With the Yankees down by one run in the top of the ninth inning against the Orioles in Baltimore, Anthony Volpe stepped into the batter’s box leading off the inning. It had been a rough day at the plate for Volpe, already 0-3, and now, he was facing one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball, Felix Bautista.
On the first pitch, Volpe whiffed on a disgusting 85 mph splitter that landed on home plate. Bautista then fired a 99 mph fastball up and away that was called for a strike. With the count 0-2 in his favor, Bautista threw another splitter, this time just off the outer part of the plate, but Volpe chased, missing the ball and landing on a knee.
So far, April 7 has been an overall representation of Volpe’s offensive season. The rookie is slashing a brisk .129/.250/.194 (32 Weighted Runs Created+) through his first 10 games in the major leagues. After a great Spring Training, Volpe was named to the Yankees Opening Day roster and became their youngest player to start on Opening Day since Derek Jeter in 1996.
In a lot of ways, Volpe is expected to be Jeter. Like the former captain, Volpe grew up a lifelong Yankees fan and grew into a first-round pick by the team. Since Jeter retired, the Yankees haven’t had a true longterm answer to the position, and despite having plenty of opportunities to pursue star players at the position over the last few years, the Yankees opted to wait for Volpe.
Although Volpe is struggling, now is not the time to panic. Baseball is a volatile sport. When a player is hot, they’re hot, and when they’re not, they’re not. Take for example Adley Rutschman, the catcher behind the plate when Bautista faced Volpe.
Rutschman made his major league debut last season, and through his first 10 games, “perhaps the best all-around catching prospect since Joe Mauer” slashed .179/.273/.256 (56 wRC+) in his first 10 games.
Another example is Bobby Witt Jr. In the infielder’s first 10 games as a Kansas City Royal, Witt slashed .128/.150/.231 (-4 wRC+). By looking at just the stats from their first 10 games, you’d think Rutschman and Witt are awful baseball players. It turns out, they’re both talented, and respectively finished second and fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting.
Additionally, Volpe has historically been a slow starter at the plate. Being the fourth-youngest position player in MLB with only 22 games in Triple-A, a learning curve should be expected. He’ll need time to get adjusted to major league pitching.
While Volpe hasn’t been good at the plate, he’s still shown reasons to be optimistic. The day after going 0-4, Volpe barreled a fastball from Cole Irvin 102.1 mph into right field for a triple. The ensuing batter, DJ LeMahieu, brought Volpe home as the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, and the Yankees went onto to win 4-1, thanks to a big fifth inning kick started by Volpe.
Although Volpe has struck out at a 33.3% clip, he’s show that he has a good eye, despite his early struggles. Volpe’s 13.9 BB% is just 0.1% below Aaron Judge’s, ranking in the 78th percentile. If Volpe keeps working his way on base, it will make his base running that much more valuable.
Even though Volpe hasn’t stolen any bases since his three-stolen base opening series, his base running is a game-changing threat every time he gets on base. Volpe’s speed is something the Yankees have lacked for years, and if Volpe can become a consistent threat at the plate, it will make his base running that much more dangerous.
While it should be considered with a grain of salt – just like his hitting – because of a small sample size, Volpe has fared well defensively at shortstop. With one Out Above Average, Volpe ranks in the defensive metric’s 88th percentile to start the season.
For the first time all season, Volpe wasn’t in the Yankees' starting lineup Tuesday, but don’t overreact. Volpe has showcased his star potential in the minor leagues, Spring Training and in a pinch in the major leagues. Let the 21-year-old adjust and adapt to being a major leaguer. He’ll be fine, and will show why the Yankees have waited for his arrival.