After a series win in Detroit mostly defined by Gleyber Torres longballs and a leaked report about which new players would be joining the Yankees' roster once the series was over, rookie Anthony Volpe found a way to steal the show back on Thursday afternoon.
It didn't hurt that Torres threw that particular game away to remove some of his personal shine, but still, the promotions of Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells, along with Volpe's late heroics, will probably be the most memorable moments of the set. Not in a, "We Won!" kind of way, but in a 2023 Yankees kind of way, where something impressive was accomplished that could set the tone for future seasons, but can't affect the fate of the current one all that much.
One day before two new kids join the fray, Volpe relished his role as the elder statesman of the Yankees' rookie brigade (lol), coming up with runners on the corners and two outs in the ninth inning of a game the Bombers trailed by three.
Not only did Volpe rocket a 97 MPH fastball to the opposite field, but he cleared the fence, becoming the third rookie shortstop in the history of the game to pass the 20 homer, 20 stolen base mark, alongside Bobby Witt Jr. and Nomar Garciaparra.
Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe one of three rookies at position with 20 homers, 20 stolen bases
There's a reason we compared Volpe's freshman campaign to Bobby Witt Jr.'s a few weeks ago -- and not just because Witt Jr.'s Year 2 has been a tremendous improvement on the flawed-but-gaudy numbers he posted as a rookie.
Volpe's OPS finally climbed above .700 after a months-long ascent after Thursday's home run rattled around the empty space at Comerica Park. In case the shortstop's progression from "frisky April" to "should the plug be pulled?" to "chicken parm, that's cute" to legitimate weapon wasn't notable to outsiders, hitting that round number definitely helped.
But people who watch this team daily learned several weeks ago that Volpe's off day tweaks over a steaming Italian dinner represented a helpful mental reset that sent him on a prodigious path, carrying him not to the peak of his powers, but at least to a place where he can say, "I accomplished something in my rookie year that even Derek Jeter didn't."
Volpe still strikes out too much. He still has occasional bouts of discomfort (remember when he moved back to the leadoff spot and his numbers plummeted?). He may start 2024 in a similar funk when the weather gets cold. But we know now what we didn't in April: the power translates, the defense can play, and the flair for the dramatic is there.
Volpe's Year 2 might not feature a midseason Bobby Witt Jr. leap, leaving him in rarefied air (.360 with a .712 SLG in his past 30 games). His .838 August OPS, capped off by what should've been an electric moment in a season largely bereft of them, looked a lot more like the player we were promised, though. And it didn't even take a full year to get there.