Next Jeter? Top Yanks prospect Volpe just focused on improvement

February 23rd, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. -- Anthony Volpe has been turning heads for nearly a decade, dating back to when hopefuls at a development facility in Harrisburg, Pa., would speak in hushed tones about the sure-handed shortstop already fielding recruitment inquiries from Team USA.

“Oh my gosh, I thought he was like the best player ever,” said Yankees prospect Beck Way, who attended those workouts alongside his future teammate. “Super quick, super fast, hitting home runs. I’m older than him, and he’d play on our team and hit on these fields. As a 12-year-old, he fit right in. That shows a lot. If he could do that at 12, he’ll be able to compete at any level.”

That is still the prevailing belief, especially in Yankees camp. Volpe, who turns 21 on April 28, is among the up-and-comers participating in the Yanks' minicamp at their player development complex, laying the groundwork for the Minor League season ahead.

“I don’t think any 20-year-old is close to as good as he can be,” Volpe said. “So I’m just working on every little thing, everything that will hopefully make me better.”

It could be a pivotal year for Volpe, the club’s first-round selection (No. 30 overall) in the 2019 MLB Draft. Currently rated as the Yankees’ top prospect and baseball’s No. 15 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Volpe is coming off an excellent '21 campaign split between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley.

A jump to Double-A Somerset seems within reach, and Volpe’s big league ETA has been widely forecasted for 2023 -- no small consideration, considering that the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop for ’22 still hasn’t been cemented. Dillon Lawson, the Yanks’ new hitting coach, raves about the consistency of Volpe’s swing.

“It plays against such a large array of pitchers, whether it’s a righty or lefty from over the top or from the side,” Lawson said. “He can handle the fastball, so he can handle offspeed pitches. It isn’t just a high floor, there’s a high ceiling that goes with that, and he plays at such a high level all the time.”

Volpe said that he models his game against the likes of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, but he isn’t ready to fantasize about playing against those established stars just yet.

“It’s pretty tough to think about, because I’m so happy being in the present moment,” Volpe said. “Just seeing the guys again after a long offseason, it’s tough for me personally to think about stuff like that so far in the future.”

Volpe comes across as confident and polished, his eyes set upon the challenges ahead of him, conscious of expectations. The Yankees inked Volpe to a $2,740,300 signing bonus three years ago, though he hardly had the chance to get his feet wet across his first two years in the organization.

Mononucleosis limited Volpe to 34 games in ’19, and the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out his ’20 campaign -- “It’d be 7 o’clock and I’d be sitting at the dinner table, wishing that I was running onto the field,” he recalls -- but Volpe used that downtime to build muscle.

Those bonus workouts translated to Volpe's on-field performance last season, when he hit .294/.423/.604 with 35 doubles, six triples, 27 homers, 86 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 109 games.

“I think I learned a lot last year about what it takes to play a full season in pro ball,” Volpe said. “I feel like I have a lot of stuff to build on, and a lot of stuff that I learned that I can lean on this year. I’m super excited to get going.”

To that end, Volpe visited the Wake Forest campus this past offseason, introducing plyometric exercise to his regimen in hopes of boosting arm strength. So far, he said, his offensive and defensive work have come across with much less effort.

There are obvious comparisons to be made between Volpe and another Yankees shortstop of the past -- after all, Derek Jeter was a Yanks diehard, had New Jersey ties and arrived in New York after being a celebrated first-round Draft pick -- but Volpe shrugs those off.

Sure, he’d love to have a career like Jeter’s, but Volpe is setting his focus upon blazing a fresh trail.

“If you grew up a Yankees fan like me, there’s never been another Jeter,” Volpe said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of myself. I don’t think anyone will ever compare to what he did.”