The Yankees have the perfect lead-off hitter, he just needs more time

mlb: new york yankees at los angeles dodgers, anthony volpe
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After requiring Juan Soto, the New York Yankees will likely play it safe at the top of the batting order in 2024. The expectation is that DJ LeMahieu will feature as the primary lead-off hitter, with Soto and Aaron Judge close behind. LeMahieu is coming off a polarizing 2023 season, but he picked things up significantly after the All-Star break once former hitting coach Dillon Lawson was fired.

LeMahieu hit .220/.285/.357 pre-All-Star break last season, but his numbers elevated to .273/.377/.432 after the break, suggesting a major swing in production. This seems to have been a fundamental tweak since a difference of this magnitude isn’t normal.

With that being said, LeMahieu should be able to get on base at a relatively decent clip and hit for contact, making him a fine lead-off man in the interim. The problem is that DJ lacks athleticism, ranking in the 12th percentile in sprint speed. Getting on base for Soto and Judge is fine and dandy, but he won’t be able to steal bags at an appropriate clip to help get into a scoring position.

The Yankees Have a Perfect Future Lead-off Man

In a perfect world, Yankees’ young shortstop Anthony Volpe would develop into the team’s lead-off hitter. At 22 years old, Volpe set a franchise record of 24 stolen bases in his rookie season. However, he only hit .209/.283/.383 in 159 games. He needs to lower his strike-out rate from 27.8% and boost his base percentage to at least 32%.

If Volpe can work some walks and get on early, he can easily swipe a bag and tantalize opposing pitchers as they try to get through a gauntlet of elite hitters. Last season, Volpe did enjoy 123 plate appearances batting first, hitting a measly .191/276/.345. He managed four homers with 13 RBIs and 13 walks but struck out 31 times in the process.

Fortunately, with the Yankees struggling, they were able to give Volpe plenty of action in spots where he could make an impact down the road. The expectation is he will start next season as the team’s number nine hitter, but Volpe has the qualities to develop at a fast pace and take over more impactful roles.

The Yankees will certainly be patient with his growth, but you better believe the young infielder is working diligently this off-season to get better and will be down in Tampa early to get some additional work in ahead of spring training.

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