LOS ANGELES — Entering this season, the Yankees had a gaping hole at shortstop. Gleyber Torres was out there fighting back to second base. The Yankees lucked out, though, because the announced free agent class of shortstops was hitting the free agent market: Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez were all stars, and three of them won a World Series. .
The Yankees overcame all of them, trading Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a sure-handed pitcher not known for his at-bats.
why The team wanted to improve the defense and the price of free agents was extraordinary. Kiner-Falefa, who has been under team control for two seasons, will make $4.7 million this year, while Correa, Seager, Story and Baez all signed contracts paying them $23.3 million or more annually. At $35.1 million this season, Correa is the second highest paid player in baseball.
But Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, said in March that there was another reason to let go of top talent: “We have two incredible Prospects I’m happy to take a chance on.”
One such prospect was Anthony Volpe, considered by many to be the tight end of the organization’s future.
During the annual Futures Game, a showcase of the sport’s top prospects held before Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Volpe had a chance to show off the skills he dreams of one day taking to the Bronx.
“Obviously, it’s good to hear from somebody like that,” Volpe said when told of Steinbrenner’s comments before Saturday’s game, in which he went 0-for-2 with a complete game save over three innings.
“I feel like I have a long way to go and it’s obviously a big step in my career, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” he continued. “Even though I hope to get there one day, there’s still a lot of work to do to be the player I want to be and I hope to win a lot of rings here.”
Volpe, 21, meant it. It seems almost too good to be true: He was an avid Yankees fan growing up in Morristown, N.J., a town 40 miles west of Yankee Stadium, and admired Derek Jeter, the former Yankees shortstop and captain. He attended Jeter’s last All-Star Game, in 2014, with his father, as well as the Futures game that year. As a kid and now as a Yankees prospect, Volpe often pictures himself playing shortstop at Yankee Stadium, just like his idol.
“That’s the ultimate goal I’m working towards and I’m very excited,” he said.
The Yankees selected Volpe, a right-handed hitter listed at 5 feet 11 inches and 180 pounds, with the 30th overall pick in the 2019 draft out of the Delbarton school, and they coaxed him out of his college commitment to Vanderbilt University. $2.7 million signing bonus.
“People don’t really know this story, but when he was getting drafted, he didn’t talk to any teams in high school because he only cared about winning the state championship,” said Max Burt, one of the players. Volpe’s closest friends in Class AA Somerset. “And that’s exactly what he did. Victory is the first priority for him.”
Volpe’s first full season in the minor leagues didn’t end until 2021 because the pandemic canceled the previous season. In 109 games, he hit .294 with 27 home runs and a 1.027 on-base plus slugging percentage. Volpe has played 30 minutes this season with his hometown club Somerset, but got off to a slow start but has been on a roll since early June, raising his season to .253 with 12 home runs and an .812 OPS in 77 games.
“It was built for New York,” Burt said. “He’s built to play under bright lights. Obviously, being from that corner, he had media and a lot of attention on a daily basis, and he handled it incredibly well.
Playing so close to where he grew up had its perks: Volpe lives in his childhood home — but with a few new friends. His Somerset teammates, catcher Austin Wells (the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2020), outfielder Blake Perkins and Burt, remain there through the season. Volpe said his mom makes them and the whole team is invited after Sunday’s home games.
“It’s a great atmosphere to play and then come home to see the family,” he said, adding later, “It’s been a fun year.”
On the field, Somerset manager Dan Fiorito said Volpe combines discipline at the plate, power, ability to hit the barrel of the ball, strong defense and speed on the bases. Volpe hit 33 bases last season and already has more this year (35) in fewer games.
“He is way ahead of his game at just 21 years old,” Fiorito said via email, “and we are all very excited for his future.”
Added Volpe: “I turned 21 this year and I don’t think there’s a 21-year-old in the world who can’t get better at everything. It’s really a hit, a defense, just the whole game. I just want to keep learning and never really stop. “
But ask Yankees officials and Volpe’s teammates about him, and one of the most common themes is his demeanor. Fiorito said it’s rare to find leaders in such young players and that Volpe is a “relentless competitor.” Burt said his friend has the same attitude, whether he’s 0 for 4 with four hits or 4 for 4 with four home runs.
“The way he goes about his business, the way he leads, he really has a positive impact on his teammates in this clubhouse, the way he interacts with the fans,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I mean, he’s got that factor. I know it’s a cliché, but that’s the best description I can give you. You have five instruments that you try to evaluate, then you perform, and then you get additional equipment, which is makeup.
“And it has this extra gear. It comes with a package, and it’s thanks to his mom and dad. He will be a successful player at the highest level and we would certainly love to have him with us.”
The decision to bet on Kiner-Falefa, who is from Hawaii but also grew up watching the Yankees and wanted to be like Jeter, has proven valuable for New York this season. Among other upgrades, he helped make the Yankees the best team in baseball. Entering Saturday, they had a 62-28 record and a 12 ½ game lead in the American League East.
There’s a kid from New Jersey who loves Jeter and hopes to one day do the same.