Yankees' prospect gains coming up long at short
Domínguez, 20, backing up hype train in taste of Grapefruit League
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees have a fascinating shortstop decision on their hands. You could say it’s the most interesting one since you-know-who retired in 2014. New York is battling going with a veteran presence in Isiah Kiner-Falefa or a prospect in Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza.
It’s still too early to call, but the fact that the Yanks have not one but two Top 100 talents as Major League options speaks to the successful development of both.
“Both those guys have grown defensively, offensively, physically in the weight room, mentally, just handling the failure that comes with playing at a high level,” said vice president of player development Kevin Reese, “and they've responded really well to it.”
It’s a stirring debate of long-term ceiling vs. present Major League readiness.
Ranked as MLB's No. 5 overall prospect, Volpe is coming off the Minors’ first 20-homer, 50-steal season since Andruw Jones 28 years ago, having hit 21 homers and stolen 50 bags between Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That’s made even more amazing given that he had just a .203 average and .684 OPS through the first two months of the 2022 campaign.
He’s looked like his usual self this spring too -- lifting balls with authority on contact, showing a willingness to steal bases, making heady defensive plays on the dirt.
“I think the biggest adjustment that he made was not making an adjustment,” Reese said. “His performance at some of the things that we look at was maybe unlucky, maybe very similar to what he had done previously. There were some people who wanted to panic. Fortunately, he was calm throughout, the hitting department was calm throughout. They thought this wasn't much different than what he was doing. It just wasn’t getting the results. So we didn't really change anything.”
For his part, Peraza (No. 52) is the one of the pair who saw Major League action in 2022, playing 18 games for New York down the stretch before appearing three more times in the American League Championship Series. He is considered the more naturally gifted fielder, earning plus grades for his glovework and throwing ability, and Reese noted that he gained strength as last season wore on, leading to a career-high 19 homers at Triple-A.
Returning superstar Aaron Judge’s comments on Volpe, in particular, raised some eyebrows last week when he said, “My thing has always been, if you’re the best player, it shouldn’t matter your age. You should be up helping the New York Yankees." You could easily translate that over to the 22-year-old Peraza as well.
The day may come when the pair form a double-play partnership or left side of the infield in the Bronx. Those are all discussions for the future. Over at the Yanks’ Minor League complex in Tampa, the present discussions are all about excitement.
“I was just over there [on the MLB side] talking to some of the veteran guys, and they’re saying these guys fit right in,” Reese said. “I think, from a player development standpoint, when you hear that, you want to go give knuckles to people that have played a part in it because it's a huge undertaking. That's what you're hoping for when they get there.”
Camp standout: Jasson Domínguez
The hype train for Domínguez has been chugging ever since he signed for $5.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in July 2019, and this spring, it pulled into Major League camp for the first time. Now 20 years old, the switch-hitting outfielder ended his 2022 season on a hot note with three homers over a five-game postseason run at Double-A Somerset, only to cool off in the Arizona Fall League (.467 OPS in 20 games).
If early performance as a non-roster invitee is any indication for the Yankees' No. 2 prospect, that AFL run may have been strictly fatigue-based. Given the offseason to recharge, Domínguez has come flying out of the gate in Grapefruit League play, going 9-for-21 (.429) with more homers (four) than strikeouts (three) through his first 10 games, showing major flashes of his potential as a power hitter with an improving ability to control the strike zone.
Something to prove: Randy Vásquez
New York’s No. 14 prospect is headed into his second campaign on the 40-man roster, heightening the importance that he pushes for a Major League role in his age-24 season. The last time the right-hander appeared in a meaningful game, he spun eight no-hit innings for Somerset in the title-clinching game of the Eastern League postseason. His 93-95 mph fastball, 3,000-plus rpm curveball and sweeping slider receive above-average grades, but the quality of the arsenal wasn’t enough to push Vásquez into Triple-A for the first time in 2022. He finished with a 3.90 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 115 1/3 innings with Somerset.
If Vásquez is going to contribute meaningfully to the Major League club’s rotation depth in his second 40-man year, the organization will be watching one aspect of his game carefully.
“He'd have some outings here and there where not everything was clicking,” Reese said. “He’d have a tough first inning, and we need him to get back on track quicker and not let that compound into innings two, three, or whatever it might be.
“That being said, we see prospects that have great stuff that don't even sniff the big leagues or a 40-man spot because of those types of situations. [He needs to] continue to prepare himself and then get consistency once he’s out there every week.”
Breakout candidate: Spencer Jones
Can a first-round pick be considered a breakout player? What if we consider a breakout to be a move into the Top 100? That could certainly be in the cards for the former Vanderbilt outfielder.
After dealing with elbow issues earlier in his Commodores career, Jones was finally healthy and fully productive as a junior last spring, and he carried that performance to the Florida State League after signing, slashing .325/.411/.494 in 22 games while topping out with a 111.3 mph exit velocity.
His 6-foot-7 frame indicates that power should come at every stop in the Minors, but there are some concerns that his long swing will hurt his overall hit tool. If only New York knew how to develop extra-large outfielders …
“He doesn't seem to be a guy that's just swinging out of hand or just looking to do damage,” Reese said of the Yankees' No. 5 prospect. “He doesn't have to get too much behind it to get the exit velos up as someone that size. [Zone coverage] is something we're continuing to work on with everybody, but with him, so far so good.”