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Anthony Volpe’s eagle eye

The rookie shortstop has shown control of the strike zone beyond his years — and scouting report.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Volpe has been the spark plug that the Yankees needed in front of Aaron Judge coming into 2023. Impressively, he’s found a way to be indispensable without immediate results at the plate, which can’t be guaranteed from a rookie anyway.

Any player who has mastery over the strike zone is extremely valuable. A rookie with a walk rate in the 96th percentile according to Statcast, though, is rare — Juan Soto rare. Yes, Volpe probably won’t sustain such an elite mark and it would be folly to place Soto-like expectations on him, but it’s still impressive for a 21-year-old in his first month in the majors (after only a couple weeks at Triple-A last year). The constant allusions to an ascendant Derek Jeter couldn’t have helped, either.

Comparisons aside, the fact is that Volpe has handled the pressure in a, well, Jeterian way so far. Specifically regarding his plate discipline, Volpe has a preternatural awareness of the outside part of the plate, and his zone swing percentage confirms the inside/outside split.

Volpe’s elevated swing percentage off the plate inside could simply be a result of his approach to be aggressive on the inner half. His ability to lay off outside pitches gives him the luxury of swinging away on inside pitches he can drive. This way, he can get his A-swing off more frequently and still work counts enough to draw walks.

Volpe walked twice in Thursday afternoon’s game against the Angels, and his at-bats exemplified his precocious approach. Analyzing pure takes might be a tad boring, but hitters indicate a lot about their approach when they let pitches go by.

The two pitches in question came from Patrick Sandoval to kick off Volpe’s first at-bat. Volpe laid off a first-pitch fastball knee-high on the outside corner. The pitch was borderline to begin with and dropped by Angels catcher Matt Thaiss, which should’ve made it ball one. Instead, Volpe fell behind 0-1.

Volpe took another similar fastball off the plate away, showing that mastery of his over the outer edge.

Later on 1-2, Sandoval attempted to employ the classic fastball-changeup sequence: spot up a fastball low and away to begin an at bat, and then go for the kill with a changeup in the same spot that ultimately fades out of the zone. Most young hitters would be full send on what looked like the same fastball initially and either whiff or pound it into the ground. Instead, Volpe sees it all the way and barely even twitches. He would go on to walk in this at bat and one other on the day.

A sort of controlled aggression is Volpe’s M.O. at the plate so far. He’s laying off pitches that don’t play to his strengths, validating the maturity scouts saw in him.

The usual early-season caveats and all that business applies — plate discipline through nineteen games is obviously subject to change as the league formulates a book on Volpe. In any case, Yankees fans like what they see in the leadoff spot.

Through his first 19 games, Anthony Volpe has assured Yankee fans that no moment will be too big for him. Aaron Judge put it best when he said, “You wouldn’t know he’s 21.” Strong words from the AL home run king. Gerrit Cole, meanwhile, said of Volpe “I think his preparation is elite. I think his talent is elite.” Those are equally strong words from a pitcher known for his preparation.

Not every prospect has known superstars of the game praising their intangibles, but it’s all in a day’s work for the Yankees’ impressive rookie shortstop.

All cited numbers were active as of the beginning of play on Friday, April 21st.