Anthony Volpe completely missed on two sliders, both of them in the zone.
If there was a knock on his spring performance, it’s that the relative talent level he was facing on the mound was right about Double-A pitching. That OPS has hovered around 1.000, but he hadn’t seen much major league caliber opposition. Friday morning he was facing a bona fide MLB rotation arm in Pablo López, who made Volpe look like a Double-A hitter in that first at-bat.
That second at-bat though, Volpe was hunting sliders in the zone. He got one on the first pitch and put it into the seats, his third home run of the season. Everyone in the dugout has access to iPads and hitting coaches and can be told what adjustments to make, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to make that kind of adjustment within two innings. Doing that, switching things up on the fly, is what separates the All-Star-type players from the guys filling out the bottom of the lineup card.
When Volpe was first drafted, he was a skinny kid with an arms-only swing and had a good attitude, which reeked of the Yankees’ first-round whiffs from the last decade. I wasn’t thrilled with the pick, and folks who knew much more about the MLB Draft than me were also left scratching their heads.
Almost four years later that pick, that potential reach, has been vindicated. Volpe’s become as cerebral a hitter as anyone you’ll find in the minors, spending a pandemic rebuilding his swing from the ground up. His raw hitting potential, paired with that ability to adjust in-game, is what fully convinced me that he should be the Yankees’ Opening Day starter — even over a strong candidate in fellow prospect Oswald Peraza, who Volpe leapfrogged.
We all know what the tools are that Volpe brings to the lineup, in particular his speed. He’s stolen five bags in spring after taking 50 in the 2022 minor league season. With new rules on pickoff attempts and larger bases, in tandem with the Yankees reorganization around speed and baserunning ability in the minors seems to make him the perfect power-speed combo that the club just hasn’t had in a long time.
I’m becoming convinced that when it comes to lineup construction, diversity in approach is what matters more than conventional lineup slots, protection, or things like that. When you look at a team like the Astros, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman all have different plans at the plate, different approaches to doing damage, and that’s what makes that lineup so hard to navigate. When the Yankees are at their best, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge can replicate that, but too often the rest of the lineup is all trying to do the same thing.
I’m not sure the approaches of the Yankee lineup is diverse enough in approach to be difficult for opposing pitchers. Pitching is so good in the modern game that you have to build in ways to complicate their game plan, and the power potential Volpe presents, plus the speed and aggression when he gets on base, is one of those complications that the lineup has been missing.
I don’t particularly care about the questions surrounding his shortstop ability. Is he an MLB shortstop five years from now? Probably not, but I think when you combine all of the things he brings to an MLB roster, you can live with a slightly-less-than-good shortstop. Trea Turner, Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, and Wander Franco have all earned commitments to be shortstops despite not being the pre-eminent defenders at the position, because of the total product they offer. Anthony Volpe is in the same mold, and now, he’ll get his chance.
We thought, when the last crop of good Yankee prospects were coming up in 2016-17, that the championship window was just opening. Six years later, they’re still looking for that title. Judge and Gerrit Cole and LeMahieu are only getting older. The Yankees are less a “win now” team than a “win always” team, which is how they were going to justify keeping Volpe down if they had. The thing about “win always”, though, is it starts with winning. I think there’s nobody in the minor league system that can help the Yankees win as much as Anthony Volpe, and it’s nice to see the Yankees apparently agree.
Get your Yankees Opening Day tickets through StubHub to see Volpe’s MLB debut this Thursday.