Being a Major League Baseball rookie is tough. Being a rookie with the New York Yankees, thrust into an eternal and unceasing pennant race as soon as the curtain rises, sounds impossible. It's why the team rarely goes to that well, leaving the Farm System Championships to Boston instead.
But tack on the weighty expectations of the shortstop position AND the familial pressure of being a hometown kid, and it's a wonder Anthony Volpe made it successfully to the other side of 2023. Must have a pretty good head on his shoulders.
Volpe's rookie season hasn't shattered expectations, and the team will miss the postseason, but 20 homers and 20 stolen bags is nothing to sneeze at. A .210-ish average and an OPS under .700/OBP under .300/150+ strikeouts? Yeah, you could sneeze in that general direction, if you wanted to.
Volpe's shown impressive range with the glove and a propensity for in-season adjustments (where would he be without chicken parm?), but the overall portfolio is slightly below where you'd want him to be. There's a 0.0% chance of the Yankees cutting bait after Year 2, but ... certainly you'd like to see some tangible progress made next season in Volpe's problem areas to make the long-term prognosis less uncertain.
And, if Volpe does struggle, the Yankees should probably train their wandering eyes on the breakout star who presents the rosiest possible path for Volpe's development: Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.
The 23-year-old former No. 2 overall pick is stuck in KC through 2027 (unless he demands a trade), and the Royals' roster looks like just as much of a sinking ship this season as it did during Witt's uneven rookie campaign. Expect the noise to get a bit louder as time marches on, and expect the Yankees to send a little side-eye to the midwest if their own incumbent top prospect shortstop doesn't put it all together in 2024.
Yankees hoping Anthony Volpe becomes Bobby Witt Jr., but ... they could also just keep a seat warm for Witt Jr.
Again ... there's nothing immediate here ... and Witt Jr. is unlikely to hit the trade market until ~two years before his free agency at the absolute earliest. This is just to say that he and the Royals haven't exactly made progress on growing entrenched with one another, and Kansas City's current regime didn't make tangible progress toward stability during Witt Jr.'s stunning sophomore season, in which he's hit 29 bombs, racked up 4.5 bWAR, stolen 48 bags, improved his defense nearly overnight, and become one of the game's signature young talents.
That's exactly what the Yankees hope is to come from Volpe in 2024, and it's not like Witt Jr.'s rookie season showed off anything more substantial than what the Yankees' alternative already has (102 OPS+, extremely subpar range, 20 bombs/30 stolen bags).
The best outcome from the Yankees' perspective would be for Volpe to post a 4-5 bWAR season on a contending team in 2024 so we can all forget about the future and embrace the hometown kid energy emanating in the present. But ... if that doesn't manifest ... you can bet they'll be checking the Happiness Gauges in the Show Me State, along with every other keen-eyed executive in MLB.