As the clock struck zero and the New York Yankees fell to the rival Boston Red Sox in the 2021 American League Wild Card game, the number one priority was clear to general manager Brian Cashman and the rest of the New York brass: find a new Yankees shortstop. After three straight seasons of manning the spot where Derek Jeter played less than a decade ago, it was evident that Gleyber Torres could not handle regularly starting at short, posting a -10 DRS and a -9 OAA in 2021 and being moved from shortstop for the light-hitting Andrew Velazquez in the Wild Card game.
It’s now been 532 days since Hunter Renfroe caught Torres’ fly ball and ended New York’s season, and the shortstop position still remains unsolidified in the Bronx, despite a very strong 2023 outlook. There appear to be three options to start at the Yankees shortstop position in 2023, so let’s take a look at them.
The Yankees shortstop in 2023 could be…
The Veteran: Isiah Kiner-Falefa
After that fateful loss in Boston, Brian Cashman had his choice of all the shortstop free agents available. Players like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, and Marcus Semien were all high-profile free agents that would have been a splash as the Yankees shortstop. Cashman went with the light-hitting Kiner-Falefa instead, trading the beloved Gio Urshela and stalwart catcher Gary Sanchez to the Minnesota Twins for IKF and Josh Donaldson.
The underwhelming return from that trade has led to a loud section of Yankee fans begging Kiner-Falefa to leave New York since midseason last year. Kiner-Falefa has not been the best for the Yanks, but the hate he receives is overblown. In 2022, he hit .261/.314/.327 with an 85 wRC+, but his real problem was defense. Kiner-Falefa has excellent range to both sides, but he struggles with routine plays hit right at him. He ranked fifth in MLB in errors with 17 and went for a below-average -2 OAA, though DRS painted him in a more positive light.
Despite his deficiencies, he was one of New York’s most clutch players in 2022. IKF hit for an absurd .424/.485/.525 split in high-leverage situations with a 194 wRC+, which is 94% above the league average. He can still deliver a clutch hit when needed, and his value also lies in the fact that he can slot almost anywhere on the field, spending time at short, third base (where he won a gold glove), catcher, second, and in the outfield this spring. Kiner-Falefa doesn’t seem like the solution for the Yankees shortstop in 2023, but he should be a very valuable utility man if New York decides to keep him.
The Unknown: Anthony Volpe
A Yankee fan’s dream. The justification for choosing Kiner-Falefa instead of that stacked 2021-22 offseason crop of shortstops was that he would serve as a bridge to New York’s top prospect Volpe. The 2019 first-round pick has wowed talent evaluators since his recovery from mononucleosis in 2020, and projects to have 60-grade hitting and power tools in the pros.
Volpe’s been terrific in the minors, winning MLB Pipeline’s Hitting Prospect of the Year in 2021 and following that up by becoming the first minor leaguer to record 20 homers and 50 steals since Andruw Jones in 1995. His incredible output led to a 2023 spring training call-up, where he’s continued to turn heads. Volpe has gone for a .297/.422/.568 slash line, good for a .990 OPS, and leading many fans across Yankees Universe to call for him to start Opening Day as the Yankees shortstop.
However, it seems unlikely he’ll be the Opening Day starter for two reasons. First, Volpe might not be ready yet. He’s only played 22 games at Triple-A, and while he’s starred in spring training, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to MLB stats. The first priority for New York has to be that Volpe fulfills his full potential, and coming up to the bigs too early might hurt his development.
Secondly, if the Yanks keep Volpe stashed in the minors, they could accrue another year of service time, giving them another year of control over prime Volpe and preventing him from hitting free agency for another year. Even if he doesn’t start the season in the Bronx, keep an eye out for Volpe down the stretch as the Yankees make another playoff push.
The Newbie: Oswald Peraza
Now for your 2022 ALCS Game 2 starter, and my pick to start the 2023 season as the Yankees shortstop. Peraza came on the scene near the end of 2022 as another option to replace Kiner-Falefa, but the Yankees’ number three prospect didn’t receive enough reps to solidify his spot at short for 2023. He impressed in his limited time as the Yankees shortstop, hitting .306/.404/.429 with a 146 wRC+, albeit in only 57 plate appearances.
Peraza projects as a 60-grade baserunner and fielder, with a 60-grade arm as well. If his hitting outperforms expectations and he develops into an above-average hitter, the shortstop job will certainly be his for the near future. In the limited time we saw from him last season, Peraza made several silky plays in the field while hitting for average.
The interesting dilemma that New York will have for the future is where to fit in Volpe and Peraza. Peraza seems to have the better glove at short, but Volpe’s bat may be too impactful to keep him out of the lineup. Assuming Peraza is the Yankees shortstop on Opening Day, the couple of months he will have until Volpe is called up will be his time to shine and prove that the spot is his for the near future, but Kiner-Falefa will be right on his tail battling for playing time.
Peraza’s impressive debut last year plus his prospect pedigree make him my choice to be the Yankees shortstop to start the year, but it will certainly be a three-way battle throughout 2023.
Main Image: Kim Klement-USA TODAY