Aaron Judge has looked out for Anthony Volpe pretty much from Day 1 of the rookie’s first big-league spring training.
The reigning American League MVP is protective of all of his teammates — and that started years before he was named captain in December — but is especially welcoming and embracing of young players trying to navigate a major-league clubhouse for the first time.
Veterans such as CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner treated Judge similarly when he came up as a hyped prospect in August 2016 and in the seasons that followed as he found his way in the majors.
One can easily envision Volpe, depending on how his career develops, paying it forward the same way. But that is speculative and years down the road.
The focus at the moment is on how Volpe, who turned 22 on April 28, is performing in his first season in pinstripes after capturing the spring training competition for the role of starting shortstop, a job he won going away.
And Judge, who in his own way made it known to those making the shortstop decision how he and the clubhouse felt overall, continues to be impressed with Volpe.
Maybe even more so because of the clear difficulties Volpe at times has had in the field — he leads the club with seven errors — and at the plate as he adjusts to big-league pitching.
Volpe, who went 2-for-4, including his ninth homer, in Sunday night’s series-clinching 4-1 victory over the Dodgers, is hitting .193 with a .631 OPS and 72 strikeouts in 212 at-bats (61 games). He entered Sunday night in a 6-for-56 skid, none of which concerned Judge.
“When they called him up, man, there was going to be some bumps and bruises along the way,” said Judge, who on Monday was scheduled to undergo testing on his right big toe, injured when he crashed through a Dodger Stadium bullpen door Saturday while making a running catch of a drive by J.D. Martinez. “But I think the organization . . . everybody knew he was the type of guy that could handle that adversity and kind of take it head on, and that’s what he’s done all year for us. It’s been impressive to watch and impressive to be around.”
Judge, who homered in his first big-league at-bat and again in his second game in 2016 before finishing that season (27 games) with a .179 batting average, 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats and a .608 OPS, said Volpe’s maturity stood out in spring training and continues to be evident.
“Just showing up every single day and still competing and still giving good at-bats,” Judge said. “I feel like he’s not taking his at-bats out on defense. I feel like a lot of guys that age, even myself probably at that age, at 22 years old, I’d probably be taking a couple of my bad days at the plate out on defense with me. But for him, he shows up every single day, he’s trying to make the plays, he’s still diving, he’s doing the little things.”
Indeed, a young player finding his way at the sport’s highest level rarely has a seamless experience, but how that player reacts can be telling. And even though this year’s journey has not always been pretty, Volpe said he’s felt the support of “everyone in the organization.”
The shortstop said Sunday’s performance, particularly on the stage it occurred, “does a lot” for his confidence, then gave a Judge-ian finish to the answer.
“At the end of the day, a really good team we’re going up against. To take the series the way we did and just to play the way we did [is satisfying],” Volpe said.
Aaron Boone, almost as protective of Volpe as Judge is, echoed his captain.
“What’s been impressive about him is, through all this, through times where he’s struggled at the plate, times where he’s made some errors, he always just bounces right back,” Boone said. “He’s helped us win a lot of games. He’s got nine homers, made a lot of big, important plays in the field, obviously the stuff he does on the bases [13-for-13 in stolen bases]. He’s finding his way, and it’s fun to watch him do it.”