Anthony Volpe's Yankees breakout has him in incredible (and surprising) company

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays
New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages

We forgive you if you stopped following Anthony Volpe's progress when he was moved to the leadoff spot and his initial barrage subsided. It was only natural to grumble and wonder (wondergrumble?) whether Aaron Boone had tinkered too soon and messed with his head, only about 24 hours after he'd claimed the team intended to lead Volpe off a decade from now (and also right now?).

For a while there, things certainly looked bleak. Volpe's swing-and-miss 2023 bugaboo returned seemingly out of nowhere; instead of mastering the strike zone and serving outside pitches hard into right field, he reverted to over-swinging. Sure, the defense still looked slick, but a powerless 3-for-29 stretch that dropped his average from .382 to .286 made his overall leap forward feel more like a mirage.

By May 7, the once-sterling batting average had dropped all the way to .250, and while that stat only tells a tiny sliver of the story, things still felt less than encouraging. After all, Volpe's early-season renaissance narrative was based on bat control. The dip in average seemed to indicate a deviation in strategy and a bit of an undoing.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Volpe only notched three extra-base hits between April 15 and May 5; his "Oh, did he need THAT!" homer in Milwaukee didn't do much in the way of getting him off the schneid. But since that inflection point, he's hit two more homers, notched a double and a triple, and wrapped Game 1 of the Minnesota series with a 120 OPS+, greatly outpacing his relatively empty-calorie-fueled 20-20 rookie season.

Add in his defensive proficiency, which seems to be sitting on a much more solid foundation this year, and you've got a top-10 player in the game in terms of fWAR, sitting among baseball's young greats. No, seriously.

Yankees' Anthony Volpe is top 10 in MLB in fWAR. No, really.

The Yankees' stated hope for Volpe's 2024 was something approximating Bobby Witt Jr.'s sophomore breakout; the Royals' tippy-top prospect posted a 102 OPS+ in 2022, followed by a 118 mark, 30 homers, 11 triples, 49 steals, and a seventh-place MVP finish for an otherwise bumbling KC team. Thus far in 2024, he's busted out even further, with a 147 OPS+ and the league lead in runs scored.

He's also third on the fWAR list, 0.7 ahead of Volpe sitting in ninth. Not a bad neighbor in any statistic, but in this particular instance, Witt Jr. and Volpe's dueling career paths are laying out pretty plainly that the Yankees' dream might not have been too farfetched ... even if most fans probably haven't noticed.