During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Yankees position by position. We already covered first base and second base. Now, shortstop.
The starter: Gleyber Torres makes the shift full-time back to his natural position. The Yankees, for a variety of reasons, had little interest in bringing back Didi Gregorius, their shortstop of the previous five years (Gregorius, who had the unenviable task of replacing Derek Jeter and who by and large made it a seamless transition, signed a one-year deal with the Phillies).
The position is far from an unfamiliar one for Torres, 23. Besides coming up through the minors primarily at shortstop, Torres actually played more games there last season (77) than second base (65 games) because Gregorius missed the first two-plus months of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Still, there is likely to be a transition period, as evidenced by Torres’ defensive struggles there in spring training before baseball shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his first 10 exhibition games, he made five errors, most of the throwing variety, but those difficulties were not a major concern for the Yankees.
First, their overall belief was that the errors were simply a defensive slump and, bigger picture, representative of nothing more than a tiny sample size.
Second, there is the matter of Torres’ bat. After a terrific 2018 rookie season in which he hit .271 with an .820 OPS, 24 homers and 77 RBIs — which helped him finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting — he hit .278 with an .871 OPS, 38 homers and 90 RBIs last season. As long as Torres produces offensive numbers like that, few will talk about his fielding.
The other options: In terms of games played at shortstop last season for the Yankees, it read this way: Gregorius (80), Torres (77), Thairo Estrada (niine), Tyler Wade (four) and Troy Tulowitzki (four).
If something were to happen to Torres and the options to replace him were strictly internal, first up might well be Wade, 25. Though he has seen time at all three outfield positions and three infield positions (except first base) since making his big-league debut in 2017, he was drafted as a shortstop. Although the Yankees in 2017 started to move him around to convert him into a super-utility player, he has played most of his games in the minors there, including 2019 with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (79 games).
Estrada, 24, whom the Yankees like a lot, saw more action at second (17 games) when he made his big-league debut last season, but he also has played far more games at short in the minors (225) than any other position.
The future: Because of the defensive flexibility they’ve shown when given opportunities in the big leagues, Wade and Estrada likely wouldn’t be considered long-term solutions at the position. The closest to the majors as a pure shortstop is Kyle Holder, 25, the organization’s first-round pick in the 2015 draft. Holder, who has consistently impressed rival scouts in the minors with his glove, started last season with high Class A Tampa but quickly advanced to Double-A Trenton and hit .265 with a .742 OPS, nine homers and 25 doubles in 112 games. His 10 errors concerned no one, and before the sport was shuttered March 13, he made flashy play after flashy play, impressing more than a few big-league scouts seeing him for the first time.
Looking much further down the line, names to watch include Oswald Peraza, a 19-year-old who impressed opposing team talent evaluators last season with Class A Charleston (he was picked in the international draft by the Yankees in July 2016), and Anthony Volpe, 18, the club’s first-round pick in last year’s draft out of the Delbarton School in New Jersey.