TAMPA, Fla. -- An indication of the Yankees’ thinking in their ongoing shortstop debate could be found on the lineup cards posted early Friday morning, one with Anthony Volpe remaining at home to play behind Opening Day starter Gerrit Cole. The other sent Oswald Peraza to play in a split-squad game against the Orioles later in the evening.
Indeed, Volpe is very much in the mix to head north, aiming to become the first rookie since Aaron Judge in 2017 to appear in the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup. Volpe’s chances could only be bolstered when he connected for his third spring home run in Friday’s 6-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Twins, a two-run shot in the third inning off Pablo López.
“I’m just happy with all the work I’ve been putting in,” Volpe said. “I feel like I’ve improved a lot in different parts of my game. We were just talking on the bench about how good of a learning experience this has been. Definitely, we’ve learned things that we’re going to take years into the future.”
After being challenged by general manager Brian Cashman to be ready for a spring competition, Volpe has outperformed Peraza and incumbent shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa over the Grapefruit League schedule.
No Yankee has made his Major League debut in a season opener since Hideki Matsui in 2003; before Matsui, it hadn’t happened since Jerry Lumpe (1956) and Mickey Mantle (1951). But it could next week with Volpe, who has all the makings of a special talent.
“He’s been everything we expected and hoped for. He’s looked the part,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s fit in really well; his work has been excellent, and he’s gone out and performed.”
Facing Minnesota’s announced Opening Day starter, Volpe struck out swinging in a five-pitch at-bat in the first inning, fanning on an 84.2 mph sweeper. López tried the same pitch in the third inning, an 83.7 mph offering, and Volpe deposited it over the center-field wall.
“He saw what he saw from me, and then he went to the plate with a better understanding and idea, and then he executed that plan,” López said. “That shows a lot of maturity. That shows a lot of promise. A young kid making those kinds of adjustments and then hitting that ball that hard, that far, through the deepest part of the ballpark -- yeah, obviously, I think he’s a very good player.”
Added Volpe: “It definitely was a pretty nasty pitch, but I felt like I saw it pretty good.”
Volpe has not appeared overmatched by big league competition, batting .277 (13-for-47) with five doubles, three homers, five RBIs and five stolen bases in 16 spring games. He remains measured about his chances of heading north, saying he has enjoyed learning from the big leaguers about weight-room routines and game preparation.
“He’s a heady, smart player,” Boone said. “But he’s a good player. So he’s got the equipment to go do things.”
This spring, Volpe has bunked with four roommates: Yankees Minor Leaguers Austin Wells, Mickey Gasper, Max Burt and Spencer Henson. Within the walls of their rented apartment, Volpe said there has been little talk about his chances of going to the Majors.
“We just put something on TV, watch sports or play FIFA,” Volpe said. “We’re just having fun. What’s nice is, we’re not really ever talking about baseball. We kind of go about our day, put in our work and go out to dinner once we’re done.”
So what might hold Volpe back? He is not on the 40-man roster, but the Yankees will have room by transferring players like Frankie Montas and Luis Gil to the 60-day injured list. He has only played 22 games at the Triple-A level, though some influential front-office voices believe age and experience alone should not be enough to hold Volpe back.
On that topic, Volpe has the support of team captain Judge, who recently remarked, “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.”
Volpe’s name was mentioned frequently in an organizational meeting at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Monday. Boone, who referred to it as a “pound the table” summit, said the organization likely won’t need another breakout session before announcing the Opening Day roster.
Boone suggested that the Yankees may be able to determine their 26-man roster before they leave Florida on Monday. He dropped one hint on Friday, noting that right-hander Jimmy Cordero (4.00 spring ERA, 9 K’s in 9 IP) has put himself “in a good spot” to break camp with the team.
It would figure that Volpe has done the same.
“It’s out of my control,” Volpe said. “I’m just happy to be in the same lineup, the same locker room with a lot of these guys.”