2 years ago

Oswald Peraza heard the rumors. Throughout the spring, there was speculation that the Yankees would sign one of the big-name free-agent shortstops on the market. There were rumblings that general manager Brian Cashman might make a trade for another big bat or pitching help that would likely mean packaging top Yankees prospects in the deal.

Neither scenario materialized as the 21-year-old Peraza remained in the Yankees’ system, eventually beginning this season with the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Seeing the Yankees’ faith made Peraza feel good.

“After they did that, it gave me a lot of confidence and a lot of value,” Peraza said, assisted by RailRiders defensive coach Raúl Dominguez. “I have to keep working because the Yankees think I can be the next guy in the big leagues.”

Over the past few years, Peraza has skyrocketed up the Minor League prospect rankings. He was recently tabbed as the No. 2 prospect in the organization and No. 55 in the entire sport by Baseball America. With the combination of powerful offense, silky-smooth defense and speed, it’s just a matter of time before he arrives in the Bronx.

Reaching the bigs is all he ever wanted growing up in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, the oldest child of Oswaldo and Yeisy Peraza. He has one brother, Yeider, and two sisters, Jiselle and Jeerlis.

“It was my dream to be a baseball player, always with the Yankees,” said Peraza, whose favorite player was Derek Jeter. “I always had Yankees stuff on my bedroom wall.”

To say he was happy when the Yankees signed him as an international free agent in July 2016 would be an understatement. 

“Signing with the Yankees was like a dream come true. I always wanted to be a Yankees player,” he said.

Venezuela has produced its share of standout Major Leaguers, including several Gold Glove–winning All-Star shortstops such as Dave Concepción, Ozzie Guillén and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio. One in particular who Peraza admired and tried to emulate — in some, but not all, regards — is Omar Vizquel.

“I liked the way that he played,” Peraza said. “But I didn’t want to be just like him. I know Vizquel didn’t have much power, and I do. I want to be a little different than Vizquel, but I want to be a good player like him.”

Peraza’s professional career began in 2017 with the Dominican Summer League Yankees, then he moved stateside to play for the Gulf Coast League Yankees West. In 58 combined games, he batted .282 with 13 doubles, three triples, 44 runs, 34 RBI, 23 walks and 13 stolen bases. 

Away from his family for the first time, the first two months of his career were hard. “But after the first two months, I adapted really quick because (playing baseball) is what I wanted to do,” he said. “That’s part of the life.”

In 2018, he spent the entire season in Rookie ball and batted .250 with three doubles, two triples, one home run, 11 RBI, 14 walks and eight stolen bases in 36 games. Then in 2019, he split time between short-season Single-A and Low-A. In 65 games combined, he batted .263 with six doubles, one triple, four home runs, 20 RBI and 23 stolen bases. 

“I’ve just tried to follow my routine and focus on my objectives and work really hard one-on-one with the coaches,” Peraza said of rising rapidly through the system.

In 2020, Peraza did not play a Minor League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and had difficulty staying in peak baseball shape.

“Since March, I didn’t do any baseball activity,” Peraza said. “I stayed in Miami for the rest of the year, and the only thing I had was the weight room in the hotel. Working out there was all I could do.”

Yet in 2021, he proved his development hadn’t stalled. The Yankees added him to the 40-man roster, and he came back strong, playing and dominating at three different levels. He began the season at High-A, where he batted .306 in 28 games with 10 doubles, five home runs, 20 runs, 16 RBI and 16 stolen bases. That earned him a promotion to Double-A last June, where in 79 games he batted .295 with 16 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs, 51 runs, 40 RBI, 23 walks and 20 stolen bases. He finished out the season at Triple-A in September and batted .286 with one home run, five runs, two RBI, two walks and two stolen bases in eight games.

His combined 138 hits and 38 stolen bases led all Yankees Minor Leaguers.

“When I started spring training, I was just trying to get in rhythm to get ready for the season,” Peraza said. “Everything went pretty well the whole season.”

RailRiders hitting coach Trevor Amicone admits being a bit awed by Peraza and what he has been able to accomplish at such a young age. Amicone has been especially pleased with Peraza’s ability to stay even-keeled and on top of the game plans.

“He is about as mature a 21-year-old as you can find, especially one playing at

Triple-A,” Amicone said. “He’s moved fairly quickly through the organization, and for him to be as mature as he’s been at this level is very impressive.”

As an example, Amicone cited the RailRiders’ fifth game of this season, at Syracuse. The team trailed by one run in the top of the ninth, but had the tying run at second base with two outs and Peraza batting.

“There was a 2-0 pitch that was definitely down, and it was called a strike,” Amicone said. “Most 21-year-olds, especially in that kind of moment, let the at-bat get away from them. But you could see him step out of the box and gather himself. It wasn’t like he didn’t care; he was not happy about (the call). But you saw him gather himself, you saw him take a breath and step back in. He didn’t get too big, he didn’t try to do too much. He then hit a very tough pitch very hard to tie the game in a big spot.

“That’s impressive for anybody. It’s especially impressive for a 21-year-old playing at Triple-A.”

Last season, in his first Triple-A game, Peraza hit a home run. In his first Triple-A at-bat this season, he hit another longball.

“The power for him is only going to get better,” Amicone said. “He shows a lot of things that make it pretty clear the ability to hit the ball far is just going to continue. His biggest strength is, he hits the ball incredibly hard and does it very consistently.”

Lino Diaz, the RailRiders’ defensive coach, was with the Cleveland organization from 2002 to 2012 and spent a lot of time working with Jhonny Peralta. Diaz said Peraza reminds him a lot of the three-time All-Star in his ability to position himself well and finish off plays.

Peraza is dependable and very good at making the routine plays, Diaz said. He has above-average arm strength and knows when to use it.

Among the things they are working on defensively are his range and what Diaz calls “separator plays” — the toughest ones to make. Even there, though, he is making progress.

In the team’s April 12 home opener, Peraza went to his left and made a sliding grab of a one-hop line drive up the middle, collected himself and threw to first base for the out.

Also in that game, with a runner at third base and one out, there was a pop-up in foul territory near the left-field line. Both Peraza and third baseman Miguel Andújar converged on it. When Andújar called for the ball, Peraza didn’t just back off and watch Andújar catch it. Instead, he had the instinct to run and cover the vacated third-base bag in case the runner strayed too far.

Like Amicone, Diaz also used the term “even-keeled” to describe Peraza.

“This time here (at Triple-A) will be good for him to mature a little bit and get some small details taken care of,” Diaz said. “But we’re excited about the way he handles the difficult, key moments of the game. He stays under control. I’m willing to say he actually enjoys those moments.”

If there are any aspects of Peraza’s game that need polishing, Amicone has no doubt they will get the necessary attention. He said Peraza is extremely teachable, humble and hard-working.

“He knows who he is as a hitter, he knows his swing and is very receptive to things and will do anything that he knows will bring value to who he is,” Amicone said. “As a 21-year-old playing at Triple-A for the New York Yankees organization, it takes a lot of humility to be as teachable as he is. He is an incredibly talented hitter who trains the right way. That combination is very rare, and he’s got it.”

Being such a highly ranked prospect and touted as possibly the Yankees’ shortstop of the future, Peraza could easily feel pressure to live up to that lofty billing. Yet Amicone said he doesn’t sense that Peraza is feeling any pressure. No expectations are greater than the ones he has for himself.

“He’s worried about living up to his expectations. That’s what he’s concerned with,” Amicone said. “That’s what drives his training, that’s what drives his work ethic. I have not seen one tiny indication at all that he is worried about what other people’s expectations are. He’s got his own expectations and has worked extremely hard to live up to those expectations.”

Of course, you can’t talk about Peraza without mentioning Anthony Volpe, the 21-year-old shortstop who is ranked as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect by Baseball America (10th overall) and began the season in Double-A. Peraza said he spoke to Volpe when he was sent down to Minor League camp during spring training and that they have a good relationship.

Amicone concurs. He sensed no animosity or rivalry between the two.

“They’re both great with everybody,” Amicone said. “They’re both such great kids and interact with each other extremely well. They’re both incredibly humble, they’re both great to be around, guys love being around both of them. They play the game with so much joy. They both have an extreme amount of fun playing the game that it’s magnetic. You want to be around them.

“They both know that the way they are training, the way that they’re continuing to develop on a daily basis, they both have expectations of themselves that are extremely high. As long as they continue to do what they’re doing, they will reach their own expectations and both will be ecstatic about it, whatever that turns out to be for each of them.”

So, what will it take for Peraza to make that final step and reach the Major Leagues?

Simple, Amicone said. Just keep doing what he has been doing at each level along the way.

“He’s an easy kid to root for and an easy kid to coach,” Amicone said. “It’s inevitable that he’s there (in the Major Leagues). We’re just going to do everything we can here to prepare him to succeed when he arrives.”

Peraza is excited for that day, whenever it comes.

“I feel good, I feel ready to go,” he said. “I just have to keep going to finish my season in the big leagues.”