The New York Yankees are replete with shortstops, even if they don’t necessarily have an elite one at the big-league level right now. Sound counterintuitive? It is. But the pecking order descends far deeper than Isiah Kiner-Falefa at the top level.
All offseason long, the Yankees’ energy communicated that they were seeking a stopgap option at shortstop for the next year or two, and based on the trade winds that blew from Texas to Minnesota, IKF might’ve been their top target all along.
It’s not hard to see why. They believed he could play a meaningful role on a roster packed with big boppers. Then, when the time was right, the lifelong Yankee fan could seamlessly transition into a utility role when Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza or Trey Sweeney (or Roderick Arias, or Alexander Vargas…) was ready for their big-league debut.
Under team control through 2023, Kiner-Falefa might not be the starter through the duration of his arbitration. But as his early struggles have created a bigger black hole than the Yankees might’ve anticipated, how long will his leash really be in 2022?
The man Aaron Boone calls “Kiner” finally had his first impact game Thursday night, plating three bizarre hits: a line drive to third he struck twice, sending Santiago Espinal into a twister, followed by a hard, deflected grounder and a well-placed bunt.
That outing didn’t change his long-term trajectory, though, and much-hyped Triple-A shortstop prospect Oswald Peraza has tightened the screws early from the upper level.
Could Oswald Peraza supplant Isiah Kiner-Falefa with Yankees?
Perhaps the Yankees were wise not to make him an Oakland A this offseason?
Volpe has struggled early at Double-A (who cares, but … it’s true), while Peraza has backslid somewhat since a flaming-hot start to the season. Regardless, his potential can’t be matched by Kiner-Falefa, even if he needs a bit of a longer runway at Triple-A.
Pinstripe Alley threw some cold water on a swift Peraza promotion with their comparison to Gleyber Torres’ elevation in late April 2018. Correctly so, they noted the pedigree of the two players was very different at the time; Peraza is a top-100 prospect (often in the front half of the countdown, but still), while Torres typically ranked fifth overall in most trusted publications.
Then again, Torres was coming off a UCL tear suffered in 2017 and didn’t have much Triple-A time himself to get established to the upper levels. Ultimately, he played in only 37 games total at the level.
Expect Peraza to double that, at least, unless something changes for him to force the issue.
In other words, the Yankees know exactly what they have in Kiner-Falefa, and they hope his contributions normalize a bit in the wake of Friday night’s “explosion” where he keyed the offense (hilarious, but true).
He wasn’t acquired as a Neil Walker-type one-week caretaker.
That said, he likely will surrender the team’s everyday starting shortstop job by Opening Day 2023, if not the end of this summer.