The fact that Anthony Volpe topped every Yankees prospect list for the second winter in a row and ranks among the game’s top 10 prospects is more than enough to make him a major point of interest when spring training opens next week; after all, spring training is our main opportunity to get to watch the organization’s prospects on a daily basis. The 21-year-old from Watchung, NJ, however, will be under the spotlight even more than usual, as the Yankees have indicated that he will have a legitimate shot to compete alongside Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Oswald Peraza for the starting shortstop job.
That said, don’t expect to see Volpe in the Bronx when the Yankees open their season against the San Francisco Giants on March 30th. While it’s certainly not impossible, history and a roster crunch present major obstacles for the top prospect.
Five years ago, the Yankees entered spring training with one of their top prospects, a 21-year-old named Gleyber Torres, ready to compete for one of two open spots in the infield. At the time, he had just 23 games in Triple-A, where he slashed .309/.406/.457 before tearing his UCL sliding into home in June, but his high pedigree — he was the fifth-ranked prospect in baseball and top-ranked shortstop prospect — rendered him a favorite for a spot. Instead, the Yankees opted to open the season with Neil Walker as the starting second baseman, and when Brandon Drury hit the injured list, turned to Miguel Andújar; Torres would join him at the end of April after just 14 games of service-time manipulation in Scranton.
This year, Volpe finds himself in similar circumstances. He ended last year with a 22-game cameo in Scranton, during which time he slashed .251/.348/.472. This year, he enters as MLB’s No. 5 overall prospect, and depending on whether you consider Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson a shortstop or a third baseman, either the first or second shortstop overall. Unless disaster strikes, the Yankees are unlikely to bring in a Walker type this spring, but even so, history suggests that the team will wait until they’re 100-percent convinced he’s ready before calling him up.
And the reason the Yankees can take their time is the depth at the MLB level. Heading into spring training, the Yankees are already expected to carry five possible middle infielders: Torres, DJ LeMahieu, Oswald Peraza, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Oswaldo Cabrera. Add on a pair of corner infielders (Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo), four outfielders (Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Harrison Bader, Giancarlo Stanton), and two catchers (Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka), and there are already 13 position players in need of roster spots; unless the team decides to roll with a short bullpen, there’s simply no room at the moment.
Of course, with Brian Cashman, the unexpected is never out of the question; a last-minute trade to clear a path for Volpe would be a surprise, but wouldn’t come completely out of nowhere considering both Cashman’s background and the team’s high opinion of Volpe. Still, while it’s a fairly safe bet that we’ll see Volpe in the Bronx this year, there’s a good chance that won’t happen until injuries clear a path or if Volpe forces the issue with his performance in Scranton.