The morning after his life-changing promotion, the one with the job title “Opening Day Shortstop, New York Yankees,” Anthony Volpe was the first to arrive in the Steinbrenner Field clubhouse.
Moments later, more than four hours before Monday’s 1:05 p.m. start, Volpe already was in uniform. Pinstriped pants, navy blue jersey.
The rest of the clubhouse was empty.
And it stayed that way, for a while, this being the getaway game on the final day of spring training. Volpe went about his morning routine surrounded by the empty NY duffel bags standing sentry at each veteran’s locker.
There is an energy to being 21 and a boundless enthusiasm spilling out of Volpe that can’t simply be manufactured. It needs to be mined, like a precious metal. And for the Yankees — always chasing that championship feeling with older, costlier, more accomplished veterans — you sometimes can forget the importance of fresh legs and a fresh perspective.
“This day, this feeling, this moment,” Volpe said. “It’s what I’ve worked my whole life for.”
Despite the confidence Oswald Peraza earned during his short stay in the Bronx last season, manager Aaron Boone said Monday that he knew “pretty early on” in spring training that Volpe had the inside track to win the Yankees’ shortstop audition. We’d argue that it should have been way earlier than that, perhaps in November.
At this point, it definitely appears the Yankees were 100% correct in making Volpe an untouchable during the dozens of trade conversations that occurred since he became a first-round draft pick (30th overall) in 2019. But while his ETA remained unclear, what happened this winter, with the Yankees spending most of their time and money on merely retaining Aaron Judge, tapping Volpe to inject some new life into the same old roster began to feel like a smart strategy.
And not just from a pure baseball perspective. In Judge’s case, Hal Steinbrenner knew he had to basically give him a blank check — not only for his prodigious talent but because he couldn’t imagine the Yankees without their most charismatic and popular player.
Volpe’s promotion serves a similar purpose. With Steinbrenner nearly tapped out after giving Judge that $360 million, and another $162 million going to Carlos Rodon, the Yankees were left to rely on the same supporting cast — with a few of those faces having worn out their welcome in the Bronx. If general manager Brian Cashman was going to be rolling out boo-magnets Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks again, with the scent of last October’s failure still lingering around the rest, finding an in-house spark at shortstop was imperative.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa washed out early and was moved to centerfield midway through March. Peraza, who provided some youthful sizzle last season, hung in as a threat until it became apparent that Volpe’s high motor was having a discernible impact on the entire lineup. The Yankees soon realized they needed more of that.
They saw it to some degree last year with the promotions of Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera, the Scranton pair Cashman summoned to fend off a late-season spiral. Even mixed in with multiple All-Stars and MVPs, prospects tend to stand out in trying to show they belong. That passion is contagious and rubs off on the been-there, done-that vets.
“I think it can, absolutely,” Boone said. “And I think [Volpe] has provided that. Look, there’s been a buzz around him since the start of camp. And I think that it’s gotten the attention of our established players, too. It’s something that they’ve followed and watched. So I think it’s already been a little bit of a spark. But hopefully his play will be a spark for us — that’s what we’re counting on.”
Cashman steered the conversation back to that when asked about how much Volpe’s intangibles factored into the team’s shortstop decision. While the general manager appreciates the Jersey kid’s work ethic, his demeanor and the universal respect he’s earned in the clubhouse, the Yankees did put a lot of weight on his spring training stats. Volpe went 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts Monday in the Yankees’ 8-4 victory over the Rays, so he wound up batting .302 (16-for-53) with six doubles, three homers and a 1.036 OPS in 18 Grapefruit League games.
“Ultimately it’s a performance-driven situation at the end of the day,” Cashman said. “And he’s earned the opportunity. I think it’s pretty easy right now to feel that he’s the best person for that position in ’23 and we look forward to seeing how it plays out. It doesn’t guarantee anything as we move forward, but he’s going to get a long shot. He knows for better, for worse, we’re committed to letting him handle that position. We think he’s not going to let us down.”
Volpe has earned that faith, and whatever happens, the Yankees should make sure the clubhouse door is unlocked for him in the Bronx. He likes to show up early.