It’s a natural reaction to expect Yankees players to produce. This isn’t any average team or organization.\, it’s one with more resources than any other in the sport. They have the best hitter in the league, one of the best pitchers of the last five years, and many other talented players. We should expect each and every player to be decent, and several to be very good.
Anthony Volpe was a consensus top-10 prospect in baseball heading into the season and the team gave him the starting job, rightfully so. We should(!) expect him to be a good player. That’s completely fair. However, it is not fair to assume he will be the best version of himself in his first 200 plate appearances. This is a 22-year old kid who hardly played any Triple-A ball. He is going to need to time adjust to the league and become who he can be. Even with his semi-struggles, it is clear to me that this is a player with a bright future who we need not worry about, and I’m here to present some evidence in defense of that. I’ll start easy and talk about his baserunning.
When you’re struggling at the plate, it’s always great to have premium baserunning in your back pocket. Being a good baserunner can ignite your team. You can draw a walk, swipe a bag, go first to third, or keep the pitcher’s attention. So far this season, no shortstop in baseball has accumulated more value on the basepaths than the Yankees’ rookie shortstop. At 4.3 baserunning runs above average (BsR), Volpe is 1.1 runs higher than the next highest shortstop, former Yankees infielder Thairo Estrada. As you probably already know, Volpe is an aggressive base stealer. He takes every logical opportunity he gets and it’s resulted in 13 swiped bags so far this year. I don’t think it’s crazy to say this pace will increase as his hitting improves. As he gets on base more, the aggression won’t change.
Another aspect of his game that needs to be appreciated is his plate discipline. He’s expanded the zone a bit more recently amidst slower hitting, but his 51st percentile chase rate and +6 runs accumulated in the chase zone are extremely promising. This is a rookie hitter who isn’t performing as well as he wants to but still isn’t pressing by leaving the zone all that often. He continues to stay poised and trust his process.
While we’re talking about hitting, I might as well bring up his quality of contact. Volpe’s xwOBACON on the season sits at .406. That is wildly impressive for a hitter who doesn’t necessarily hit the ball all that hard. His average exit velocity is in the 61st percentile and his max exit velocity is in the 46th percentile. Only two shortstops in baseball have higher marks than that: Bo Bichette and Bobby Witt Jr. xwOBACON isn’t everything because it is contingent on a player making contact of course, but my goodness, a mark over .400 is extremely promising for a struggling rookie. Much of it has come from the damage he’s done on fastballs – he has a .398 wOBA and .603 SLG% on heaters. Basically, what I’m saying is when this kid puts the ball in play, he is doing with consistent force.
The last piece I’ll address is his fielding. If I’m being honest, whenever I watched Volpe’s defense in the minor leagues, I thought there was little chance that he would take that role from Oswald Peraza. Peraza is a gifted fielder and Volpe’s arm strength is below average. But Volpe’s offensive capabilities surpassed Peraza’s complete game in the short-term and he took the job. So far, Volpe’s defense has been up and down, but the fundamentals are extremely sound. This is clearly a player who has a clue out there, but just has just failed to make a few plays that you would expect him to. Here are a few examples:
He got to all three of these groundballs and failed to make each play, but it wasn’t because of a lack of range, and range was the biggest concern for Volpe’s future at shortstop. Instead, these are plays where his last step wasn’t balanced. His angles were right, his timing was right, but the final step/decision was the problem. These are things that will improve with time! It’s also worth noting that the groundballs in Toronto came on the fastest groundball surface in the league. He will be playing here often though and will have to clean it up in the future.
Patience is the word here. You can choose to focus on the 81 wRC+, or choose to focus on the abundance of positive signs he’s shown. This kid is a dog and will prove it to be true if we just remain patient. Last year he got off to a slow start then never stopped hitting. If it happened again this year, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. It’s a long season folks.