DUNEDIN, Fla. — Facing queries concerning when he would know the winner of the Yankees’ shortstop competition, Aaron Boone answered with another question.
“When do rosters have to be submitted?” the manager said Saturday.
It is unlikely the Yankees actually will wait until the morning of March 30, hours before the first pitch on Opening Day, to reveal the identity of their starting shortstop, but Boone’s message was clear: This could take a while.
As the Yankees world waits and debates about Anthony Volpe versus Oswald Peraza, Volpe impressed again — this time particularly on the basepaths — during a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark.
Volpe, hitting leadoff, worked a walk and then worked into the head of Toronto righty Bowden Francis.
Volpe danced off first base and forced Francis to throw over twice — meaning another unsuccessful pick-off attempt would move Volpe to second.
Volpe took a large lead.
With Francis focused on the runner on first, Aaron Judge clobbered a double off the left-field wall.
“When you’ve got a guy out there on first able to kind of distract the pitcher from trying to execute a pitch, especially with our lineup, the middle of our lineup, it’s only going to pay dividends for us,” Judge said of Volpe. “It’s just going to give us more opportunities for pitches over the plate.”
Boone laughed when asked about Volpe’s habit of annoying pitchers.
As a minor leaguer last season, Volpe stole 50 total bases with the rules that MLB is now installing.
“It’s great. He’s just such a good all-around player,” Boone said of Volpe, who went 1-for-3 with a walk and hiked his spring OPS to .990. “You can tell he really loves just all the little things within the game.”
As the external debates over the starting shortstop rage, the Yankees’ debate has not officially begun.
The Yankees will hold a sizable meeting “probably early next week,” Boone said, to hash out roster uncertainties.
Many departments will be represented, including ownership, with Hal Steinbrenner expected to be present.
There are other roster arguments to be had, including fourth outfielder and the last members of the bullpen, but the shortstop battle has been captivating.
Boone said it could go until the very end of camp — and even beyond that.
The Grapefruit League ends March 27, and the Yankees then will head to Washington for an exhibition against the Nationals on March 28.
Boone said they likely will bring extra players for that game, suggesting Peraza and Volpe could still be with the big league club and awaiting a decision.
The manager said he does not yet know what he prefers.
“I feel really good about both players,” Boone said. “That in a way makes it harder.”
Volpe looked right at home at the top of the lineup Saturday, though he likely would not be found there too often this season.
DJ LeMahieu, who did not play, will usually be the leadoff hitter.
“His future lies in hitting at the top or the middle of the order,” Boone said of Volpe. “He controls the strike zone. Obviously a really good hitter. In his case, a really good base runner and base stealer.”
If Volpe holds the edge with his bat, Peraza is seen as the better defender at shortstop.
The 22-year-old from Venezuela, who did not play Saturday, normally has manned shortstop when paired with Volpe, who has shifted over to second base.
Volpe has put a lot of work into his arm strength and has a quick release, but Peraza has the stronger arm.
“They both have instincts. They both have good hands, good feet,” said Yankees infield coach Travis Chapman, who previously had served as the organization’s minor league infield coordinator.
“They’re both able to make the tough, separator-type plays that some other shortstops can’t make, and they go about it in a little different ways. It’s a lot of fun watching them play together.”
They both have surged ahead of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who jumped back into the infield and played second base Saturday, a day after he began his experiment of playing center field.
A theoretical tie likely would go to Peraza, who already is on the 40-man roster.
If the Yankees opt for Volpe, the 21-year-old New Jerseyan, they would have to clear space on the 40-man roster.
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