Twenty years ago, the Yankees would spend like drunken sailors and throw caution to the wind in free agency. There was an abundance of all-star caliber shortstops who hit the free agent market over the past two offseasons, and the Yankees passed on every single one of them. Sitting in the wings is their top prospect Anthony Volpe, who looks to take on a full-time MLB role at some point during the 2023 season if he’s able to have a strong stint with the Triple-A team. Winning a World Series has remained the mission statement for the Bronx Bombers, but can a kid who’s only got a cup of coffee with Scranton be expected to make an impact in 2023?
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Breaking Through Double-A
Anthony Volpe has excelled in his ability to make consistent contact and not chase out of the zone, something the Yankees heavily struggled with against the Astros. The Yankees don’t necessarily have a strikeout problem but adding more guys who are all-around hitters doesn’t hurt, either. Volpe’s 17.7% Chase% and 77.7% Contact% gives him the ability to run strikeout rates below 20% and walk rates above 10%, a combination that bodes well for your ability to hit for a high average and record high OBPs. We saw Volpe struggle to start his tenure in Double-A, and two key components of his game were lacking, strikeouts and BABIP.
With a .165 BA and .189 BABIP, Volpe was rarely converting batted balls into hits, and with a 26.3% K%, he wasn’t generating enough contact. This combination led to a 69 wRC+, but as his hit tool and plate discipline fully translated over to this new challenge, he exploded onto the scene.
In his final 82 games at Double-A with the Somerset Patriots, the key components to what makes Anthony Volpe a top prospect were put on display as he helped guide them to the best record in the Eastern Division. He slashed .281/.371/.524 with 14 HRs and 28 2Bs in those games, showing off his incredible all-around skills. His .296 BABIP and 14.6% K% also gave him a return to the talents he displayed in 2021, showing off a solid hit tool and improving batted ball sprays as well. A 141 wRC+ over your final 82 games is a dramatic improvement from before, and suddenly the Yankees saw Volpe display star potential at a high level of MiLB.
What Volpe does at the plate is vital to his ability to prove the Yankees right for believing so much in his talents, but what people don’t talk about is his extremely high floor as a prospect.
Is Anthony Volpe a Safe Bet for 2023?
Offensive numbers are really important, but when it comes to all-around value (WAR), we oftentimes forget the importance of defense and baserunning. Rafael Devers and Austin Riley got monster extensions this offseason, and both of them had a worse fWAR than…Tommy Edman? Edman, who had just a 108 wRC+ and .324 OBP, looks like someone who couldn’t possibly profile for an elite WAR. It’s not until you look at his defense and baserunning that you understand why he had a 5.6 WAR and was one of the best players in baseball last season. Volpe is an elite baserunner and strong defender, which should allow him to post strong WAR totals.
Anthony Volpe stole 50 bases in 57 attempts (87.7%), which shows off not just an aggressive baserunning style but a high-volume, high-efficiency base stealer, a rarity in today’s game. The bigger bases we’ll see in 2023 should help bring back the running game, but Volpe looks to take MLB by storm on the basepaths. Baserunning is something the Yankees lack, as while they’ve increased their SB attempts, they don’t have the right guys to run the bases heavily. Oswald Peraza and Harrison Bader look to help correct this, but guys like LeMahieu, Donaldson, Rizzo, Stanton, and Trevino can’t be relied upon to steal bases.
The Yankees were just 21st in Baserunning Runs (-5.7), and while BsR isn’t the most important metric, the Astros were worse than the Yankees (-8.9) and won the World Series. That being said, being a really good baserunning team can add another wrinkle to the lineup’s dynamic, and having weapons on the basepaths isn’t negative in any manner. Getting thrown out is part of being an aggressive baserunning team, but when done well, it’ll generate more Runs Scored. Without making a FA signing or trade, that’s an easy way to boost your offense’s production across the board.
What this also means is that Anthony Volpe could give the Yankees an intriguing leadoff battle, as his speed and previously mentioned strong approach would make him an elite leadoff hitter. I’ve raved about how important a healthy DJ LeMahieu is to this team, but moving a slower veteran hitter like LeMahieu to the 5th spot could give the Yankees a reliable contact bat after Judge, Rizzo, and Stanton to move runners across or drive runners in. Volpe could set the table at the top with a .350-.360 OBP and present a threat to swipe 2nd.
Volpe’s speed is a huge part of what makes him an elite prospect, and that plays a role in his defense as well. Anthony Volpe is a much better defender than people give him credit for, having a slick glove and solid arm to go alongside great range due to his speed and mobility. He’s a remarkable athlete, and with MiLB data limited, the best we can go off of is a metric known as Davenport Runs, which gives us an equivalent to DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in scaling, though not in accuracy. With a +10 across Double-A and Triple-A, he was an elite defender in 2022.
For context, Jose Trevino also posted a +10, so at least in this system, Volpe is graded out as an elite defender. It’s not about getting an exact number but just knowing that Volpe is comfortably an above-average defender at SS, which will help his WAR value. He’s going to start out slow at the Major League level or hit a really tough stretch that tanks his offensive numbers, but with strong defense and baserunning, it’ll allow him to remain a productive MLB regular even as he finds himself at the plate.
We could also see Anthony Volpe at 2B, as the Yankees have Oswald Peraza currently at SS and he’s supposed to be a gold-glove caliber defender at the position. At 2B, the throws would be easier, and he’d potentially put up elite defensive numbers there, which could make him one of the top second basemen in the game. However the Yankees utilize him, they’re going to get a player who’s going to be a safe bet to accumulate 2.5-3 WAR over ~130 games any given season, even his rookie year. A high floor is great, but what Yankee fans want to know is if he can hit his ceiling and a reasonable ceiling as well.
Finding Player Comparisons for Anthony Volpe
Anthony Volpe isn’t the most powerful hitter in terms of raw power, with a 107.7 Max EV in 2022 and 109.8 Max EV in 2021, but that doesn’t mean he can’t hit plenty of XBHs, as we’ve stated before. He’s listed at 5’11, putting him on the shorter side of the 6’2 average for an MLB player; thus, he isn’t going to put up the monster exit velocities with his frame as guys like Judge or Stanton. What he can do is pull the ball when he hits it in the air to generate more distance and overall HR power, something plenty of other superstars have done across the league.
You should be familiar with Alex Bregman if you’ve watched any baseball recently, with his most recent season resulting in a 136 wRC+ and 23 HRs. He’s only topped out at 109.2 MPH for his Max EV at the Major League level, and yet he has 140 career HRs in 805 games and a 139 wRC+. He’s a master at generating elite sprays, pulling flyballs, and slapping groundballs the other way, which induce higher BABIPs and better wRC+ numbers. Volpe is extremely similar to Bregman’s high-FB, low-strikeout, high-walk skill set, and he could be the perfect comparison for the New Jersey native.
While comparing Volpe to a player as good as Alex Bregman places lofty expectations on him, the similarities don’t end there. Bregman was also a shortstop who would move off of the position due to a prospect who came up the year prior to their debut already handling the position. While Bregman has slowed down considerably in his late twenties, he used to have 84th Percentile Sprint Speeds in 2016, but Volpe is clearly the better baserunner. Bregman provides much less swing-and-miss, striking out just 68 times in his 146 MiLB games before his big league debut in 2016.
In terms of build, Volpe is 5’11 and 180 pounds on FanGraphs, while Breman is listed at 6’0 and 192 pounds, so they’re extremely similar there as well. We could be looking at an infielder with strong all-around skills at the plate the same way Bregman has strong all-around skills, with their foundation coming from strong plate discipline. Bregman had a 114 wRC+ in 49 games his rookie season, and Volpe is projected for a 111 wRC+ in 71 games, continuing the eerie similarities in terms of playstyle and production. The farm is loaded with high-end talent, and Volpe spearheads this new wave of youth.
When the Astros built the core of their 2017-2022 teams, it centered around young position players who got the chance to take the spotlight and dominate at the Major League level. If the Yankees want to get to more than one World Series this decade, a young core that pans out is vital for sustainable deep postseason runs. Anthony Volpe is too talented an individual to keep out of the mix in 2023, and he’ll force the Yankees’ hand during the season to give him the call. Unlike with Oswald Peraza, when the Yankees call up Volpe they have to entrust him with a full-time starting role.
One of their biggest oversights going into October was the lack of preparation Peraza had for a postseason series, and that’s due to their lack of experience at the MLB level. Peraza’s struggles in Spring affected when the Yankees could call him up, but there was no excuse as to why they played IKF/Donaldson over him in the final month of the season. The Yankees need to let go of their hesitancy to play rookies in larger roles because it’s what has held them back from surpassing the Astros in recent years.
What Are the Yankees Getting in 2023?
As mentioned before, Anthony Volpe is projected for a 111 wRC+, but the shape of that wRC+ is what intrigues me. With a projected 11 SBs in just 71 games, Volpe is supposed to provide a splash to the running game in a limited sample, which is expected. The number seems a little bit low with bigger bases and Volpe’s general aggression, but perhaps he’s not as aggressive to start his career. His projected K% of 20.6% tells us Steamer believes that Volpe won’t suffer from massive whiff issues in the big leagues, and a 9.0% BB% is a strong number as well.
They expect the BA (.240) and OBP (.317) to be low in that sample, but with 10 projected HRs and a .180 ISO in those 71 games, it’s easy to see that he could provide a low-strikeout high-power bat as he adjusts to MLB pitching. When you think about the ALCS matchup against the Houston Astros, they struggled with the long ball and with making consistent contact, which makes sense; how can you hit a HR if you don’t make contact with the ball? Volpe looks to fix some of those issues for the Yankee lineup, and this should help him slot into the 6th or 7th spot of the lineup nicely.
The upside is that Volpe hits closer to .260 in year one and ends up with a .340 OBP and the Yankees suddenly have a stable leadoff bat for their lineup. He’s one of the best prospects in baseball for a reason, and the Yankees can expect him to help their lineup with his bat and athleticism. He could also improve their defense up the middle if he’s the defender at 2B that he was at SS, and that all-around excellence to his game should allow him to give the Yankees a stable position player wherever they play him.
As to how he fits in this infield, the best fit for Volpe seems to be 2B, but perhaps he’s pressed into playing third if LeMahieu goes down with an injury or Gleyber Torres is simply too good to trade at the deadline. There’s also a possibility that with Stanton able to play LF in parks like Houston/Boston, Volpe could push players like Torres or LeMahieu into a DH spot for some games to keep everyone fresh. Ultimately, the Yankees are going to have to play around with Volpe’s comfort level at 2B and 3B in order to figure out where he can last long-term, that is, unless Peraza struggles at SS and Volpe takes that mantle.
Anthony Volpe is one of the most talented young players in all of MiLB, and he’s got the chance to give the Yankees validation for sticking with him through multiple stacked free-agent classes at the shortstop position.