Yankees Magazine: From the Ground Up

A foundation rooted in footwork and durability led shortstop Anthony Volpe to an award-winning rookie season of historic proportions

April 11th, 2024
Growing up in New Jersey, Anthony Volpe idolized Derek Jeter, but it wasn’t just the Captain’s clutch hits in the biggest October moments that caught Volpe’s attention. “When I would be at Yankee Stadium as a fan, I got to see what he did in between innings; how he prepared for every single pitch,” Volpe said. “I took a lot away from little things like that.” (Photo Credit: New York Yankees)

Whether he knew it or not, ’s pursuit of the 2023 Rawlings American League Gold Glove Award began when he was an elementary school shortstop. Ironically, the journey that concluded at The Plaza Hotel actually began very close, maybe even across the street, from the ballroom where he received the award.

A few weeks after taking home the trophy for defensive excellence at his position, Volpe, who lived in Manhattan until he was 9 years old, reflected on his earliest memories of playing shortstop.

“Especially when we were living in New York City, my dad would always bring me out to the worst field he could find to take ground balls,” Volpe said over the winter from the New Jersey home where his parents, Michael and Isabelle, raised him. “There would be days when I would get a bad hop and take a ball in the face and get really upset. But he would always tell me that good infielders don’t get bad hops. It shouldn’t matter what type of field you’re playing on if you move your feet and get ready for any kind of hop. Every single hop should be a short hop or a long hop. It shouldn’t matter if the ball is taking bad hops all the way to where you are; you should just go after it and get it. If you don’t move your feet, you’ll make it a lot harder for yourself. That’s what he has been telling me since I was little, and I’m still doing those things to make sure I get the ball into my glove.”

That advice has resonated with Volpe, from his earliest days in New York City to his decorated high school career at The Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey. Even after the Yankees selected Volpe in the first round of the 2019 Draft, and in the wake of the shortstop winning his first Gold Glove, he still values the work he put in with his father.

No Yankee spent more time in the field last season than Anthony Volpe, who logged 1,346 2/3 innings at short. His sound footwork and smart positioning helped everyone around him, including 2023 AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole. “When you look back at what I accomplished, you have to take into account how many outs Anthony made that probably should have resulted in hits,” Cole said. “The type of play he brought to the shortstop position made my ERA lower.” (Photo Credit: New York Yankees)

“My dad deserves so much credit for what I’ve been able to do,” Volpe said. “He made fielding ground balls so much fun, and he still does today. I start my offseason regimen with him in New Jersey. It’s still just me and my dad, working out three or four nights a week in a dome. We play catch for a while, and then I take ground balls with him and a few other guys. We do the same things I have done my whole life. We go over situations and play OUT to make it fun. I’ve been doing those same things since I was 7 years old. When I think back to what he would teach me and what we would talk about, I’m really grateful.”

Volpe’s road from an 18-year-old Draft choice to the ceremony at The Plaza certainly had a few bumps -- or a few bad hops -- along the way. But, with a wide range of superior fielding skills, an off-the-charts work ethic and a group of people in the Yankees organization who recognized his potential, Volpe was able to prove that he could play the position he fell in love with all those years ago, and that he could do it as well as anyone on the planet.

“There have been plenty of people who told me that I wouldn’t be able to play shortstop in the big leagues,” Volpe said. “But from the minute I came into the Yankees organization, I don’t think I’ve even played five games away from shortstop. Everyone believed in me, even though I had a lot of stuff to work on. My first few coaches in the Minors, Ryan Hunt, Lino Diaz and David Adams, followed me so closely even when I wasn’t with them during the season. We were still on the same page when I got to Tampa in the offseason. Even now, they know exactly what I need to work on.

“I don’t really look at the Gold Glove as an individual award. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I did in the field without that group of people. So many people helped me from within the organization.”

When thinking back on drafting Volpe and watching him climb the organizational ladder, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt that Volpe’s rookie season validated the player’s belief in himself and the organization’s decision to stay the course.

“From an evaluation and scouting standpoint, because of the way his body is built, we had some questions as to whether he could remain at shortstop,” Cashman said from Tampa, Fla., in January. “There were a few that believed, without a doubt, that he was a shortstop. From the analyst standpoint, they very well felt like he was a shortstop. Anthony always felt like that was his best position. And, so, all he did was validate that as he continued to climb the ladder and say, ‘I hear the naysayers, but I’m going to show you the opposite.’ He was able to put an exclamation point on it during his rookie season with the Gold Glove Award at shortstop. That’s basically an ‘I showed you’ statement.”

Volpe’s accomplishments at shortstop in 2023 would have been impressive for a seasoned veteran, let alone a 22-year-old rookie who had played in just a handful of games at the Triple-A level before making the big club. After earning the starting job in the final days of Spring Training, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Volpe played in a league-leading 157 games at shortstop, starting 150.

“Going out there every day and making the routine plays is the most important priority,” Volpe said. “Sometimes when you’re trying to make a special play, that gets overlooked, but it’s by far the most important thing any player can do for a team. If you don’t have that, you really don’t have anything else, and that includes what you bring to the team on offense.”

When evaluating Volpe’s Gold Glove performance, his manager spoke about the characteristics that enabled him to put together such a consistent season, one of which certainly could be traced back to the conversations that the shortstop had with his father long before he wore the pinstripes.

“We were confident that he would hold his own at the position when we broke camp last year,” Aaron Boone said from his office at Yankee Stadium. “He doesn’t necessarily have the prototypical shortstop tools. He won the Gold Glove in the American League without a rocket of an arm. Sometimes you wonder how he did it. Well, he plays the position so fast; his motor out there is always going. Because of the intensity that he plays the position with, sometimes he gives the appearance of being out of control, yet he’s totally in control.

“The way he moves his feet allows him to get the best hops and the best jumps, which, in turn, gives him the best range. Because he doesn’t have an overwhelming arm, he has to make sure that he is always in good position and gets rid of the ball properly. He always does that. He absolutely gets the most out of his skills of any player I’ve seen. To actually go out and win a Gold Glove, that was super impressive.”

Volpe was in the field for a team-high 1,346 2/3 innings and made 17 errors in 560 chances for a .970 fielding percentage. His 186 putouts were second most among AL shortstops, and his 16 defensive runs saved trailed only the 18 registered by Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, according to Sports Info Solutions.

“I wanted my teammates to feel confident when the ball was hit to me,” Volpe said. “I especially wanted our pitchers to feel good about having me behind them. I thought we had a great defensive team, and part of that is being able to push your limits, push your range and make plays that shortstops on other teams would not have been able to make. The coaches I have worked with here have pushed my limits, while also preparing me to make all of the routine plays. The more times you can help out your pitcher by keeping runs off the board, the more valuable your defensive play is to the team.”

Volpe’s efforts to keep would-be runs from crossing the plate impacted games that the 2023 American League Cy Young Award winner pitched, and Gerrit Cole wasn’t shy about asserting what it meant to have a star fielder at one of the most important positions on the diamond.

“When you look back at what I accomplished, you have to take into account how many outs Anthony made that probably should have resulted in hits,” Cole said a few days before accepting the Cy Young Award in January. “It seemed like he took away at least one hit every time I was out there, and when you do the math on that, you realize that the type of play he brought to the shortstop position made my ERA lower. It directly helped us win close games, and it saved our bullpen.”

The advanced metric of defensive runs saved -- which is compiled by the SABR Defensive Index and accounts for approximately 25 percent of the Gold Glove Award selection process -- certainly helped elevate Volpe above Minnesota’s Carlos Correa and Texas Rangers All-Star shortstop Corey Seager in the 2023 voting. The balance of the selection criteria for the nine standard positions comes from a vote that all 30 managers and up to six coaches from each club participate in. The voters can only choose players from their own league and are not allowed to choose someone from their own team.

A Gold Glove Award is quite an achievement for a rookie, and while the lifelong Derek Jeter fan would much rather match the Captain’s five World Series rings than his five fielding honors, Anthony Volpe can take comfort in knowing that the work he puts in pays dividends at the big league level. “He absolutely gets the most out of his skills of any player I’ve ever seen,” said Boone. (Photo Credit: Major League Baseball)

Besides the respect Volpe garnered throughout the league, his dogged approach to the 2023 season earned him overwhelming praise from the Yankees’ general manager.

“He hit the ground running really early,” Cashman said. “He got down to Tampa well before Spring Training. He was well ahead of everyone else with full intentions of winning the job and with an ‘I’m not going to give an inch’ attitude. His Spring Training started well before mid-February. He took a Rocky Balboa type of approach of ‘I’m going to win this in a knockout.’ He worked his tail off prior to the fight, won the job and then put together a magical performance that raised him all the way to a Gold Glove in his rookie year.”

Although he didn’t include a Rocky reference, Boone -- who has Philadelphia roots -- also recognized the work that Volpe put in and how it contributed to his 2023 season.

“He’s a lot like Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole; they all love the game,” Boone said. “Anthony’s love for the game isn’t just about the cool parts of playing shortstop at Yankee Stadium. He loves all of it -- the gym work, the fielding work on the back fields, the little attention to detail that helps make you a great player.”

Volpe’s defensive accomplishment made history. He became the first Yankees rookie to win a Gold Glove; his childhood idol, Derek Jeter, didn’t take home his first of five Gold Gloves until 2004, following his ninth full season in pinstripes. Volpe also became the youngest shortstop in baseball history to win the award, besting Detroit legend Alan Trammell, the 1980 winner, by 72 days.

For a young player who grew up in a family of Yankees fans, a tradition that began with his paternal grandfather and extended through his parents, Volpe said that holding a place in team history remains difficult to comprehend.

“I don’t know that it’s hit me yet,” Volpe said. “The fandom and respect that my family and I have for the Yankees comes from the organization’s storied past and from all of the great players who have come before me and all of the great things they have accomplished. It’s hard to believe that I’m being spoken about in some ways with people who, in my mind, are not just players or even great Yankees, but are actually bigger than that.”

When Volpe’s parents -- both of whom are doctors in the New York metropolitan area -- took him to the Stadium as a child, the team’s shortstop in those days generally captured Anthony’s attention and imagination. Now that Volpe is standing in the same place that Jeter once stood, the second-year shortstop feels that he was preparing for his life’s work during those memorable times in the Bronx.

“As a fan of Derek Jeter, I wanted to go to games so that I could watch the things you couldn’t see him doing on TV,” Volpe said. “Obviously, we all wanted to make the jump throw and all of the crazy heads-up plays he made. But when I would be at Yankee Stadium as a fan, I got to see what he did in between innings; how he prepared for every single pitch. I took a lot away from little things like that. The iconic plays he made were so memorable, but I just wanted to be the type of defender that the team wanted the ball hit to. That’s exactly how people thought about Derek. When the ball was hit to Derek, the hitter might as well have just run back to the dugout. Derek was going to make the play.”

For Volpe, who also earned a place in the team’s record books by becoming the first rookie to reach 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, getting the chance to replicate Jeter’s signature jump throw while wearing the pinstripes was a full circle, yet somewhat humbling, experience.

“I’ve been trying to do that to some extent since I was a little kid,” Volpe said. “I’ve done it a couple of times, but I had never seen myself doing it on video until this past season. I felt so cool doing it until I saw a side by side of me and Jeter making the play. I just said to myself, ‘Oh boy, that’s not even close.’ It’s still a fun play though; it’s the range play that you always wanted to make.”

Even when he wasn’t elevating himself into the air and making an acrobatic throw to first base, Volpe found himself enjoying the ride that was his rookie season. It certainly didn’t lack in challenging moments -- he’s intent on improving upon his .209 batting average this year -- but he also found joy in experiencing something new almost every day.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “Playing in different ballparks, getting to experience different kinds of fields, dealing with turf and grass, it was all really great for me to get to do. It was fun to play in St. Louis for the first time or at Dodger Stadium, where you’re dealing with a fast infield. There were other fields that were a lot slower, like Yankee Stadium. Learning from my teammates about the ballparks and knowing what to expect before even taking ground balls was a big help. My rookie year was all about figuring out how the same ground ball would react differently from one field to the next.”

According to Boone, the way that Volpe dealt with the natural ebb and flow of a season separated him from other young players taking on the big leagues for the first time. Although Boone had confidence that Volpe could rebound from negative plays, it was still eye-opening when it happened.

“That’s a lot easier said than done,” Boone explained. “One of the reasons that we were betting on him was because of his mental makeup. He has the ability to keep moving on. Especially as an infielder, you’re going to make errors. You’ve got to have a short memory and just keep moving on. I was confident in his ability to handle that, but to actually see him go out and do it all year as the New York Yankees’ shortstop, that was really impressive.”

A few weeks after the 2023 season concluded, Volpe walked into The Plaza, located across the street from Central Park, where on one of the baseball fields nestled into Manhattan’s largest green space, the shortstop undoubtedly dealt with a few bad hops during his childhood. With his parents and younger sister, Olivia, looking on, Volpe accepted the American League Gold Glove Award from Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, widely regarded as one of the greatest fielding shortstops in history.

“What an event,” Volpe said. “To experience that with my family was really special. And to have Ozzie Smith present me with the award, that was the craziest thing ever.”

Alfred Santasiere III is the editor-in-chief of Yankees Magazine. This story appears in the April 2024 edition. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at www.yankees.com/publications.