Yankees stud infielder could steal the lead-off role sooner rather than later

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees held their breath when starting infielder DJ LeMahieu fouled a ball off his foot on Saturday afternoon. LeMahieu was clearly in pain, dropping to one knee, and was promptly pulled from the game.

Fortunately, imaging came back clean, and he should be ready to go for the regular season, but his lead-off role could be in jeopardy long-term as one of the team’s young players continues to impress.

Sophomore shortstop Anthony Volpe is coming off a polarizing rookie season in 2023. Over 159 games, Volpe hit .209/.283/.383, hitting 21 homers with 60 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. His 27.8% strikeout rate and 8.7% walk rate certainly left a lot to be desired, but Volpe spent the off-season refining his swing and changing his fundamentals.

The Yankees Are Seeing Anthony Volpe’s Offensive Potential

Volpe has eliminated a noticeable leg kick and simplified his swing, opting for a more level bat path rather than trying to uppercut it to produce more loft. Last year, he had 14.2° of launch angle, but that is expected to reduce significantly. The idea is not to compromise his power, so he added a bit of strength this off-season to help elevate the ball, but it could negatively impact his home run totals.

To become the Yankees’ future lead-off man, Volpe simply needs to get on base at a high enough clip. If his spring training performance is any indication of his progress, he could be in line to earn that job early in the 2024 season. Over 14 games this spring, Volpe is hitting .368/.415/.500, recording four RBIs with three stolen bases, a 19.5% strikeout rate, and a 7.3% walk rate.

His numbers certainly suggest that the new swing is paying off in dividends. There’s no questioning Volpe’s work ethic and commitment to being a great Yankee, which is why many fans are excited about his potential.

Manager Aaron Boone recently discussed Volpe’s fundamental changes and whether they will impact his power. He noted that he is still strong and that slugging production shouldn’t simply disappear. He did mention that Volpe was a great fastball hitter last year; in fact, he hit .248 with a .479 slugging rate against them in 2023. Of course, he stands to gain a lot of production in that area, especially since he hit only .147 against breaking balls.

“Overall, he was a very good fastball hitter, just fastball down last year. But hopefully this puts him in a better position to handle that, be better in certain areas that got exposed. But then it also puts you in better position to handle the mistake off-speed pitch that shows up that a lot of times is a ball you can hit for an extra-base hit or out of the ballpark.”

As long as they can continue improving his plate discipline and boosting his walk numbers, he should be able to win the leadoff job at some point, especially if he was struggling to open the year. An on-base percentage above 34% would likely give Boone enough confidence to make the change, but spring training is a lot different than regular season ball, and Volpe still has a lot to prove.

Mentioned in this article:

More about: