The starting infield the New York Yankees inevitably trot out on Opening Day likely won’t be the preferred combination since they still have Josh Donaldson under contract and aren’t keen on wasting away his salary on the bench.
However, with how Anthony Volpe has been performing lately, manager Aaron Boone will have difficulty keeping him in the minor-league system. Volpe has been lights out across 28 at-bats this spring training, posting nine hits, six runs, two homers, two RBIs, and three stolen bases. He’s hitting .321 with a .424 OBP and 1.103 OPS.
At the end of the day, Volpe is a future starter, and the only player standing in front of him is Gleyber Torres at second base, who could inevitably end up being traded over the next few months.
Nonetheless, the Yankees are trying to maximize their dollar and maintain service time manipulation, so I wouldn’t expect to see Volpe on the OD roster despite the fact he has certainly earned it.
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Projecting the Yankees’ Opening Day starting infield:
1B: Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo was scratched over the weekend from the lineup, dealing with a “cranky” back issue that is considered chronic. Rizzo, who signed a two-year, $40 million extension with a 2025 club option this off-season, is to the team’s starting first baseman moving forward.
Rizzo hit .224 with a .338 OBP last season, including a career-high 32 homers and 75 RBIs. With the MLB banning the shift, expect to see Riz-dog collect more base hits and increase his on-base percentage. His Steamer Projections have him hitting .251 with a .348 OBP, 27 HRs, and 81 RBIs.
Rizzo is one of the team’s more consistent players, and the essential lefty slugger capitalizes on the short right porch in Yankee Stadium.
2B: Gleyber Torres
As mentioned before, Torres will likely have his starting job at second base cemented until the Yankees find a good time to move him and plug a position of weakness.
Torres is too good to have sitting on the bench, especially after a bounce-back 2022 season that saw him hit .257 with a .310 OBP, 24 homers, and 76 RBIs. Defensively, he had one of his most efficient seasons at second base, enjoying a 115 wRC+ and 2.7 WAR. However, he is the roadblock stopping Volpe from getting promoted, so the Bombers have no choice but to move him and elevate their No. 1 prospect eventually.
SS: Oswald Peraza
Peraza has the shortstop position all but locked up over Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Peraza offers gold glove level defense and hit .306 with a .404 OBP across 18 major league games last year. Those numbers are unreasonable to expect this upcoming campaign, especially having struggled a bit in spring training. Across 17 at-bats, Peraza is hitting .176 with a .333 OBP, so it might take him a bit of time to adjust to major league level pitching.
There is an argument that Volpe be could start at shortstop over Peraza, but the Yankees are willing to give him an opportunity right off the bat, considering he has a year of additional experience, and they need to see what he can offer now.
As stated, Peraza brings elite defense to the table, so at the very least, the Yankees know the shortstop position will be secured in that regard.
3B: Josh Donaldson
The preferable starter at third base would be DJ LeMahieu but expect DJ to be moving around the infield to supplement injuries and deficiencies. I expect to see plenty of DJ at first base, giving Rizzo rest to ensure his back stays healthy.
In the meantime, Josh Donaldson will again take over on the hot corner. He provided gold glove caliber defense in 2022, but expecting a similar performance might be optimistic. He posted career lows across-the-board offensively, though, hitting .222 with a .308 OBP, 15 homers, and 62 RBIs. This wasn’t the same Donaldson we saw with Minnesota, and at 37 years old, expecting him to elevate his game is certainly a risk.
LeMahieu is the better player right now, by far, and the only reason Donaldson would be starting any games is because the Yankees can’t stomach his salary.