Since the departure of Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees have had a rotating infield that has been unable to find its identity.
In 2017, it seemed the tandem of Miguel Andujar, Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, and Didi Gregorius would be a young infield that would last in lieu of a surprising playoff run after a rebuild in 2016. But all of their careers would fizzle out in the span of two years: Castro was dealt, Bird was released twice, Gregorius wasn’t resigned, and Andujar was DFA’d despite a promising rookie season.
The Yankees have also run through several infielders in the past six years, such as Luke Voit, Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela, Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, Rougned Odor, Marwin Gonzalez, and Josh Donaldson among others. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Anthony Rizzo, and DJ LeMahieu are currently the veteran infielders the Yankees have and have fielded mixed results at best in 2023.
2024 is shaping up to be a different year, as the failure of the 2023 season is encouraging the Yankees’ young talent to make the jump to the big leagues. Highlighting the 2024 Yankees could be one of the youngest infields they’ve had in years.
2024: A Season of New Beginnings
As the Yankees farm has developed over the years, there have been several prospects that have started to knock on the door of the bigs, finally breaking through in 2022 with the promotion of Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabera. At the beginning of the 2023 season, the Yankees promoted their No.1 prospect and preseason No.5 MLB prospect, Anthony Volpe, to be their franchise shortstop.
Since September of 2022, the Yankees have called up six top-ten prospects from their farm to play at the big league level, with more potential prospects on the way as the Yankees look to make a different approach to competing for the future.
Most recently, the additions of Jasson Domingez and Austin Wells call-ups in September of 2023 show that the Yankees are willing to give the young guys a chance so they can find a new “Baby Bombers” identity that they had in 2017.
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Anthony Volpe: The Shortstop of Tomorrow
While many critique Anthony Volpe’s lack of luster offensive production in his rookie season, Volpe still is the future of the New York Yankees. Volpe is slashing .210 /.289/.390, with an 88 wRC+ on the year, which is not what the Yankees wanted to see out of their #1 prospect in their organization. But Volpe’s numbers are skewed mainly due to a rough two and a half months; from April 1st to June 14th, Volpe had a 71 wRC+, batted under .200, and struck out more than 30% of the time. Since June 16th, Volpe has been slashing .231/.313/.425, with a 104 wRC+ and a strikeout percentage of 25.1%.
Volpe’s problems since Triple-A have been limiting strikeouts, with a 30% strikeout rate in 22 games in Triple-A and a 27.5% strikeout rate in 126 games in the big leagues. Volpe ranks 22nd in the league in strikeout percentage, and his swinging strike rate is the highest it’s been at any level. Volpe also doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard compared to the rest of the league, which puts him at a disadvantage.
With all of that said, Volpe is a positive WAR player, ranking third on the team in fWAR. Out of players that are 25 and under, Volpe has a higher WAR than Spencer Torkelson, Vlad Guerro Jr., and Triston Castas, all of whom have a higher wRC+ on the season.
Volpe’s defensive value is something the Yankees haven’t seen from a shortstop in a while. In 2023, Volpe has four outs above average, which is ranked in the 86th percentile in the MLB and is super valuable for the shortstop position.
With a full season behind him, the Yankees seemed to have made the right choice in bringing up their No. 1 prospect to start for the foreseeable future at shortstop.
Gleyber Torres: The Under-the-Radar MVP at Second Base
Something that has gone under the radar in a lackluster 2023 season is how Gleyber Torres has produced one of the best offensive seasons of his career.
Torres is slashing .271/.341/.461 on the season, with a 121 wRC+ as well as 2.8 fWAR. Torres really has picked it up since the All-Star break, slashing .299/.362/.546, a 148 wRC+, and 11 home runs. Out of all primary second basemen in that stretch, Torres is third behind Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve in wRC+.
What has made Torres much better this year than in years past is the remarkable improvement in his plate discipline, sporting a 14.3% strikeout rate, which ranks in the 90th percentile of in MLB. Torres’s walk rate has also flirted with double digits all season, along with strong zone-contact and outside-contact rates that show as an outlier in a heavy swing-and-miss team.
The Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu for six years, and 90 million dollars in the 2020-2021 offseason, and with Torres’s age and increased offensive production, a deal around that range or higher would be optimal.
Yankees Prospects at the corners
With the expiring contract of Anthony Rizzo, the regression of LeMahieu, and the release of Josh Donaldson, the corners of the infield are up in the air for the New York Yankees. It’s probable that they bring in a veteran guy like they always have to replace the production of their departures, but it is also a major possibility that they bring up the current talent they have.
The most obvious solution for third base is Oswald Peraza, a prospect who has been floating between Triple-A and the majors for over a year now. Peraza has not been good in the 100 plate appearances in 2023 at the MLB level, with a 40 wRC+, a slugging percentage under .200, and a batting average floating around .160. 100 plate appearances aren’t enough for a judgment call on his future, but it will be important to see how he performs for the rest of September and possibly the beginning of 2024 in order to see if he can really slot into third.
The Yankees have two other prospects that could slot in at third base. The more likely one is No. 9 Yankees prospect and 2021 first-round pick Trey Sweeney.
Sweeney is primarily a shortstop, but with Anthony Volpe’s slot solidified for the near future, the Yankees may need to find different options if they want to bring up Sweeny. One of which is giving him a shot at the third base job. He has a 115 wRC+ in 2023 in Double-A and could see a late-season promotion to Triple-A with the shuffling of prospects to the big leagues. Even if he stays put in 2023, Sweeney could make a September appearance in 2024 if the Yankees decide they want to give him a shot in the infield.
The Yankees also have two longshot prospects in Triple-A third-baseman Andrés Chaparro and No. 17 prospect Tyler Hardman, who could make a run for third base or a spot on the infield.
As for first base, the Yankees could also look at an internal promotion at first base, with the Yankees’ No. 23 prospect Ben Rice. Rice has been absolutely raking in his over 200 plate appearances in Double-A, with a 188 wRC+, .674 slugging percentage, and 15 home runs.
Rice is primarily a catching prospect, but he is also listed as a first baseman for the Yankees and could slot in for Rizzo and LeMahieu as their age catches up with them.