TAMPA — Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the incumbent and Anthony Volpe, a New Jersey native and the Yankees organization’s No. 1 prospect, is the fan favorite.
But could Oswald Peraza, the wild card of the competition, emerge to become the team’s Opening Day shortstop?
Peraza said he is concentrating on the small things — his routine, his film work, everything that can help his sharp glove and bat.
“My goal is to make the team, so really focusing on the work that needs to be done,” Peraza said Thursday through interpreter Marlon Abreu.
In his third major league camp, Peraza acknowledged this one feels different. He was not high on the Yankees’ radar in 2020, when the young prospect was left out of the alternate site. He broke out in 2021, when he started at High-A and climbed all the way to Triple-A by season’s end.
Peraza was a well-regarded prospect last year, but the Yankees’ spring trade for Kiner-Falefa solidified their shortstop position. Now, Peraza sees that a strong spring could lead to a life-changing season.
“You have a legit opportunity right in front of you, reachable,” the 22-year-old said. “At the same time, the mentality and the work is the same.”
The mentality and the work paid off a season ago, when Peraza (a step ahead of Volpe, who began at Double-A Somerset) caught fire with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, starring from the middle of June until the end of August. He became an especially intriguing September call-up because Kiner-Falefa, who was faltering at the plate and in the field, had not nailed down shortstop.
Unlike many other prospects, Peraza hit right away. In his first 18 games and 57 plate appearances in the majors, he posted a .306/.404/.429 slash line, knocked a home run and stole two bases. Kiner-Falefa largely kept his job, but Peraza showed enough to get the ALCS Game 2 start.
“He really impressed me, getting to be around him, just with how he handled everything,” manager Aaron Boone said this week. “From the call-up to getting some sparing opportunities, taking advantage of those opportunities and then being ready when his number was called, even in the postseason. It was an encouraging year for him.”
And Peraza wants to build upon that encouraging year. In quickly adjusting to major league pitching, he credited preparation and the amount of video work he needed to absorb to feel prepared at the plate. When Peraza was asked which veterans were especially helpful, Gleyber Torres interjected from a few lockers over. The two Venezuelans could form a potentially potent double-play combination.
“Just being around these guys was a blessing,” Peraza said.
Peraza and Volpe have minor league options, so both face an uphill battle to steal the job from Kiner-Falefa. For Peraza, the key might be demonstrating a better knack for contact. He struck out 100 times (23.3 percent) and drew 34 walks at Triple-A last season. Boone said he would like the righty swinger to control the strike zone better.
“I think he’s got a chance to have a long career in this game as a frontline shortstop, no question,” the manager added.
How soon can that major league career resume? Peraza is trying not to worry about it.
“The front office will make a decision,” he said. “I just have to focus on my responsibility and know my job.”
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