Yankees’ Oswald Peraza hopes to claim shortstop after idol Derek Jeter


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TAMPA — Derek Jeter walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse, and Oswald Peraza was no longer the Yankees’ starting shortstop.

He morphed back into a little kid in Venezuela who idolized the Yankees’ captain.

Peraza was too nervous to go up to shake the hand of Jeter, who was at the Stadium on Sept. 9 of last year so The Bronx fans could shower him with love and congratulate No. 2 on entering the Hall of Fame.

Peraza, meanwhile, was about to make his fifth ever start at shortstop in the majors.

He did not get a handshake, but he did manage to briefly meet his favorite player.

Nine years after Jeter last played shortstop for the Yankees, Peraza is trying to follow in his footsteps and vying for one of the most prestigious positions in sports.

Oswald Peraza hopes to follow in his hero Derek Jeter’s footsteps as the starting Yankees shortstop.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“I was a Yankees fan growing up,” Peraza said Sunday through interpreter Marlon Abreu. “That’s why this opportunity means so much. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me — to have an opportunity like this in front of me, within reach, it means a lot.

“Trying to do the best I can.”

Peraza was not at his best with the bat Sunday, when he went 0-for-3 in a 5-3 loss to the Orioles at Steinbrenner Field, but he again impressed in the field and remains a strong candidate to be the Opening Day shortstop.

Anthony Volpe, who sat Sunday, has pushed Peraza in a race that Isiah Kiner-Falefa appears to have lost.

Volpe, the New Jerseyan, has done some of everything in a torrid camp in which he has posted a .990 OPS in 45 plate appearances with two home runs, four doubles and four steals.

Derek Jeter, during a press conference at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees announced the re-signing of Aaron Judge and making him the captain of the team.
Derek Jeter, during a press conference at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees announced the re-signing of Aaron Judge and making him the captain of the team.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Peraza’s Grapefruit League season has been more understated, at least at bat.

The 22-year-old has posted a .746 OPS with a home run, two doubles and two steals in 34 plate appearances.

Peraza has been working with assistant hitting coach Casey Dykes on making sure he keeps his weight back and he believes he is finding his timing after a slow start.

“We were looking at video today, and I actually feel that I’m staying back on my weight and letting those pitches travel a little more and making a better swing on the ball,” Peraza said.

The shortstop horse race likely will go down to the very end of camp, with Yankees brass expected to meet this week to begin hashing out the Game 1 roster.

Volpe, a first-round pick out of Delbarton High School, might be the favorite of local Yankees fans, but Peraza might be the favorite in the competition.

Peraza, who came through the system a level ahead of Volpe, already is on the 40-man roster and made a successful debut last season, when he hit .306 in 18 games and looked solid in the field.

It is at shortstop where Peraza could best separate himself from Volpe.

Peraza’s arm is stronger, which he displayed in Sunday’s third inning.

Baltimore’s Daz Cameron, who has great speed, was on third base with one out, and the Yankees’ infield was positioned in.

Anthony Bemboom smashed a grounder to Peraza’s right, and he backhanded the ball and quickly threw to the plate.

“When Oswald first started coming home, I was like, ‘No,’ ” manager Aaron Boone said. “I didn’t think he was going to have a play.”

The throw was strong, and catcher Carlos Narvaez made a nice tag for the out.

Oswald Peraza fielding a ground hit by Atlanta Braves Marcell Ozuna, during the 1st inning.
Oswald Peraza fielding a ground hit by Atlanta Braves Marcell Ozuna.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“Excellent play,” said starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who initially was just happy Peraza fielded a 102.2 mph bullet. “Just to get an out on that is great.”

Peraza’s goal entering this spring was to break camp with the team, and the odds are long that the Yankees would enter the season with both top prospects on the roster.

Barring a trade of Gleyber Torres, it likely will be Volpe’s potential and hot spring bat pitted against Peraza’s defensive excellence and a solid offensive upside.

It is not lost on Peraza that being the Yankees’ everyday shortstop would come with extra responsibility and weight.

There are legacies at center field and at short, where Jeter and Phil Rizzuto roamed.

“There is some added pressure to it,” Peraza said. “But honestly after my experience last year … just being part of that clubhouse and the people around me made it enjoyable.”

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