Yankees hoping stud young infielder can take a big leap in 2024

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Volpe entered last Spring Training with his eyes set on winning the Yankees‘ shortstop battle, but this year, he has a much different goal. There’s no question about who will be the Opening Day shortstop for the New York Yankees as long as Volpe is healthy, but last year was a mixed bag. On one hand, the 22-year-old put up a 20-20 season and won a Gold Glove at shortstop, flashing impressive upside defensively after questions about whether he would stick there persisted in his career.

That being said, he still put up an OBP below .300 and had one of the worst qualified wRC+ numbers in baseball last season, and there are big improvements he needs to make with the bat. He’s been hard at work over winter making tweaks to his swing path and getting more comfortable on both sides of the ball, and the Yankees hope it can translate to a strong sophomore campaign.

Anthony Volpe Making Key Swing Changes

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Sep 27, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe (11) hits a single against the Toronto Blue Jays in the fourth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Last season exposed a bit of a swing path issue for Anthony Volpe, who struggled to consistently make contact, and when he did it wasn’t to great effects. He only posted a .259 BABIP in his rookie campaign, which resulted in a low batting average and low on-base percentage, a clear departure from his Minor League numbers. It’s one thing to struggle at the Major League level; plenty of great players were unimpressive in their first seasons and turned it around with experience and time to mature at the highest level, but none of his core skills translated to the big leagues.

A 27.8% strikeout rate is just not what you expected from Volpe, and the issues stemmed from a steep bat path that opened up a lot of holes in his swing. The Yankees are known as an organization that can develop game power extremely well, but even they were probably displeased with the bat angle Volpe had. Attack Angle is a metric that looks at how steep or flat your bat is on your swing path, with more contact-oriented hitters having flat paths and power-oriented hitters having steep paths to generate contact in the air.

When looking at the players that Volpe was grouped with in terms of Attack Angle, it’s a group that has a much different build and playstyle compared to the young shortstop.

Anthony Volpe finished with an above-average xwOBACON (Expected Weighted On-Base Average on Contact) last season, and yet it’s one of the worst marks in this pool of players. That’s because the kind of hitters with a bat path that steep tend to have excellent raw power, knowing they can make up for the strikeouts with 25-30 HRs a season, something that you can’t expect from Volpe. Flattening his bat path a bit could result in a bit more contact, with a larger margin for error in terms of barrel accuracy and more line drives that can drop for hits.

Hitters with flatter angles just open themselves up to a lot more contact, and while plate discipline also affects your strikeout rate, there’s at least a loose correlation between bat steepness and strikeouts. Flatter bat angles do limit your power output, but Volpe might benefit from being more of a well-rounded hitter, and Gleyber Torres showed that you can improve your contact rates without killing your game power. He dropped his strikeout rate by 8% this past season and still hit 25 home runs, a monumental improvement for the former All-Star.

The goal for Anthony Volpe with his flatter bat path should be predicated around getting more sweet spots and having more hits drop. Something that the Yankees struggled with as a team last season was generating contact that could result in hits, and while batting average is an incomplete metric; you can’t rank near the bottom of the league in the metric and expect to succeed. Higher averages lead to higher on-base rates, and getting on-base is an integral part of a great offense.

If we can see both his batting average and on-base percentage increase, what could Anthony Volpe develop into for the Yankees in 2024?

Having a Bigger Role in the Yankees’ Offense

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees, anthony volpe
Jun 25, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe (11) runs to home after hitting a double against the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are leading off with Anthony Volpe in their first Spring Training game of the season, and while DJ LeMahieu is their projected table-setter, it’s not a job that’s locked in for the entire season. Age has gotten to LeMahieu, who posted a 101 wRC+ last season and is projected for a rather average season, and while Volpe is coming off of a much-worse campaign, he has a higher ceiling and could evolve into the role as the season goes on. Everyone knows he’s an excellent base runner, and if the flatter bat path does produce a higher OBP, he’ll be a natural fit for the job.

He’ll likely start the season in the bottom third of the order, with the hope being that he can deepen their lineup and work his way into a bigger role. The pressure will be placed on guys like Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton to rebound from ugly 2023 campaigns, and Volpe is only expected to play a supplemental role, but the upside is incredible if the hit tool finally comes around. I’ve been adamant about James Rowson being an excellent hire for the hitting coach role, and I believe the effect he’ll have on the young players will be monumental.

“He told me each and every day, ‘You’re the best player’…I had to mentally prepare myself each and every day like ‘You know what? I am the best player.’ Once my mindset shifted to [that], the other stuff didn’t matter.”

– Byron Buxton on James Rowson

READ MORE: Yankees name James Rowson as new hitting coach for the 2024 season

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Detroit Tigers assistant hitting coach James Rowson watches a play during the fifth inning against Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park in Detroit on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Rowson oversaw the development of hitters like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco, who were all mainstays in the Twins’ lineup for years during a period of decent success. They were even on the team that broke their playoff win drought, and while he wasn’t there in 2023, he did oversee a team that set the record for most home runs hit in a regular season. The development of young players on the team, including Anthony Volpe, will be crucial for the team’s success long-term, and this is a chance for the Yankees to finally find a franchise shortstop.

Derek Jeter’s retirement marked the end of an era for Yankees baseball, they haven’t won a title since nor have they found a franchise shortstop, and there’s reason to believe Anthony Volpe can become that permanent solution there. The glove is strong, and if the bat is ever above average, he’ll be a consistent 4 WAR player who anchors their infield for years to come. This is a chance for him to prove that he’s more than just a talented player, and for the Yankees, it’s a chance for their improved drafting and development teams to flex their muscle.

2024 is the year that Anthony Volpe can silence a lot of critics, and on a team full of players trying to prove their doubters wrong, he’ll fit right in with this focused group.

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