Futures Game a confidence validator for Volpe
'It's such a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,' Yankees top prospect says
LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Volpe attended his first Futures Game eight years ago at Target Field, part of an All-Star trip with his father to watch Derek Jeter play in his final Midsummer Classic.
Little did Volpe know that he would potentially be following in the footsteps of his favorite player.
Volpe, who grew up in a New Jersey suburb roughly 30 miles from Yankee Stadium, was back at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Saturday at Dodger Stadium, this time starting at shortstop and batting cleanup for the American League.
“It’s not too often that you get the opportunity to play against the best of the best,” said Volpe, who finished 0-for-2 in the contest. “I'm really excited.”
Volpe has overcome a slow start to 2022 at Double-A Somerset, finally showing the skills that have him ranked as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 8 prospect overall in the game, according to MLB Pipeline.
After hitting .203 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 40 games through the end of May, Volpe hit .306 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 37 games in June and July, earning his spot in Saturday’s All-Star showcase.
The subpar start to the season didn’t faze the 21-year-old, who trusted his talent and process through the hard times, confident he would emerge from his slump as a smarter, stronger player.
“It actually gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I didn't really change anything or it wasn't one thing that I felt like unlocked me,” Volpe said. “I struggled obviously, but I didn't really change anything and I'm seeing a lot different results. The process always stays the same, and it's obviously nice to see some hits fall.”
As Volpe spoke with a half-dozen reporters prior to Saturday’s game, a familiar face stood about 20 feet across the clubhouse: Jack Leiter.
The Rangers’ top prospect (No. 16 overall in MLB) was a high school teammate of Volpe at Delbarton (N.J.), so if anybody in the AL locker room had a good scouting report on the Baby Bomber, it was Leiter.
“He's always been a tough at-bat,” Leiter said. “He's probably the best hitter I've ever faced.”
Leiter lauded Volpe for his on-field skills, but it was his mental makeup and work ethic that continually came up during the conversation. Leiter’s father, Al, was a two-time All-Star during a solid 19-year career, so the 22-year-old has an idea of what it takes to succeed in the Majors. The hype that can come with being the Yankees’ top prospect -- not to mention being a Jersey-born shortstop just like Jeter -- can become overwhelming to many kids Volpe’s age.
In this case, Leiter said, that shouldn’t be an issue.
“Since he was 10 years old, all over New Jersey it was talked about Anthony Volpe being the next big thing,” Leiter said. “The important thing about handling expectations is really not worrying about it; work hard and don’t focus on the bigger picture. Don’t focus on what other people are saying or thinking about you. It's just staying true to that routine.
“There were expectations on him from a young age and he's always handled it well, so there's no reason to believe that it won't continue. If there's anyone who can handle the biggest market, biggest fan base, all those expectations, it would be him.”
Like every top Yankees prospect before him, Volpe is certain to hear his name in one trade rumor or another between now and the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline. That’s a prime example of what Leiter was talking about, and based on Volpe’s response to such a question Saturday, he seems to have a grasp on how to handle that.
“It's super out of my control; I'm here in L.A. with some of the best Minor Leaguers in the game, so I’m not thinking about stuff like that,” Volpe said. “It's such a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so if I was spending any brainpower thinking about that, I would be taking away from this.”
Hal Steinbrenner cited Volpe’s ascent through the organization as one of the reasons the Yankees opted not to pursue one of the big-name free-agent shortstops last offseason, which only served to push those expectations higher. Volpe said it was “obviously great” to hear Steinbrenner express that kind of confidence in him, but he isn’t setting any personal timeline in terms of getting to the Bronx.
“I feel like I’ve got a long way to go,” Volpe said. “[The Futures Game] is obviously a great step in my career, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Even when I hopefully get there one day, there's still a lot more work to be done to be the player I want to be and hopefully win a lot of World Series.”
Sounds an awful lot like a former Yankees shortstop, doesn’t it?