It has been a tough week to be a Red Sox fan. Heck, it’s been a tough winter to be a Red Sox fan. With Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski both gone, Mookie Betts traded (eventually, probably) and an ongoing investigation into potential sign stealing, finding reasons to be excited about the upcoming season hasn’t been easy. Usually by this time of year, there has been at least one big free agent signing or the beginning of “best shape of their career” articles to get the blood pumping. The Red Sox haven’t been so fortunate, partially by their own design. However, that doesn’t mean there are no reasons to look forward to Opening Day. I suppose this article is a cousin of that best shape of their career genre because one of the players that has me the most stoked for the 2020 season is José Peraza.
How is it that on a roster that still features J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, Peraza is who I’m keeping my eye on? The quick and easy answer is he’s a new player. Never underestimate what that can mean. But there are obviously more nuanced and significant reasons beyond the fact that Peraza has never worn a Red Sox uniform before. I’ve got four to share.
Former elite prospect who is still fairly young
Peraza isn’t some journeyman who washed up onshore in Boston. At 25-years-old, Peraza is still far from the twilight of his career based on age alone. That’s promising for a player with his kind of prospect pedigree. He was a top 10 prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system as recently as 2016. Although he got a handful of at-bats the year before while with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he really got a taste of MLB competition in that 2016 campaign and the results were strong. He slashed .324/.352/.411 with a 102 wRC+ while stealing 21 bases. He did all that during his age 22 season, sparking excitement about his future.
Things didn’t work out like the Reds may have wanted from there, which is why he’s with the Red Sox now. He posted marks of 61, 96 and 62 in wRC+ over the next three years, respectively. That is obviously not what you want to see and isn’t strong evidence in his favor. However, its too early to call Peraza a complete bust. Some players bloom later than others. Take Jackie Bradley Jr. for example. He was also a touted prospect but he couldn’t get his batting average above the Mendoza line in his first two seasons. Then he made the All-Star game in 2016 during his age 26 season. Obviously he hasn’t maintained that level, but Bradley’s path shows that brilliance can still be found after a tough career start. In case you were wondering, this is only Peraza’s age-26 season.
Even if he doesn’t start challenging for batting titles, Peraza brings something to the table that the Red Sox will need: positional flexibility. Unless they resign Brock Holt, it would be great to have someone who can fit in all around the infield and even in the outfield. That holds true even if they do sign Holt. Peraza will probably make most of his appearances at second base this season since the Red Sox don’t have a true starter at the position. That should be just fine since Peraza has logged 161 games at second base, making it his second most frequently played position behind shortstop. He has also played more than 50 games in the outfield and even slotted in at third base a few times.
The Red Sox are not a team that steals a lot of bases. That isn’t unique to them as the proliferation of more three true outcome baseball has made stealing bases a less desirable strategy. However, you can count me among those who loves stolen bases. I’ll take a steal of third over a home run any day. Even as he’s struggled to get on base the last few seasons, Peraza has still been a threat on the base paths. He had at least 20 steals in three-straight seasons between 2016 and 2018 and has produced 7.4 base running runs during his career. We don’t know what the Red Sox’s approach will be to stealing bases since they don’t have a manager at the present, but Peraza could be one of the few guys on the team who makes running the bases exciting.
This final category runs parallel with Peraza’s positional flexibility. Although he is far from a Gold Glove caliber infielder, his glove work is solid, particularly at second base. He has an ultimate zone rating of 2.8 at that post during his career. In comparison, Holt has compiled a mark of 0.3 at second base. Peraza’s work at shortstop and in the outfield are a bit less promising, but you can chalk up some of the second part to a small sample size and it not being his natural position. As for his work at shortstop, Peraza only has a UZR of -3.9 in his career but he turned in his best defensive season of his career at shortstop last season, with a 1.5 UZR and three defensive runs saved.