No, nobody’s expecting Anthony Volpe to be Derek Jeter. But Volpe has arrived, at age 21, and will jog out to his position on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon to hold down one of the most prestigious positions in sports. And that alone speaks both for the Yankees’ hopes for the young man and his potential to fulfill them.
On Sunday, the Yankees informed Volpe he made the team, and prevailed in a three-way derby that included itinerant veteran Isiah Kiner-Falefa and the more experienced but less vaunted fellow prospect Oswald Peraza. The nod was well-earned over a couple of months in Tampa: Volpe batted .314, got on base at a .417 clip and slugged three homers in Grapefruit League play.
This decision goes far beyond opening a few more eyes in a short sample. But it doesn’t hurt when a club’s preferred victor goes out and grabs it.
“The obvious exclamation point here,” GM Brian Cashman told reporters, “is Anthony Volpe came into camp and took this position. He should be congratulated.”
It’s also a crucial point in time for a franchise now 14 years removed from its last World Series appearance.
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Why it matters
On more than one occasion, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has had to stand in front of reporters and explain why the club opted to pass, not over one winter but two, on a free-agent shortstop crop that might not be equaled for decades. It was a grim juxtaposition – the big-money Yankees saying no thanks, over the years, to Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javy Baez, Trevor Story, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts, even as their club was obviously not good enough to win a World Series.
The knife turned a bit more in October, when the Yankees were swept out of the American League Championship Series by the Houston Astros, a 99-win season vanishing as Kiner-Falefa’s production shriveled all the while. Yet Steinbrenner always held firm that the club liked its prospects, a hardly veiled reference to Peraza and more specifically Volpe.
Had Volpe not emerged – had he not struck 21 home runs with an .802 OPS in 2022 as he conquered Class AA and finished up at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre – those words would ring hollow. Had he not snatched the position decisively this spring, as Turner landed in Philly, Correa back in Minnesota and Bogaerts in San Diego, leaving a potentially large serving of Kiner-Falefa this year, a Yankee season already clouded by pitching injuries might seem even less certain.
And let’s be honest: If Volpe never loses his grip on the shortstop job, it will save the Yankees a ton of money, no small consideration when Steinbrenner has made it clear he won’t burn through cash like the hedge-fund shark across town. While the Yankees optioned Peraza to the minors Sunday, if he emerges as Volpe’s second base partner, it will bring significant savings in coming years, with Volpe not eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2025 season should he hold on to the job.
Who is Anthony Volpe?
Yeah, the guy who might solidify the Yankees' shortstop position for the first time since Jeter grew up hoping to supplant him.
Volpe, you see, is a Tri-State kid, pride of Watchung, New Jersey, and Morristown’s Delbarton School, from where you can reach Yankee Stadium in less than an hour, with cooperation from various bridges and thoroughfares. He attended Jeter’s last All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium in 2014 and wore No. 7 as a tribute to Mickey Mantle, his grandfather’s favorite player.
His father is a urologist and his mother an anesthesiologist originally from the Philippines. Volpe twice represented Team USA in international competition. He committed to Vanderbilt, just like high school teammate and pitcher Jack Leiter, before the Yankees came calling.
They drafted him with the 30th overall pick in 2019 and signed him for an over slot bonus of $2.7 million. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer cited his “deluxe makeup,” a trait for which teammates and club officials still laud him.
“I think he’s got all the makeup tools,” reigning AL MVP and freshly minted captain Aaron Judge said earlier this month. “My thing has always been, if you’re the best player, it shouldn’t matter your age. You should be up helping the New York Yankees. It doesn’t matter if you’re 19 or 41.
“If you’re the best guy for the job, you should be playing.”
Listed at 5-11 and 180 pounds, he's a bit smaller than most of the big-money shortstops the Yankees bypassed. But his career .881 OPS in the minor leagues shows that frame can generate power, and Volpe should continue to fill out for the next several years.
Particularly given his desire to improve.
Infielder DJ LeMahieu worked out with Volpe at the Yankees’ complex since November and told The Athletic: “There’s guys who go through the motions in the offseason and then there are guys who are getting after it. He really wanted to have a good spring.
“He’s going to be more than prepared whenever he’s called upon. That’s for sure.”
That time is now.
OK, we’re not going to make that comparison – at least not earnestly. Naturally, the Yankees would be thrilled if Volpe grew into a Hall of Fame player and annual All-Star. There’s a way to go, yet.
But Volpe is getting his shot right around the time Jeter got his.
Oh, No. 2 did debut for 15 games in 1995, though he did not participate in the playoffs. Instead, Jeter took over as Yankees shortstop on April 2, 1996. He was 21 years, 281 days old.
Volpe will be 21 and 336 days when he assumes Jeter’s old spot. The Yankees have gone 14 years since winning – even reaching – a World Series. It had been 18 years since winning a World Series, 15 years since reaching one when Jeter took over and New York wondered whether he or Mets phenom Rey Ordóñez would be the bigger star.
We all know how that turned out. Jeter didn’t budge from shortstop until 2014, save for the 2013 season when he recovered from a grim foot injury suffered in the 2012 playoffs. Eduardo Núñez largely kept the spot warm that year. Didi Gregorius, playing for his third team, was a sound Jeter replacement from 2015-19.
Gleyber Torres, acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2016, looked for a moment like he might be a star, but faltered after consecutive All-Star appearances in 2018 and ’19; he’s now at second base and eligible for free agency after next year. Kiner-Falefa, who will bounce around the infield and outfield unless the Yankees can trade him, was the definition of a stopgap.
Now, it is Volpe’s alone.
“I’m just super lucky,” he told reporters Sunday, trying to distill the emotions shortly after learning he earned the job. “I’ve had so many amazing people who have helped me along the way.”
He has reached his destination. Thursday, Volpe begins carving his own destiny, on a hallowed piece of real estate in the Bronx.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Anthony Volpe: Meet New York Yankees' Opening Day shortstop