Anthony Volpe blinked as he watched the video on his iPad, rewinding and advancing his swing frame-by-frame. The blurry figure in a Somerset Patriots uniform made it look almost easy as he belted long homers.
That smooth, natural swing earned Volpe an opportunity as the Yankees’ starting shortstop, and somehow, it had drifted away. Here, in his family’s Watchung, N.J., home, Volpe vowed to reclaim that swing.
Volpe said it “felt like old times” as he and Minor League teammate Austin Wells dined on hearty helpings of chicken parmigiana and spaghetti (Wells is the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline). Then it was down to business, and Volpe soon recognized that his batting stance needed to be closed.
“We were just reminiscing and going over old at-bats we had, when we hit back-to-back homers,” Volpe said. “We pulled them up on our iPad and just watched them. I think both of us noticed some things with my stance and how I set up to hit. It was so small, but we both noticed it and started talking about it.”
In a side-by-side comparison against Volpe’s at-bats from earlier in the month, the changes indeed do not appear drastic; Volpe’s feet have moved slightly, and he seems to hold the bat more perpendicular to the ground, correcting what he said were “just some bad habits.” But it feels right to Volpe, who noted that the edits “definitely” helped.
They seemed to pay immediate dividends in Tuesday’s Subway Series opener against the Mets at Citi Field. Batting against Max Scherzer, Volpe pounded a slider down the third-base line for a run-scoring double, part of a five-run fourth inning. In the sixth, Volpe stroked a drive toward center fielder Brandon Nimmo and was credited with a double by a generous scoring decision.
“It’s just kind of what I’ve always done,” Volpe said. “Realizing that, one way or the other, I’ve gotten away from it is frustrating, but it’s nice to know that what I was doing when I wasn’t getting results wasn’t natural for what I always do. It’s just getting back to what I’ve done.”
It was a performance that gave Volpe a welcome confidence boost; he called it “a good building process.” The 22-year-old is still battling to raise his batting average above the Mendoza Line of .200, and has one of the lowest on-base percentages among qualifying Major Leaguers.
On the positive side, Volpe has hit nine homers with 27 RBIs, and is 14-for-14 in stolen base attempts. As managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner held court at Major League Baseball’s offices this week, he said that he has been privy to no chatter concerning a possible Volpe demotion, even with infielder Oswald Peraza hitting well for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“I’ve had zero conversations about that,” Steinbrenner said. “I think defensively he’s been pretty solid. Pitchers have adjusted to him now. He’s going to have some adjustments to make himself. I don’t think any of this is out of the ordinary.
“I told Anthony at the end of Spring Training, ‘You are the starting shortstop of the New York Yankees. This isn’t a three-week trial.’ So [he is] going to be that, through the ups and downs.”
Likewise, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he plans to continue wagering upon Volpe’s makeup and talent. Boone believes that a stat line in mid-June does not represent where Volpe can be at the end of his first big league season.
“My belief in Anthony is that the cream is going to rise to the top,” Boone said. “I believe in his ability and the person, that he’s going to be an outstanding player in this game. We’ve seen signs of that already all year. He’s had his fair share of struggles, but he’s also been in the middle of a lot of winning and having a role with that.
“When we made the decision to go with Anthony at the start of the season, it wasn’t that we thought he was going to light the world on fire right away. We expected that there’d be some ups and downs. One of the things that we’re betting on is the person, and knowing that he would be able to handle some of the inevitable adversity."