Perhaps you’ve heard this story before. Kid born in New Jersey, lifelong Yankee fan, plays shortstop, draws national attention as a draft prospect, is taken in the first round out of high school by the Yankees, gains recognition for his mental makeup and his all-around baseball skills. That is Derek Jeter’s story, and we know how it ends. It is also part of the Anthony Volpe story, and that one is just beginning.
It seems inappropriate and maybe even blasphemous to bring up Jeter’s name in relation to Volpe, and this is not a suggestion that Volpe is about to embark on a Hall of Fame career. Volpe and Jeter are different athletes and aesthetically dissimilar players. Where the comparison may be apt is in something intangible. Will Warren, a teammate and fellow top prospect, may have put it best in an interview with Randy Miller of NJ.com. On Volpe: “He’s the best player I’ve ever played with. When the Derek Jeter documentary came out in the middle of this season, we watched it and were like, ‘Dang, this is crazy. This is who we’re playing with!’” This may be irresponsible to claim, but in the way Jeter, Don Mattingly, and Aaron Judge have the “IT” factor that draws the adoration of fans and the admiration of teammates, Volpe has something special about him.
Volpe is not a physical specimen. He’s not going to draw your eye with his stature or athleticism. He’ll catch your attention with his style of play. If you’ve coached before, Volpe is your dream of a player. He will stand out for his energy, the way he moves and talks on defense, his intensity in the batter’s box, and the knack he has for the moment. He does everything like it’s very important. He leaves the impression, from a distance, that he is all about winning a baseball game. When you watch him in action, even for a short while, you think of the word ballplayer.
While the raves about Volpe come for his baseball IQ, instincts, and work ethic, let’s not forget he’s a prospect because he has major league tools. He consistently gets above-average grades as a right-handed hitter, which could have been anticipated when he was drafted, but now he also receives equal grades for his power, and that was in question when he entered professional baseball. Volpe took advantage of the pandemic shutdown to get stronger and work on his swing, and the results were extraordinary. His monster 2021 season, split between Tampa and Hudson Valley, saw him put up a line of .294/.423/.604 with 27 homers. That slugging percentage came with more than half his hits going for extra bases.
You may have heard some say Volpe scuffled out of the gate at Double-A Somerset in 2022, but if you live in the northeast you understand why anyone would have struggled to hit in April. The weather was miserably cold and it seemed to rain nearly every day, and when you are trying to adjust to a new level as a hitter, those are the last conditions you want to experience. Once it warmed up, so did Volpe. His best months came in June and July, where he hit 10 home runs with an OPS north of .900. He was still hitting the ball hard after a promotion to Scranton when the cold returned in late September.
Volpe’s speed also rates as above average, and he has put it to good use in stealing 33 and 50 bases the last two seasons, respectively. The Yankees have put an emphasis on base stealing in the development system, and, though Volpe is not a burner, his instincts, aptitude, and aggressiveness may push him into the upper tier of baserunners once he reaches the majors.
His elite work ethic and desire for greatness have impacted all aspects of his game, and that clearly includes his defense. One of the knocks on Volpe was a suspect throwing arm, so in the offseason before 2022 he went to the state-of-the-art Wake Forest throwing lab for help. They taught him to be more efficient with his arm path and worked with him to mechanically improve what he was already doing well. Volpe came out of the winter with a noticeably-improved throwing arm, to go with his quick feet, hands, and release, and saw the concerns about his ability to consistently make the throws from short disappear. In an interview with Lindsey Adler of The Athletic, Wake Forest pitching coach Corey Muscara echoed what so many others have noticed about Volpe. “Where he’s head and shoulders above everyone else is in the way he thinks about the game, the instincts, and his ability to learn and grow,” said Muscara.
Volpe is universally regarded as a top-20 prospect in all of baseball. MLB Pipeline recently named him the top shortstop prospect in the minors. Keith Law of The Athletic, who can be rightfully stingy with praise, wrote that Volpe is “almost certainly the reason the Yankees haven’t gone after one of the big shortstop free agents, and I think they’re right. He’s going to be a star, and very soon at that.”
It is easy to envision Volpe as a good player in the major leagues, but there are, of course, many things yet to be determined about his near future. He will likely begin the year at shortstop in Triple-A Scranton, though Brian Cashman informed him he will be given an opportunity to win a job with the Yankees in spring training. Volpe doesn’t need to be protected on the 40-man roster until after the 2023 season, but he could force himself onto it sooner if he declares himself to be the best option for the big league club.
If the Yankees had their way, they would probably love if Oswald Peraza established himself at shortstop, considering he is the superior defender, and Volpe reached the majors as a second baseman. That is the ideal outcome for the franchise going forward, but plans rarely have a way of working out so smoothly, and it would be wise to at least temper enthusiasm about what is to come for Volpe, who is still only 21. We don’t know when he becomes a major league player, what position he’ll play when he gets there, or how good he will end up being. What we do know is that Volpe has spent the last two years turning doubters into believers, and while cynicism is prudent when it comes to making predictions on the futures of baseball players, Anthony Volpe hasn’t given us any reason to be cynical.
Pinstripe Alley’s Top 10 Prospects:
1. Anthony Volpe, SS
2. Oswald Peraza, SS
3. Jasson Domínguez, OF
4. Austin Wells, C
5. Spencer Jones, OF
6. Everson Pereira, OF
7. Trey Sweeney, SS
8. Will Warren, RHP
9. Clayton Beeter, RHP
10. Jhony Brito, RHP
Bonus: Best of the Rest
State of the System Series: