A few months after his rookie season ended, Anthony Volpe got an up-close look at baseball’s business side.
The 22-year-old was with Kyle Higashioka in Arizona when the Yankees traded the veteran catcher, Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez and Drew Thorpe to San Diego in the Juan Soto deal. Volpe called the moment “bittersweet,” but not unfamiliar, as he’s seen the Yankees trade plenty of friends while climbing the organization’s ranks the last few years.
“Just one of those places you’ll never forget where you were, how you found out, stuff like that,” Volpe recalled Saturday at Pinstripe Pride, an autograph signing at the American Dream mall in New Jersey. “But for better or worse over the last couple of years, I’ve kind of been in that situation with guys I care about a lot.”
But, Volpe, added, “at the end of the day, it’s great opportunities for everyone. Going forward, I know I’m really excited.”
With the addition of Soto and others, Volpe believes the Yankees can rebound in 2024 after finishing fourth last season. Better health, even on a marginal scale, would also help.
So would a sophomore surge from Volpe.
While plenty went well for the neophyte in 2023 — Volpe became the first Yankees rookie to record a 20-20 season and win a Gold Glove — his performance was rather uneven. Among the most glaring statistics on the first row of his baseball card: a .209 average, a .283 OBP, an 81 OPS+ and a 52:167 walk-to-strikeout ratio over 159 games.
“It’s so impressive that he won the Gold Glove despite having ups and downs at the plate,” said one scout, noting that a rookie could have easily let his frustrations hurt his defense. Still, the Yankees would have liked more offense from Volpe, who always demonstrated a sharp eye as a prospect but only played in 21 Triple-A games in 2022 before winning the shortstop job last spring.
At the Winter Meetings in December, Aaron Boone said that the ability to control the strike zone is in Volpe’s DNA.
“That’s an area where he’s gotta improve,” the manager acknowledged, adding that he believes Volpe will. “Hopefully we see those improvements this year.”
Boone went on to say that Volpe will have to learn to adapt at the plate as pitchers exploit his weaknesses, but that’s true of any big leaguer. Volpe had solid months in June and August last year, but it didn’t take long for opponents to adjust each time.
“Anthony’s makeup, intelligence and ability will allow him to do that,” the skipper said.
Volpe also led the Yankees in games played last season, the longest campaign of his baseball life. He downplayed concerns of fatigue at the end of the year, but the final month was also his worst.
On Saturday, Volpe declined to get into specifics when asked what he’s been working on this offseason.
“Everything,” he said. “I obviously learned a ton last year about everything. So we’ve been going to work.
“Just different things I felt like I did well and didn’t do well with consistency and stuff like that. Trying to use all the resources and the organization, everyone helping out to help everyone improve.”
Asked if he felt he needed to change his swing, Volpe didn’t answer directly.
“I think just taking some of the strengths of my game and trying to make those more consistent,” he replied. “With that, ironing out some of the things that didn’t set me up for as much success as I expect.”
In Year 2, Volpe will not be afforded the same learning curve that he was graded on as a rookie. Perhaps a player his age would get more leeway in a different situation, but this will be a must-win season for the Yankees with Soto in his walk year and Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole another year older but still in their primes.
It seems like the need for urgency is understood, as Volpe, Judge and other key cogs have already spent time working out in Tampa. Pitchers and catchers must report by Feb. 14, while position players have to be there by Feb. 19.
“We’ve all been down there for probably about a month now,” Volpe said of a sizeable group. “So everyone’s primed up, ready to go. We want to hit the ground running.”
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