Volpe already seeing spring swing work pay off

March 10th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- winces ever-so-slightly when he hears the phrase “flat bat path,” though it has become something of a short-hand explanation around Yankees camp for the offensive changes that are still a work in progress.

As he approaches his second year as a big league shortstop, Volpe says he is spending his spring focusing on deleting an uppercut from his swing, aiming to do damage on high heat more frequently.

“I've got a good idea of the strike zone and what pitches I can handle,” Volpe said ahead of the Yankees' 9-8 win over Atlanta at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday. “When it got frustrating last year is when I knew I was doing everything right, doing the hard stuff, making the decisions, getting the timing down -- and then you don't take advantage when you get pitches to hit.

“So I just wanted to put myself in a position where I feel like when I do earn those pitches, that I'm doing what I should do.”

In fact, as Volpe stood in the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium during the Yanks’ final series of the year, he already knew that there wouldn’t be much of a restful offseason.

That day, Volpe refused to celebrate the positive parts of his rookie campaign -- the first Bombers rookie to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases and, soon afterward, joining Derek Jeter as the only Yankees shortstops to win a Gold Glove Award. Then, as he does now, Volpe vowed that he would be better in 2024.

“I wasn't living up to what I know I'm capable of,” he said.

The work to improve began promptly, accelerating once Volpe began spending extra hours at the club’s Player Development complex in Tampa, Fla., in January. The Yankees reviewed video that suggested Volpe’s swing path had become power-happy, which they theorized prevented him from catching up with high fastballs.

“At times, you'd see some muscle in the swing where he's working uphill and would have trouble covering the top of the strike zone,” said manager Aaron Boone.

The numbers support that. For example, on four-seam fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone and the two highest zones outside the strike zone, Volpe batted just .137 with a .260 slugging percentage and 38 percent strikeout rate. The Major League average on those pitches was .216 with a .384 slugging percentage and 26.8 percent strikeout rate.

“I want to be on plane, or on path, with as many pitches as I can,” Volpe said. “You see all the guys that we have; they're giving themselves a margin for error, an area of impact to be able to get beat and still get a base hit or still be able to put a good swing on it.”

So far, the early returns look good, with winter adjustments that Boone said were “apparent the first time we saw him hit.”

Volpe has collected nine hits in 23 Grapefruit League at-bats (.391) with a double and triple. Those numbers are on par with his performance last spring, when he forced the Yankees’ hand into naming him the Opening Day shortstop several weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

“I feel like his at-bats have been really, really consistent, whether it ends in a result or not,” Boone said. “[There is] a noticeable difference in what I think's going to lend itself to a little more coverage throughout the strike zone.”

Volpe said those tweaks were already underway when he began huddling with new hitting coach James Rowson at the club’s Tampa facility, part of a group of early-arriving position players that also included Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu.

“To keep it simple, his bat's in the zone longer, which is going to allow him to do a little bit more,” Rowson said. “He isn’t worrying so much about lifting the ball. He started thinking more about low line drives or driving the ball with backspin. That swing path really works for him, because it allows him to use the whole field.”

Though Volpe said he is not setting statistical goals for the season, Boone would like to see Volpe walk more than the 52 times he did in 601 plate appearances last season. That would raise his on-base percentage (.283 last year), potentially prompting a promotion in the batting order.

“[Last year,] I just think I could have put myself in a better position,” Volpe said. “I'm definitely grateful for having gone through that and being able to work through it, and keep on working on it. I think everything happens for a reason and I had to learn the hard way, but I feel like I'm in a better spot.”