The Yankees are a team that’s likely to make the postseason by every projection system, but that number dwindles more and more as the season passes.
Not having Aaron Judge, the struggles of their top bats, and starting pitching inconsistencies raise massive concerns about whether the Yankees have it in them to make the postseason and change the outcome from years past. It’s looking to be a rather dry market for buyers, with teams having to get creative in order to improve their rosters, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “over” for the Yankees in the slightest.
With some of their best prospects in the system performing at a high level, it raises the question of whether the Yankees have the answer to some of their problems within. Baseball is an unpredictable game, and that’s what makes it so wonderful, but we can look at historical trends to find that these two players in their system could provide solutions to some of their issues.
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It’s Time to Buy-In on Oswald Peraza
One of the most questionable decisions the Yankees made in 2022 was to call up Oswald Peraza without giving him the opportunity to start full-time at shortstop while Isiah Kiner-Falefa struggled. In hindsight, the move only looks worse, and when we look at the data publicly available for Peraza, it’s evident that he’s been one of the Yankees’ most impressive prospects.
In Triple-A, he has a 131 wRC+ and 11 HRs in 32 games, and while he’s had a tough month of June, it was expected that he would hit a slump following an incredible month of May. He’s topped out at 112.1 MPH in terms of Max Exit Velocity, which would rank in the 80th Percentile among hitters.
Peraza’s an aggressive hitter, which leads to him having a poor walk rate, but his excellent contact skills against all pitches make up for that, and his game power is truly kicking in.
Peraza’s pulling over 48% of batted balls while elevating the ball, and his incredible speed allows him to beat out slow rollers and take extra bases as well. With eight steals in 10 attempts, Peraza’s an efficient base stealer who’s shown the tendency to be extremely aggressive when need be, and base running is once again something the Yankees struggle with.
The Yankees are 23rd in BsR, a base running metric that converts events such as taking an extra base (or not doing so), steals, and times threw out into run impact.
With a -3.4, the Yankees could use a more athletic squad that is better equipped to run the bases and create offense with their legs. Anthony Volpe has done a great job with this despite his offensive ineptitude with the bat, but Peraza provides the Yankees with more base running and potentially more offense with the bat.
Placing the pressure of restoring the offense on Oswald Peraza is unfair, and that’s not what I’m suggesting the Yankees do, but putting the right pieces in place to boost your offense is part of being a good front office.
It’s malpractice to allow one of your better prospects to stay in Triple-A when you clearly need the infield help, although I’m not entirely sure that it should come at 3B. For as miserable as a 98 wRC+ is, Josh Donaldson does have strong batted ball data and is whiffing less than the league average (27.1%), so it feels as if that 30% strikeout rate is due to come down a bit.
Lastly, Donaldson reached a new Max Exit Velocity with the Yankees at 112.0 MPH, and it feels like he’s still in the midst of finding his swing. He hasn’t been hitting in big spots, as evidenced by his -0.15 Win Probability Added since returning from the IL, but his 128 wRC+ and 62.5% Hard Hit rate are definitely encouraging.
It’s 100% possible that Donaldson doesn’t find any traction offensively, but projections seem to like him, and the expected stats are there. That being said, Peraza is the sensible replacement for Anthony Volpe, although they seem adamant about having him go through these growing pains at the Major League level.
However it’s going to happen, the Yankees need to look at Oswald Peraza as their future at the shortstop position. Volpe seems best suited for a second-base or third-base role, and Peraza’s one of the most talented defenders at his position.
Furthermore, the offensive production we’re seeing from him should translate beautifully to the Major League level, as according to BaGS+, a metric that takes into account not just results but batted ball data and swing decisions, Peraza scored a 172, which makes him one of the best hitters in all of Triple-A.
In fact, among all hitters in Triple-A, Peraza is 12th in BaGS+ and is showing off his ability to be a competent bat. The Yankees would be foolish to move him at the deadline, and I believe he could make a serious impact on their offense.
With that being said, it’ll come down to who on the Yankees struggles the most in the infield. Right now, that’s Anthony Volpe, but I believe that it’s unrealistic to ask the Yankees to demote him. Could it be Gleyber Torres? Maybe, his 110 wRC+ makes him hard to replace at the position but not impossible for Peraza to replicate, and his defense and baserunning are negatives.
Donaldson seems like the likeliest candidate, but as stated earlier, there are some signs of life in his bat, and I believe the Yankees want to see if he can tap into them before they ultimately move on from the 2015 MVP. Give it some time to see how the infield shakes out, but Oswald Peraza should be up at the deadline when the Yankees are ready to make decisions on who’s contributing at the Major League level and who isn’t.
Stop Holding Austin Wells Back
Something I’ve struggled with for a while is understanding why Austin Wells, who is clearly the Yankees’ most MLB-ready hitter outside of Peraza, is still in Double-A.
For some reason unknown to me, the Yankees’ #2 prospect behind Jasson Dominguez is yet to receive a promotion to Scranton so he can prepare to help the big league club.
Wells has a 134 wRC+ this season with Somerset as the Patriots look to capture their second straight first-half championship and clinch a spot in the Eastern League playoffs. Wells has cooled off from his insane start at Double-A this season, but his ability to work walks and generate damage contact in the air is enticing.
While I view Peraza as a 105-110 wRC+ bat if things go right, Wells has the ability to go north of a 125 wRC+ and give the Yankees 25-30 HR power with how his swing profiles for Yankee Stadium. He loves pulling the ball in the air, and 155 BaGS+ and .267 ISO thus far with the Patriots further confirm this for me.
Wells has a 13.2% BB% as well, showing off an incredible eye at the plate while continuing to post positive framing numbers as well. He’s someone who’s labeled as a liability behind the dish, but his +1.0 Framing Runs say the opposite.
Last season we saw Wells grade out as a strong defender as well, but it’s unlikely to expect the Yankees to make an in-season catching switch for a myriad of reasons.
First and foremost, Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino are first in all of baseball in FanGraphs Defensive Runs at the position and rank top 10 in the league in fWAR from their catchers. While Wells could serve as a third catcher, it’s hard to imagine that the Yankees would impose a new catcher on their pitchers to familiarize themselves with, especially since Wells was hurt for most of Spring Training.
That being said, I also believe that Wells could help the Yankees if he’s able to occasionally man a corner outfield spot and first base, as it would give the Yankees a lane to play him frequently and get him at-bats. Wells brings the Yankees a balanced offensive attack from the left-handed side, and for a team that’s near the bottom of the league in OBP, Wells’ disciplined approach would help plenty.
To me, Wells is someone the Yankees should view as a can’t-miss offensively, and while it could blow up in their face to have him skip Triple-A, the sheer amount of catchers they have blocking Wells shouldn’t halt his development.
It’s either send him to the Bronx or make room for him on the Scranton roster, as he’s done everything to deserve a promotion and should be rewarded with one. Steamer pegs him for a 96 wRC+, which seems counter-productive to my argument, but the 96 wRC+ comes for a prospect without any Triple-A experience, and projections are highly volatile for young players.
It’s more than possible that Wells isn’t ready for the Bronx, but similarly to Peraza, I believe we’ll have a clearer picture as we draw closer to the deadline, and an extra month to evaluate the Yankees at the big league level will serve as a chance for Wells to iron out his skills at the plate. Both players could serve to help the Yankees this season, and they might become integral pieces on a Yankee team that desperately needs them.