployed somewhere between second and fourth every night while Aaron Judge is out.

In addition to all that, Torres’ plate discipline has eroded a bit after an encouraging start: he opened the season with a 17/16 BB/K in the first month, then was at 8/14 in May, 8/15 in June and is 4/12 so far in July. He still has a solid eye, just not as good as we thought a few months ago.

That brings us to Peraza. The talented infielder, as you might recall, went 1-for-1 with an RBI and a steal on Sunday while entering the game against the Rockies as a pinch-runner (albeit with a baserunning blunder, too). Then on Monday, he also went 1-for-1, but this time with four walks and 34 pitches seen in five plate appearances, or 6.8 per PA.

We are not going to make conclusive arguments for just one game (particularly since last night didn’t go as well), but at the very least, Peraza seems determined to work the count and it’s continued a better trend in July.

Peraza’s Triple-A performance was solid: he hit .261/.352/.495 with 12 home runs, 11 stolen bases and a 108 wRC+. Except for the power, that looks a lot like a line Gleyber would have, so why does Peraza make sense at the leadoff spot if his 9.3-percent walk rate in Scranton ranked 114th out of 151 International League hitters with 200 plate appearances? Because he has made significant strides, that’s why.

For the season as a whole in Triple-A, Peraza’s 32.3 OZ-Swing% (percentage of swings at pitches outside of the strike zone) ranked 348th out of 439 hitters with at least 500 pitches seen, according to Statcast data from Prospects Live. However, in nine July games, he’s posted a much better 26.5-percent OZ-Swing that brought that figure down to what it was when he was promoted, and he posted a 20-percent walk rate in that abbreviated span.

As a major leaguer, Peraza owns a 20.2 percent O-Swing% and a 12.9-percent walk rate in 101 plate appearances between last year and the 2023 season. It’s not enough playing time to proclaim him the King of the Walk, but it’s definitely something.

Peraza does seem more eager to swing only at pitches he thinks he can inflict damage on. He is taking more pitches, and while that became evident for the average observer on Monday against Griffin Canning and the Angels, it has been going on for a little while since his days in the minors.

Couple Peraza’s improved plate discipline with his solid power for an infielder and his impressive speed and willingness to steal bases, and you have the ingredients for a solid leadoff man.

Peraza just needs to have the trust of the manager and the front office. The organization has been very patient with his teammate Anthony Volpe, and as a fellow top prospect, Peraza deserves an extended look.

Unless otherwise noted, all cited statistics are active as of the beginning of play on Tuesday, July 18th.