Yankees' Anthony Volpe fielding balls during spring training in George...

Yankees' Anthony Volpe fielding balls during spring training in George Steinbrenner Field on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.


The Yankees’ traveling party that made the three-plus-hour trek across Florida for Monday night’s game against the Marlins was noticeably light on, well, Yankees. The vast majority of the marquee names skipped the arduous bus trip, which is not unusual for the Grapefruit League in early March.

The two regulars who were in the lineup? Anthony Volpe and Gleyber Torres, who were left to go it alone, surrounded by the next tier of lower-wattage players.

In that sense, Monday night wasn’t all that different from what we witnessed from the Yankees last season, when Volpe — a rookie meant to climb the learning curve as a complementary bat — logged more games than anyone else in pinstripes.

That’s a credit to Volpe, of course. Only 10 players in the majors totaled more than his 159, and just four appeared in all 162, including his new teammate, Juan Soto.

But Volpe outpacing the rest of the Yankees by a wide margin, with the exception of Torres (158 games), was not the formula anyone envisioned for a successful season in the Bronx. And with the lineup disintegrating around him, Volpe was left to pinball around every spot in the order, one through nine, as manager Aaron Boone tried to find a productive combination.

There was pressure enough on Volpe — a New Jersey kid who grew up idolizing Derek Jeter long before being named the Opening Day shortstop — when the Yankees were whole. And part of him getting the job out of spring training was the idea that he could blend in among the veteran group of All-Stars, use his precocious talents to learn on the fly, then further mature at the major-league level.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, incumbent leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu was nearly invisible in the first half, Anthony Rizzo’s MVP-caliber start was derailed after May 28 by a misdiagnosed concussion, Giancarlo Stanton missed his usual six weeks with a hamstring strain and Aaron Judge suffered a freakish toe injury that cost him nearly two months midway through the season.

And there was Volpe, left to bear the brunt of the Yankees’ offensive failings through no fault of his own. The rookie just wound up in the right place at the wrong time. He earned a Gold Glove for his defensive brilliance and posted a 20-homer, 20-steal season. But his .209 batting average ranked third from the bottom among 133 qualified players — only Kyle Schwarber (.197) and new teammate Trent Grisham (.198) were worse — and his .283 on-base percentage was better than only Javy Baez (.267).

That’s not the Volpe performance anyone expected to see,  especially the shortstop himself. But with all the talk of his adjustments during spring training this year, and a more line-drive swing path under the tutelage of his new hitting coaches, just positioning Volpe to be the complementary bat he was supposed to be a year ago could be the wild card for 2024.

For now, in early March, with the Yankees’ clean bill of health, that seems feasible. LeMahieu looks primed for a bounce-back year atop the order.  Soto already is doing Soto things (three homers, 2.616 OPS in four games). Rizzo — the fogginess gone — has a pair of homers and a .444 batting average  in five games. Who knows? Maybe even the skinnier Stanton will be more of a consistent offensive threat.

With an even more dangerous Yankees lineup around him, Volpe should benefit to an extent he couldn’t a season ago, when his teammates tumbled like dominoes. On paper, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

“For someone like Anthony, who I think is going to have an outstanding career, I think last year is going to be a great year of growth,” Aaron Boone said before Monday night’s game at Roger Dean Stadium. “He did a lot of good things, struggled in areas, and handled it all. And I think we’ll be better for that.”

Volpe batted leadoff against the Marlins, but the Yankees’ "A'' lineup for the regular season figures to use LeMahieu for that assignment. And though his speed makes him a suitable candidate for atop the order, that was Volpe’s third-least-productive spot last season, as he hit .191 with a .622 OPS in his 29 games there. His best (aside from 1-for-2 in two games batting fourth)? That would be at No. 8, where he batted .273 with an .846 OPS, also in 29 games.

Boone’s ideal lineup has Volpe down in that bottom third, and likely ninth, where he can operate as another table-setting, disruptive force for the Yankees’ serious lumber. We won’t say the pressure’s off down there — he’s still a 22-year-old sophomore shortstop on a World Series favorite. But this is shaping up to be an entirely different world for Volpe than the one he tried to navigate as a newbie last season, especially with the mechanical adjustments he’s made this winter.

“I feel comfortable with it,” Volpe said last month. “I’m not thinking about anything, just going out there and playing, so that’s always a nice feeling.”

Volpe shouldn’t have to shoulder the weight of the Yankees’ broken lineup this time around. And it’s more than just finally being whole again, which too often has been a rarity in recent years. There’s the Soto Factor, too. Volpe has never experienced a dangerous group of hitters like this one, nor have the Yankees in quite a while.

“I think he’s in a good place right now,” Boone said, “and I expect him to be an important part of what I think is going to be a really good lineup.”

As long as it doesn’t resemble the one Monday night in Jupiter.

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months