With baseball in lockout limbo, Aaron Boone can’t talk to or about his players on the Yankees’ 40-man roster.
But he can talk to and about minor leaguers who have not yet ascended to the 40-man. One such organizational jewel is Anthony Volpe, who is such a stud prospect that the Yankees might not sign a big-name, big-money shortstop when the lockout ends.
The Yankees already passed on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Javier Baez, all of whom signed elsewhere before the lockout. Carlos Correa and Trevor Story are still available, and general manager Brian Cashman said shortstop is an area of need.
But will the Yankees want to make a long-term commitment after the lockout when they have Volpe knocking on the door?
To be clear, it’s not the big-league door Volpe will be knocking on when the 2022 season opens. The 20-year-old should start the season in Double-A after he hit .294 with 35 doubles, six triples, 27 home runs, 86 RBIs and a 1.027 OPS combined for two Single-A clubs in 2021, his first full minor-league season.
Boone, on a Zoom call on Wednesday to talk about his new coaching staff that the Yankees revealed on Tuesday, had to decline when he was asked about the medical status of rehabbing big-leaguers such as Aaron Hicks and Jameson Taillon. Management is forbidden to talk to or about or oversee any offseason programs for 40-man roster players.
But there are no such restrictions about youngsters such as Volpe, and Boone positively gushed about the New Jersey native.
"Special guy," Boone said. "I mean, am I allowed to talk about him? OK, I've seen him a couple times this winter at different events. I remember when he signed with us. I remember it being a rainy, crappy day in New York where him and his family came down and they signed. I remember hearing about all of his intangibles. Like, ‘Man, this guy's a great leader. He makes people better around him.’
"I remember thinking to myself, ‘All right, this was our first-round pick. Can he play? Well, I think he's showing that he can really play and [is] obviously somebody that we're incredibly excited about. I've gotten a little peek into some of those intangible things, the way he carries himself, the way he communicates, the way he talks. Obviously, there's an incredible work ethic there. There's this confidence with humility mixed in. Yeah, I'm really excited about the player, but also the person that I've gotten to see so far."
Volpe was the 30th overall selection in the 2019 draft. He played in 34 games after signing in a season that was shortened when he caught mono, and no games at all in 2020 because COVID-19 forced minor leagues to shut down entirely. Volpe broke out in 2021 and could be influencing the Yankees’ plans for next season in anticipation of a big-league debut in 2023.
All of this is speculation, but with the lockout, all that people around the game can do about the big-league roster is speculate amongst themselves.
For example: When the lockout ends, Cashman could look to sign a stop-gap shortstop such as defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons to a one-year deal and also use Gio Urshela at short next season. Since Gleyber Torres is a second baseman again, DJ LeMahieu will have to play somewhere else, so he could see more time at third with Urshela at short to start games.
The Yankees have so many unanswered questions, and none of them are going to get answered during the lockout. Boone isn’t even allowed to send a "Merry Christmas" text to his 40-man roster much less talk about plans for next season.
"I don't like it," Boone said. "I certainly miss [it], especially with a lot of our players that we've been together now for years, that you have these strong relationships and history with now. Yeah, it sucks not to be able to communicate with them, even on the everyday things."