As we approach the midpoint of the MLB (and minor league baseball) season, the Yankees can firmly say that their best prospect, shortstop Anthony Volpe, is having an excellent season. That sounded a bit crazy in early May, but the 21-year-old kid has shown the ability to make adjustments, his power is returning, and he is an elite base-stealing threat with an ability to take walks and thrive against high-minors pitching. So, yes: so far, it has all been a resounding success.
Before the campaign started, and fueled by the fact the Yankees failed to sign one of the top five shortstops available via free agency (Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and Javier Báez), Volpe was being associated with some unfair expectations, like the possibility of reaching the majors in 2022 after not playing a single game at Double-A or above before this year. Maybe it was the sheer pressure of being a top Yankees prospect and the “shortstop of the future”, or maybe it was the jump from the low to the high-minors, but Volpe really struggled in the first few weeks of the season.
From his first game of the season to May 12th, Volpe slashed a poor .167/.291/.344 with four home runs, a .634 OPS, and a 25.6 percent strikeout rate. At least he was taking walks at a 12.8 percent clip, but that certainly wasn’t what the Yankees had in mind for him. His 77 wRC+ was very disappointing. But he is just too good not to adjust back. Since May 13th, Volpe has hit .287/.372/.500, with an .872 OPS, a 139 wRC+, seven round-trippers and 22 stolen bases. It took a few weeks, but he figured out Double-A pitching and is now one of the best players in the Eastern League while comfortably beating the average age there.
Volpe has been particularly impressive since the calendar turned to June, with a .299/.383/.538 slash line, a .922 OPS, and six home runs. His 153 wRC+ since that date is awfully impressive and tells us all we need to know about his offensive ceiling:
Speaking of offensive ceiling, that’s precisely what the Yankees’ current starting shortstop, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, lacks. With a .276/.325/.325 line, an 87 wRC+ and acceptable defense at the infield’s most important position, he has been exactly what the Yankees envisioned: a stopgap.
If the organization feels the urge to replace him, they should either go to the trade market or consider top prospect Oswald Peraza, who, like Volpe, is starting to figure things out, but at a higher level: Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
For the sake of Volpe’s development, he shouldn’t be rushed to the majors. If he continues to progress as nicely as he has in the last few weeks, perhaps he can find himself testing Triple-A pitching at some point in 2022, but the Yankees are smart enough to let his development, and not what may be happening at the MLB level, dictate how they handle the eighth-best prospect in the game according to the league’s latest July update.
For now, he has a fairly solid season line of .244/.342/.444, with 11 home runs, a .786 OPS, and a 116 wRC+. Considering the way he started, that’s awfully impressive.
Volpe has the potential to be a special player, but he should develop at his own pace. Things are going smoothly now, but he showed earlier in the season that it can take a little while for him to get used to a new level. It’s entirely normal, and it happens. Not every team can have a Juan Soto that barely plays in Double-A and comes to the majors to shine.
All things considered, Volpe’s 2022 season has gone exactly like the team planned, and that’s a fantastic development for the Yankees. If he keeps progressing like this, he could be an option to take over the shortstop position at some point next year.