Major League Baseball
Three reasons why Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe is breaking out
Major League Baseball

Three reasons why Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe is breaking out

Updated Apr. 17, 2024 9:06 a.m. ET

From being relegated to the nine-hole in his rookie year to batting leadoff in his sophomore season, Anthony Volpe is showing us why he might be the real deal. 

The promising shortstop has hit safely in 13 of 16 games this year, batting .373 with six stolen bases in that span. His 1.4 fWAR trails only Mookie Betts and José Altuve. Entering Tuesday's play, Volpe had struck out just once in his past 28 plate appearances. He ranks first in the American League in pitches per plate appearance (4.54). A few months ago, these numbers would've sounded outlandish for the 22-year-old. He looks like a completely different hitter this year — the type of hitter the Yankees knew he could be when they selected him in the first round of the 2019 draft.

Are we seeing early signs of a leap into stardom from Volpe? Though he's certainly playing like one of baseball's best shortstops, only time will tell. For now, let's dissect the three reasons why Volpe is turning heads around the league.

1. He has one of the best strikeout rates in MLB


Volpe's patience at the plate in 2024 has been one of the most encouraging aspects of his game, particularly because he struggled so mightily with pitch selection as a rookie. He finished 2023 with the second-worst on-base percentage (.283) in MLB (among 134 qualified hitters) and the 13th-highest strikeout rate (27.8%). Ahead of this season, the Yankees boasted optimism about Volpe's future in the lineup — generic proclamations like, "He'll turn it around," were declared frequently — but the shortstop is surpassing expectations by breaking out immediately upon the start of his second year.

Volpe entered Tuesday with a 14.3 strikeout percentage, an eye-popping number nearly slashed in half from his K% in 2023. Among players batting .300, only six players have a lower strikeout rate than Volpe. Volpe's walk rate has also jumped from 8.7% in 2023 to 14.3% (the same as his strikeout rate) thus far.

Striking out less and lifting that on-base percentage was No. 1 on the Yankees' wish list for Volpe's big-league development at the plate. An adjustment to his swing that included flattening his bat path so that he could better control pitches in the upper quadrant of the zone has helped lead to Volpe becoming the hitter the Yankees always projected him to be, but sooner than we expected.

2. He is adapting on the fly

The shortstop's hot start to the season has made for a vastly different Yankees lineup this year. Volpe needed just a handful of games to demonstrate he could be one of the best hitters on this team; his .373 batting average and 1.006 OPS lead the Yankees and rank third and 13th in the majors, respectively. While he's obviously made quick adjustments to become a more patient hitter, he has also transitioned seamlessly into a much more important role for the first-place Yankees.

Just 11 games into the season, Volpe went from batting either sixth or seventh to the top of the lineup. Thanks in part to DJ LeMahieu being sidelined with injury and Gleyber Torres scuffling at the plate, Volpe has been tasked to be the table setter in front of Juan Soto and Aaron Judge — and he hasn't missed a beat. In the five games he's led off, Volpe is batting .368 (7-for-29) with five walks and just one strikeout. He's also recorded three or more hits three times through these first two-plus weeks. Over 159 games last season, he collected three-plus hits on just two occasions. 

No one would've faulted Volpe if his adjustments came later in the year, after he fully caught up to the speed of big-league pitching and when the temperature was warmer on the East Coast. But he needed no time at all, becoming the first Yankee to hit at least .417 through 10 games since Robinson Canó posted a .421 clip in 2009.

Making such major adjustments, all before Volpe has eclipsed 700 plate appearances in the big leagues, is undeniably impressive. It's also an indispensable trait to sustaining success as his career progresses. 

3. He has matured in Year 2

Volpe will turn 23 later this month, and already, he's racked up a Gold Glove Award and recorded a 20-20 season. (For a different perspective, Aaron Judge split his time between Double-A and Triple-A as a 23-year-old. His 52-home run Rookie of the Year campaign came at age 25.) Despite last year's overall underwhelming production, Volpe still managed to show off his pop (21 home runs) and speed (24 steals). Through the pressure of playing in the Bronx as a rookie, Volpe showed a unique ability to brush off the outside noise, which he's carried into this year. 

Even when Volpe was playing below New York's sky-high expectations for him, he was the same person he is now, only he's enjoying the kind of success typically reserved for established All-Stars. That type of composure is highly sought after by major-leaguers, but harder to execute. Volpe's level-headedness seems to come easy to him. 

The Yankees have always complimented Volpe for being extremely mature for his age, including when he was the top talent in the club's farm system. It's moments like these — Volpe's offseason work that led to his red-hot first few weeks of the season – when that maturity is showing up. Volpe's 1.154 OPS in his first 10 games was the fifth-highest mark by a Yankees player age 22 or younger (minimum 40 plate appearances), trailing Lou Gehrig (1.354 OPS in 1926), Derek Jeter (1.211 OPS in 1997), Bernie Williams (1.185 OPS in 1991), and Bobby Murcer (1.160 OPS in 1969). 

Even for a franchise as rich as the Yankees, Volpe's start leaves him in rare company. Good for baseball, then, that his best is still ahead of him.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.


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