HOUSTON — Anthony Volpe ranged to his right, and suddenly he was a kid again, taking groundballs from his father at Grant Field, five minutes from where his family lived in Watchung, N.J. He backhanded the groundball, left his feet and whipped his right arm across his chest like he had done countless times before, imitating the jump throw that his idol Derek Jeter all but patented. Volpe’s toss was just in time to beat the Houston Astros leadoff hitter Mauricio Dubón for the first out of the fifth inning.
It was a play for the highlight reel of Volpe’s season, and it helped preserve the New York Yankees’ 5-4 win at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night.
“Jeets was his guy,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m sure he’s seen that a lot in his mind and in his dreams.”
“He took a page out of his guy’s book. Jeets was his guy. I’m sure he’s seen that a lot in his mind and in his dreams.”
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) September 3, 2023
Volpe said he practiced that exact play “probably every time I have taken groundballs.”
The 22-year-old rookie shortstop also continued his offensive upswing, going 1-for-3 with a double and two walks. Going into Saturday, Volpe was hitting .250 with seven home runs, 21 RBIs and a .857 OPS over his previous 30 games. That followed a .207 batting average over his first 104 games.
Volpe had been an offense-first prospect throughout a rapid rise through the minor leagues that started when he was the Yankees’ first-round pick out of Delbarton School in New Jersey at age 18. But his defense has been a pleasant surprise for the Yankees, and Boone heaped hefty praise on him Saturday.
“I think he’s right smack in the middle of the Gold Glove conversation,” the manager said.
Perhaps the two most popular advanced statistics that measure defense were split on Volpe. Going into Saturday, defensive runs saved placed him at third in the league at his position with 14, behind the Rays’ Wander Franco (17) and the Cubs’ Dansby Swanson (15), according to The Fielding Bible. But he had registered just three outs above average, placing him 17th among shortstops, according to Statcast.
Many talent evaluators consider Volpe to have good range for a shortstop and fast hands, which help him compensate for below-average arm strength. Boone said Volpe has been better with the glove than he expected.
“I don’t know if I expected it to be this good,” Boone said, “but it is, and he’s a difference-maker out there.”
Two Yankees won Gold Gloves last year: infielder DJ LeMahieu and catcher Jose Trevino. A Yankees shortstop hasn’t won a Gold Glove since Derek Jeter in 2010.
The Yankees started five players who were age 24 or younger Saturday: Volpe, catcher Austin Wells, center fielder Jasson Dominguez, second baseman Oswald Peraza and third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera. At 67-69, they’re 8 1/2 games back of the third and final wild-card spot. Their chances at the playoffs are all but zero, and they may be on pace for their first losing season since 1992.
Meanwhile, outfielder Estevan Florial, a former top prospect who’s still just 25 years old, has had a monster season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Going into Saturday, he was hitting .281 with 24 homers, 66 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and a .930 OPS in 93 games, though his 30 percent strikeout rate wasn’t flattering.
Yet Florial hasn’t gotten a single MLB at-bat this season as the Yankees promoted Dominguez on Friday after just nine career Triple-A games.
Boone said Florial has been “in the conversation” to be called up at various points this season.
“It’s good to see him go out and really put together a strong season,” said Boone, whose team has also promoted outfielders Jake Bauers, Billy McKinney and Willie Calhoun ahead of Florial. “We talk about guys all the time.”
Boone alluded to Florial being out of minor-league options as one reason the Yankees haven’t put him on the 40-man roster. The Yankees designated Florial for assignment on April 1, and he cleared waivers before the team outrighted him to the minors.
“He’s still got all those physical tools,” Boone said.
The Yankees are 2-0 since going full youth movement with the promotions of Dominguez and Wells on Friday. Aaron Judge has said there’s been a renewed energy on the team. He cited a buzz in the clubhouse and even on the team bus.
“Impressive in their demeanor,” Judge said, “how they carry themselves on the field. It’s like they’ve been here all year. It’s impressive to see that out of guys that young, this type of environment, a loud environment. … They’re hungry and they’re ready to go.”
With his 135 games played, Volpe is a virtual graybeard compared to the youngsters the Yankees have called up of late.
“To play with them and to experience these types of games and these types of atmospheres, I think the fact that everyone’s performing and coming through, I think it’s a testament to everybody’s hard work,” he said.
He added that he “definitely” feels improved vibes throughout the Yankees since the arrival of the other kids.
“I’m pretty biased because I’m so excited and I feel like I’m kind of even living through them a little bit,” Volpe said. “But for me personally, I think it’s super exciting.”
Boone called facing the Astros on the road a “great” opportunity for them.
“You’re playing, obviously, against a great team in a great environment,” the manager said. “That in and of itself is great experience, and you see how competitive they’re being with their at-bats, and their athleticism is evident.”
(Photo of Anthony Volpe: Kevin M. Cox / Associated Press)