Yankees are seeing their young shortstop take a massive leap in 2024

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Yankees gave Anthony Volpe the starting shortstop job last season, it was with the full understanding that he would struggle in his rookie season. The bat certainly disappointed, as the 22-year-old struggled to consistently make contact and made some rough swing decisions as well, leaving many confused about whether they should ever expect him to make that jump offensively. Skepticism is completely fair for a player who hasn’t proven themself at the Major League level, but the criticism seemed almost unfair.

You’d think he was one of the worst players in baseball based on the way people spoke about the first-year shortstop, who was a 2-3 WAR player depending on the website you used. A perfectly average player in a sport where rookies often experience a rough learning curve, he was poised to take some big steps forward this season, and he’s hit the ground running. It’s still early, but it’s hard to argue that Anthony Volpe looks like anything other than a star.

Anthony Volpe Is Blossoming Into a Franchise Shortstop For the Yankees

MLB: Miami Marlins at New York Yankees
Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Few players distinguish themselves with their off-field traits, but Anthony Volpe is one of those select guys who has the baseball IQ and work ethic to match the talent he brings to the table. The Yankees have made prospects like Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Jones unavailable for the same reasons they clung to the 22-year-old shortstop, and it’s the fact that they combine unbelievable talent with confidence and a clear belief that they can and will be some of the best players in the game.

Last season was a learning experience for Volpe, who struggled with his bat path and often swung at too steep of an angle to consistently make contact. On average, he had an Attack Angle of 9.1°, which was one of the steeper angles in the league. Approaching the ball at angles similar to power-heavy hitters like Kyle Schwarber, it felt as if he had the wrong swing for his build, and the Yankees would get to work on helping him get his swing back to where it was at the Minor League level.

With a more direct path to the ball, Anthony Volpe can generate more force on his swings as well, and his ability to cover pitches can extend an at-bat and give him more chances to do damage. We’ve seen him struggle to cover breaking balls on the outer half of the plate, especially from right-handed pitchers. Now that he’s less susceptible to those pitches, it’s a lot harder to try and get Anthony Volpe to strike out, and he’s seemingly maintained the ability to impart damage on contact in the process.

His xwOBACON (.381) is exactly where it was last year (.380), but now he has a 14.5% Whiff Rate and a higher Sweet Spot Rate as well, which should lead to more hits and fewer ugly at-bats. The raw power numbers are still coming around, and I think that he could add some of that home run power we saw last year without affecting his whiff rates or getting his swing out of shape since his line drives will go for home runs if hit hard enough. Yankee Stadium is also a great ballpark for his kind of swing because he can let the ball travel a little and still shoot it out to right field.

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Defensively, Anthony Volpe looks even better than he did last year when he won the American League Gold Glove Award, posting +3 Defensive Runs Saved and +2 Outs Above Average in the early going. He looks far more poised at the position, and there’s plenty of reason to be excited about what the young shortstop can do going forward with his refined skillset on both sides of the ball. A great defensive shortstop with above-average offensive skills can be a 4-5 WAR player, and if the Yankees have that in Volpe, then they’ll have their long-term answer at shortstop.

This was the kind of breakout we were excited about when the Yankees brought in James Rowson, as his track record shows that he’s been able to connect to younger hitters and get the best out of them. Internally, the organization is a lot stronger than given credit for, especially at the Minor League level where they consistently have multiple affiliates that just dominate their respective leagues. Whether that’s the Somerset Patriots, who have collected an Eastern League title (2022) and a second-straight division titled (2023), or the Florida Complex League Yankees who have gone to two straight championship rounds, winning one in 2022 and losing the other in 2023.

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Designated hitter Ben Rice jogs to first base after being walked during the August 25, 2023 game against the Bowie Baysox at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J. Credit: Sal DiMaggio / USA TODAY NETWORK

From hyped prospects like Jasson Dominguez to great stories like Ben Rice, the Yankees have produced some excellent talent at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. Now, their goal is to prepare these players for the Major Leagues, and James Rowson gives them a better channel as they make that transition because he can create an environment that’s friendly to newcomers while also resonating with veterans. Anthony Volpe looked lost last season, but so did the Yankees’ identity as an organization.

It’s no coincidence that both Anthony Volpe and Oswaldo Cabrera are off to hot starts and look completely different from the hitters we saw in 2023, as they finally have a consistent and concise plan at the plate. Swing at good pitches to hit, do damage on contact, and don’t be afraid to pass the baton to the guy behind you. The Yankees are fifth in wRC+ as an offense (121) and second in SEAGER (19.2) which measures your swing decisions and plate discipline. We’ve seen them finally begin to do damage in recent games, and hopefully, that trend continues.

With Anthony Volpe hitting the way he’s hitting, this is a much deeper lineup full of guys who can give you good at-bats, and we might be in for a fun season if this is what we can expect all year.

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