Kevin Reese, the Yankees newly-promoted VP of Player Development, became the latest team official to praise top prospect Anthony Volpe — and he finished it off by saying the 20-year-old will “hopefully make an impact in the big leagues soon.”
Just how “soon” remains to be seen and the Yankees could have a lot riding on it, considering the risk they would be taking by not signing a top free agent shortstop this offseason.
Outside of the organization, Volpe’s arrival in The Bronx is not expected before 2023.
Internally, though, the Yankees haven’t put a ceiling on how high Volpe could go this season, sources say, with their other highly-regarded shortstop prospect, Oswald Peraza, certainly on the radar.
According to some scouts, Volpe has developed not just into the Yankees’ top prospect, but if he continues to improve at the rate he showed in 2021, could be the best prospect in the sport by the end of the upcoming season.
They’ve also been impressed by what they’ve seen from Peraza, who finished last season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
And while the Yankees are enthusiastic about the future of both players, it doesn’t necessarily help the Yankees’ attempt to win a World Series in 2022.
Despite the strides Volpe took in his first full professional season following his selection in the first round (29th overall) in the 2019 amateur draft, a battle with mononucleosis that sidelined him in that first pro season and ensuing cancellation of the 2020 minor league season due to COVID-19 has meant the 20-year-old still hasn’t played above High-A.
As Reese said Wednesday, Volpe is expected to begin this season at Double-A Somerset.
“Once you’re at Double-A, anything is possible,” one official said. “There’s no timeframe on him.”
“I love the guy,’’ said one AL scout who saw him play at both Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley last season. “Everyone loves the guy. But to think he has a realistic chance of seeing the majors next year, I think that’s a stretch.”
A half dozen other scouts agreed, eager to see what Volpe could do going forward, but highly skeptical the Yankees would promote him to the majors this year, regardless of how much growth he shows.
“You don’t want to rush someone like that,’’ another NL scout said of Volpe. “You have to let him develop at his pace. He’s shown an ability to adjust to new levels very quickly, but you don’t want to take a chance of risking all that because you want a quick fix at the major league level.”
And that’s where the Yankees are now — and have been since general manager Brian Cashman said following the season that they need a new shortstop after the failed Gleyber Torres experiment.
The GM used the word “urgency” in their pursuit of an upgrade at short, where Torres was finally replaced by Gio Urshela in the latter part of the season. Torres played better on both sides of the ball after being shifted to second base.
With a free agent class that included Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story, the Yankees seemed to be in prime position to add another star this offseason.
But prior to the MLB lockout in early December, the Yankees sat on the sidelines, not just in the shortstop market, but in all of free agency. Still, the fact there is an obvious need at the position and plenty of talent available, it was the organization’s lack of activity there that was most notable.
And Cashman and manager Aaron Boone acknowledged the presence of Volpe and Peraza played a role in how they approached the offseason.
Asked in November if he considered the future of Volpe and Peraza while searching for a new shortstop, Cashman said, “You have to. You know you have some guys who are on the come that you think highly of. … You always want to hold on to the best of the best if you can.”
“No question that factors in because we do feel in Peraza and Volpe we do have two long-time impact big-league players,’’ Boone said. “We’re excited about those players and believe they are real.”
Peraza, 21, shot up from High-A Hudson Valley to Scranton Wilkes-Barre last season. His glove has always impressed, with people inside and out of the Yankee organization confident his defense is major-league caliber right now. On offense, Peraza showed power for the first time as a pro last season, finishing with 18 homers across three levels.
But he’ll enter the season with just eight games played at the Triple-A level.
Could the Yankees use Ushela at short in the hopes Peraza is ready in the second half of the regular season — provided the season goes off close to on time after the lockout ends?
“I wouldn’t want to take that chance, either,’’ the AL scout said. “Peraza hit better than I thought he would last year, but he’s still not far removed from High-A.
“And I think we’re going to find out what the lack of a minor league season did to young players’ development not just last year, but this year, too. I don’t know if I’m ready to pencil him in as a guy I want to put in that kind of spot that soon.”
On a similar note, Volpe likely could have been “knocking on the door” of the majors if the 2020 minor league season hadn’t been wiped out. But if he starts the season at Double-A, a late-season callup isn’t out of the question, according to sources.
The Yankees could answer these questions after the lockout by signing one of the remaining premier free agents, Correa or Story, or going after a stopgap option, like Andrelton Simmons or Jose Iglesias.
Potential trade targets would include Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Rangers, now that Texas landed both Seager and Semien this offseason.
Former Met Amed Rosario might be available from Cleveland, as could Nicky Lopez from the Royals, with Kansas City seeing their own top prospect, Bobby Witt Jr.- close to contributing.
“Is Volpe their starting shortstop in ‘23?” another scout wondered. “They could move him to second or third, but he’s coming quick. Could they move Peraza this offseason in a package for something else? Maybe.
“They’re in a good spot with both of them. I just don’t know if I see either of them on a playoff team in 2022, but it won’t be too long.”