Versatile Rookie Infielders Give Yankees Infield Depth

During a rain delay on Sunday, a video of Anthony Volpe played on Yankee Stadium’s Jumbotron for the few hundred fans waiting for the game to start.

Volpe, a shortstop, is the Yankees’ top prospect. He has been thriving at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre since being promoted on Sept. 2, batting .379 with two home runs over seven games. The hot start has left some wondering just how much seasoning Volpe, 21, still needs before stepping into his assumed role as the Yankees’ shortstop of the future.

For now, however, the injury-plagued Yankees have plenty of depth in the infield. Third baseman Josh Donaldson recently missed a few games on the paternity list, first baseman Anthony Rizzo is on the injured list as a result of headaches and the versatile DJ LeMahieu finally landed on the I.L. after trying to work through a toe injury. But the team has no shortage of options thanks to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera.

Kiner-Falefa, who had been the team’s starting shortstop, has spent some time at third base — where he won a Gold Glove for Texas in 2020. Peraza, who like Volpe is a top shortstop prospect, has been holding that position down. And Cabrera, who has become a fixture on highlight reels thanks to his defense, has filled a super utility role, spending time at second base, third base, shortstop and right field — and he’s learning first base.

Even the veteran Marwin Gonzalez has been helpful despite a light bat, playing every position except center field and catcher this season.

LeMahieu, who plays second, third and first when healthy, noted “that’s the way the game’s going,” when asked about New York’s versatility. The Yankees can move pieces around, both to accommodate for injuries and to exploit matchups. Kiner-Falefa, meanwhile, said that moving around the diamond can be “tough, but at the same time, it gives you an opportunity. It gives you an opportunity to play more, it gives you at-bats.”

Neither Peraza nor Cabrera has excelled with the bat since being called up, though Cabrera hit his first home run in Sunday’s 10-4 win over Tampa Bay, which pushed the Yankees’ dwindling division lead back up to five and a half games. But even with modest offensive statistics thus far, Cabrera and Peraza have injected some energy into the Yankees at a time when they weren’t playing well.

“Both of them seemed very, very prepared coming up,” LeMahieu said. “Aggressive, loose, no fear. It’s hard to do when you just get called up. They’ve both added a lot to our team already, so it’s been great watching them play.”

Cabrera’s ability to play just about any position — and play it well — has earned him plenty of opportunities since he debuted on Aug. 17. After moving around the infield shortly after his call-up, he has been in right field exclusively since Aug. 29, a stretch that overlaps with outfielder Andrew Benintendi landing on the I.L. with a wrist injury.

“I’m just trying to learn the most possible,” said Cabrera, who had never played the outfield or first base before this season. “When they need me on first base, I will be ready.”

While Cabrera’s extreme adaptability could help him secure a future in the Bronx, Peraza’s status as a natural shortstop has spurred short- and long-term questions about his fit thanks to the looming question of what will happen when Volpe is ready.

Much to the chagrin of some Yankees fans, Peraza has yet to overtake Kiner-Falefa on the shortstop depth chart, even though the latter joined the Yankees as a stopgap. Peraza has spent only 111 professional innings away from short, including 10 games at second this season in the minors. But the Yankees already have two established second basemen in LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, a two-time All-Star who homered twice on Sunday.

At some point there will be an odd man (or two) out, and Torres’s name came up in rumors before and after this season’s Aug. 2 trading deadline. LeMahieu, who hopes to return during the Yankees’ next homestand, is signed though 2026.

Kiner-Falefa sees the writing on the wall in terms of his role as the team’s starting shortstop. He has had a difficult season at the plate — though he has delivered a few big hits lately — and has drawn the ire of some fans for his defense, even as many advanced metrics indicate he is well above average in the field. He’s not a free agent until 2024, which means the Yankees could keep him in a utility role next season even if Volpe or Peraza were ready to take over shortstop on a full-time basis.

If so, Kiner-Falefa says he would be fine in that role, provided the Yankees are succeeding.

“My thing is to just help the team win,” Kiner-Falefa said. “If those guys come up, and they play shortstop and they make the team better, it is what it is. I’m here to help the team win, so whatever they need me to do, as long as we have a winning vision, it makes it a lot easier to move around and be that kind of player. I think we just need to win and it makes everything a lot easier.”