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Anthony Volpe warming up before a game in Dunedin (Photo by John Brophy / Pinstriped Prospects)

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Under Pressure: Bombers Pass on Big-Ticket Shopping Places Enormous Expectations on Prospects

The free-agent class of star-studded shortstops that hit the market this past winter had been hyped and heralded for more than a few years. It was a chance for a slew of contenders to add a franchise altering star at one of the games premiere positions. By now you know all of the names – Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story…yada, yada, yada. You also know by now that the Yankees opted to sit out on that generational shortstop sweepstakes. Instead of committing a lengthy term and hundreds of millions of dollars, the Bombers brass is doubling down on their stable of young shortstops down on the farm; mainly Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza.

From a fans perspective, it is certainly fair to feel frustration and criticize the franchise for not being more aggressive in adding one of those studs. Afterall, adding any of them would undoubtedly improve the teams chances of winning a championship immediately, which is obviously all that matters when talking about Yankees culture. Was it a purely financial decision? Maybe. But that should not be surprising – the Yankees have acted more opportunistically than aggressively in free-agency for the better part of a decade now. The game has gone in a different direction now and it certainly feels like the Bombers are committed to having a good blend of homegrown talent mixed with supplemented free-agents as needed.

Yankees shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe speaks to the media (John Brophy/Pinstriped Prospects)

The contracts of Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole are among the biggest in the game and Aaron Judge is staring down free-agency barring a contract extension agreement prior to opening day in just over two weeks. Why didn’t they just break the bank because they’re the Yankees? Well, they haven’t done that in a long time and I don’t expect them to return to that Evil Empire-type spending anytime soon. Beyond the obvious financial commitment though, is what the Yankees believe that they have in-house.

A year ago, Anthony Volpe was among the better prospects in the system, but by no means was he a sure bet to become a big league regular among the eyes of scouts and talent evaluators around the game. The 20-year old 2019 first-rounder was praised more for his moxie and intelligence than he was for a specific elite tool when he was taken out Delbarton. As many of the Yankees 2021 breakout prospects did, Volpe got to work during the lost 2020 season and got stronger and worked on approach and swing decisions and it showed once he took the field for his first full-season last year. His approach is quite advanced for a hitter so young; after slashing .294/.423/.604 to go with 27 homers and 33 stolen bases between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley, the stock of Volpe has risen to rival the few elite chips in all of baseball. The New Jersey native is almost certainly ticketed to open at Double-A Somerset, just 15 minutes away from where he grew up.

While Volpe was tearing up the lower levels of the system, Peraza was doing essentially the same thing in the upper levels. The 21-year old Venezuelan-native is slightly ahead of Volpe in terms of polish and development but certainly seems to fly under the radar when it comes to comparing the two. I can recall covering Peraza on the Somerset beat last season and I thought to myself so many times, “this guy is the least talked about top-100 prospect that I have ever covered.” After opening the year at HV, Peraza spent most of his season with the Patriots before getting a brief look at Triple-A once the Double-A season had concluded. In all, he slashed .297/.356/.477 with 18 homers and 38 swiped bags of his own. He carries himself in a calm and cool demeanor and just goes out and continues to impress by making difficult plays look so very routine. Peraza should open 2022 with the RailRiders and I would almost certainly expect him to hit the Bronx before the regular season ends.

Oswald Peraza. Photo by Chris Jones.

Defensively, both Volpe and Peraza are considered plus-above average defenders at the position and the Yankees have not really entertained the idea of moving either player away from that spot. Eventually, once both max out their development and they fulfill the promise that they are believed to have, the organization is going to have to decide whether to move one of them to second or third, or include one in a trade for another asset. Peraza seems to have the build and the arm to make the shift over to third base fairly easily and that could end up being the long term fit for him should he remain with the Yankees.

So, that all sounds good. Two really, really good prospects that should contribute and have all-star potential within the next year, or two, should all go well. The biggest thing about that though, the frustrations of the fanbase in the aftermath of the organization passing on the free-agent group is going to put immediate pressure on both of those players to be the guy right away. I personally believe the Yankees went in the right direction because I am a believer in both players, but even if that is true, it does not necessarily mean that it is going to happen immediately.

I have covered the baseball landscape in New York for over a decade now and I know that the fan base is passionate and wants to win. Good enough just isn’t good enough here. Two things can absolutely be true in this situation. 1.) The Yankees love the potential of their assets and are confident in their ceiling. They didn’t go out of their way to place any added pressure on Volpe or Peraza. 2.) The optics of punting on the free-agent class have absolutely added pressure for both of those guys to succeed the second that they hit the big leagues. Baseball is tough as Hell and it’s absolutely a game of failure. It’s hard enough to develop, learn and stick around for a few seasons and be a serviceable major league player. Imagine being compared to Derek Jeter before ever touching Double-A and the most passionate fan base in sports is expecting you to show up in short order and surpass the prime-production of the most revered shortstops in the game. Maybe that happens, maybe it doesn’t. But make no mistake, the pressure is already on.

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