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Oswald Peraza at the plate

Bring up Oswald Peraza!

This article wasn’t supposed to be about Oswald Peraza. Initially, the topic was going to be potential shortstop upgrades on the trade market. To state it plainly, there are none.

Earlier this month, MLB Trade Rumors published their top 50 deadline trade candidates. Guess how many of the 50 can play shortstop? Zero! The closest is #30 Donovan Solano, a 34-year-old utility infielder who has only started 26 games at shortstop in his entire career — and none since 2020. They list José Iglesias as an honorable mention, but he really isn’t an upgrade over Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

Speaking of IKF, he has done exactly what the Yankees expected him to do this season — no more and no less. He’s hitting the softest possible .271 with zero home runs, a mediocre walk rate, and an abysmal .325 slugging percentage. His 87 OPS+ is consistent with his offensive output for his entire career. Defensively, the quick-twitch athleticism that made him a Gold Glove third baseman in 2020 only translates to average range at shortstop, while his throws have become more erratic over the course of the year. He’s a useful player, but he belongs in a bench role on a championship-caliber club.

When the Yankees eschewed the stacked free-agent class of shortstops and traded for IKF as a stopgap, the idea was that he would pass the baton to their outstanding prospects. Now is the time to see what Peraza can do at the MLB level.

Meet Oswald Peraza

The Yankees signed Oswald Peraza as an amateur out of Venezuela for $175,000 in 2016. Despite a lack of fanfare, he progressed steadily through the lowest levels of the minors as a teenager. Across five levels from 2017-2019, he only amassed five home runs in 710 plate appearances.

The pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, but he showed up in 2021 with much more physical maturity at age 21. He quickly proved that High-A Hudson Valley was no challenge for him, slashing .306/.386/.532 with 16 steals in 28 games before getting called up to Double-A Somerset. Even as the youngest player on the roster, he continued to dominate, hitting .295/.348/.466 over 79 games and earning an eight-game cup of coffee in Triple-A at the end of the year. All the while, he displayed superb defense at shortstop.

His 2021 performance caught the attention of national prospect rating services. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB Pipeline all ranked him between #55-61 overall on their 2022 preseason lists. He was sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wikes-Barre to begin the year but didn’t get off to a good start. This is understandable since he didn’t turn 22 until June 15 and is 4.5 years younger than the average player at the highest level of the minors. Through June 10, he was only hitting .189/.266/.281 in 199 plate appearances. However, he has since turned on the jets. Beginning on June 11, he’s been on a .355/.413/.587 tear.

His best tools have always been speed and defense, evident at every stop in his minor-league journey. MLB Pipeline gave a 60 grade (on the 20-80 scale) to each of his run, arm, and field tools. Baseball Prospectus called him, “a plus runner with a plus shortstop glove.” They also gave him an overall grade of 60 and called him a “first-division shortstop/occasional all-star.”

Other Options (or Lack Thereof)

As talented as Peraza may be, he isn’t the top shortstop prospect in the Yankees’ system. That would be 2019 first-round pick Anthony Volpe, who recently participated in the Futures Game. Baseball Prospectus recently ranked him the #5 overall prospect in baseball on their midseason top 50 list. He has a higher ceiling than Peraza offensively, even if he might not be as rangy on defense, but he’s more than a year younger and a level behind him. He’s putting up .253/.351/.461 numbers in Double-A this season, which is commendable, but not enough to necessitate skipping over Peraza and Triple-A.

Another shortstop prospect on the radar is the similarly-named Oswaldo Cabrera, who won the Double-A Northeast MVP in Somerset last season. He almost certainly has a future role in the majors, but it’s more likely as a utility infielder. Besides, he missed two months with an injury in Triple-A and only returned to action last week.

The only realistic options for the Yankees at shortstop this year are 1) continue with IKF, or 2) see what Oswald Peraza can do. Most likely, he wouldn’t become much of a hitter right away. He’ll strike out more than IKF and might even have a lower on-base percentage. However, he will bring more power potential into the lineup — not that it will be hard to beat IKF’s zero home runs — and convert more outs on defense. There isn’t much more for him to prove in the minors and a clear need in the majors. It’s time to see if he can be an upgrade at shortstop down the stretch and into the postseason.