Yankees are betting big on young infielder to make an impact in 2024

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals, oswald peraza
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With the departure of Josh Donaldson leaving the third base position unoccupied, the Yankees are expected to transfer DJ LeMahieu to the hot corner full-time. LeMahieu enjoyed a much better second half of the 2023 season since hitting coach Dillon Lawson was released from his duties.

LeMahieu’s New Role

LeMahieu is still a solid offensive contributor, and he’s expected to serve as the team’s lead-off hitter to open the 2024 campaign. Defensively, he’s always been stout in multiple positions, but he showcased plenty of consistency at third base last year. Over 592.2 innings, DJ enjoyed a .994 fielding percentage with three defensive runs saved and three outs above average.

With LeMahieu filling a single position full-time instead of his usual infield utility role, the Yankees are expected to elevate Oswald Peraza into that supplementary position. Peraza will help stifle any injuries and fill in when need be, which is typically a regular occurrence as a team tries to mitigate fatigue.

Peraza’s Development With the Yankees

Peraza is still trying to determine his offensive identity. At 23 years old, Peraza played 52 games last year for the Yankees, hitting .191/.267/.272, including two homers and 14 RBIs, with a 26.2% strikeout rate and 6.8% walk rate. The problem with Peraza was his lack of consistency in getting reps, as the Yankees sent him back down to Triple-A on multiple occasions and sat him on the bench for days while he needed more opportunities to find a groove.

Fortunately, it seems as if the Yankees are finally ready to commit to Peraza as a regular player, even if it means as a utility piece. If anything were to happen at first base and Rizzo missed any time, LeMahieu would shift over to replace him, and Peraza would take over on the corner, so there are various defensive alignments the Yankees can utilize with their infielders.

Peraza has a few improvements to make, notably reducing his strikeout rate and making better contact. He only recorded a 28.5% hard-hit rate last season with a 4.1% barrel rate and 87.2 average exit velocity. He has plenty of power to get the ball out of the park; he just needs to make more contact with his barrel. He produced a 49.6% ground ball rate in 2023 and a 31.7% flyball rate. The hope would be for his flyball rate to increase, elevating the ball and putting it in the air. Ground balls can be detrimental to a team’s offense since they increase the probability of a double play.

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Defensive Flexibility and Upside

Defensively, though, Peraza has Gold Glove upside at multiple spots. He played 300 innings on the corner last year, hosting a .964 fielding percentage, including break-even advanced metrics. Considering he had never played third base before, it is quite impressive that he was able to hold his own, and the Yankees can feel confident handing over the position if they need LeMahieu at first base.

It is certainly a gamble elevating Peraza and hoping his offensive production takes a turn for the better. At the very least, they know they can get quality defense to supplement any losses to regular starters.