WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY – Alicia Keys sang about a concrete jungle. Found in that jungle are concrete diamonds. Anthony Volpe knows them well.
Volpe grew up across New York City – the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, downtown – before moving to New Jersey at the age of 10. During his time in Manhattan, he wanted to grab as many neighborhood kids as possible and assemble them on the open plate they could find.
“When we made ground balls, we would always play the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, and I would be shortstop,” Volpe said. “My dad shouted out simulations that run on first, run on second, and I had to do everything that played. That was when I was 7, 8 years old, so yeah, there are funny memories with my dad, just to have fun.
“We still do that now when we are in the cage or doing exercises. That’s what I love about the game. ”
Two years removed from being taken by New York with the 30th overall pick in the draft 2019, the 20-year-old shortstop has raised his profile enough to become the No. 15 overall prospect for baseball in MLB Pipeline’s latest rankings.
Entering Thursday, Volpe hit .296 / .426 / .613 with 26 homers and 32 steals across 105 games between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. He is one of only two members of the 25-25 club in the minor leagues this season, and his 173 wRC + is second best among all minors throughout the season, behind only Julio Rodríguez’s 174.
Volpe is without a doubt the minor leagues’ prospect for the 2021 season, and although it may give other eyes as big as Central Park, it has only dug Volpe’s concentration deeper into the process that got him here.
An outbreak of all in 2021 feels like a small miracle after the Minor League season 2020 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that may be even more true for Volpe and others in the Yankees system. New York had an alternative training ground at Triple-A Scranton / Wilkes-Barre, but chose not to make an instructional league in the state this fall so that Volpe and others could train on their own.
Volpe spent much of his summer back in New Jersey, trying his best to stay in shape with live at-bats against other area players, including high school buddy and future No. 2 overall pick Jack Leiter. In August, he gave up the pipe dream of a real season and turned his focus inward, trying to make the most of the unexpected downtime.
“I figured it was just as good as some time to get into the cage and slow things down, work on a lot more nuanced things than I had been able to before,” he said. “Before, there was always a match the day after. There was always a game the next night. Looking back, there were definitely times when I wanted to be out there and play, but I was certainly grateful for the time I could spend on myself. ”
He traveled from his home in New Jersey to Westchester County, where he focused on teaming up with former Major League scout Jason Lefkowitz. Back across the river, he wanted to work on strength exercises that helped him grow from his stated weight of 180 as a Draft pick to 195 now. All the while, he studied videos of Major League hitters falling down rabbit holes at night while dissecting what they were doing that he was not.
“It was not exactly a wake-up call,” he said, “but I thought, let’s just attack this now instead of doing it piece by piece over the years.”
Using a swing with a little more of an upper part than he had shown as an amateur, Volpe doubled in each of his first four Low-A matches, going 7-on-17 (.412) with seven turns and three strikeouts. On May 26, he had hit his second homer through 18 games, about half the time it took him to reach the same amount on Rookie Advanced Pulaski in his Draft year.
New York’s pre-Draft experience with shortstop included seeing him in summer travel ball and then in show events like Perfect Game. Yankees Northeast area scout Matt Hyde got to know Volpe even better as his coach during the East Coast Pro and Area Code Games stints. No one in New York’s front office was surprised when he went 17-for-37 (.459) in nine games for Team USA in the fall of 2018 — when he won a gold medal at the Pan-American Championships and was named to the all-tournament team — it was nor did they when he and Leiter led Delbarton School to a state title in the spring of 2019.
Ranked as MLB.com’s No. 63 draft prospect, Volpe had drawn strong external reviews for his right-handed strike ability, base-running instincts and good defensive hands, which many thought would make him play in the middle. But considering all of their homework, the Yankees saw a little more.
“I think people thought he was a little bit under the radar,” said Domestic Amateur Scout Vice President Damon Oppenheimer. “But he hit third or something. He played shortstop. It was just one of those things where he was always part of these winning teams at a high level and he was in the middle of everything. ”
Once again, even New York did not see this surge coming.
“No one rated him as an amateur and said this guy is going to hit 30 home runs,” Oppenheimer said. “We thought he had hit a lot of doubles because he hit balls hard. But we did not see him strong enough to hit plenty of home runs. ”
On July 11, Volpe hit .302 / .455 / .623 with 12 homers in 54 games for Tampa. His 1,078 OPS was the highest of any minor Leaguer up to that point. That was the day he received a promotion to High-A.
Hudson Valley manager Dan Fiorito was in constant contact with his Tampa counterpart David Adams, but he still needed to see the slugging improvement for himself.
“For me, it has been the power of all fields,” said Fiorito. “Just him driving balls out to dead center here, through the rain, out to the right field, out to the right-center. It has been really impressive. I think with his sense of timing in the box, how strong and compact he stays when hitting the velo as well as he has, his swing decisions, he’s everything you want to see in a true professional hitter. ”
The scary thing for the pitcher: Volpe can’t sense his own increased pop.
“Honestly, it feels natural,” said the shortstop, hitting .291 / .394 / .602 with 14 homers in 51 games at High-A. “I never consciously thought of having more launch angle or anything like that. I just feel like I can get to many more lanes, and when I hit the ball hard – and I hit the ball much harder – the balls that would probably have been doubles or singles in recent years, a couple of them go over fenced now. ”
An upcoming Bronx attraction
Once considered a future second baseman, Volpe has also, in short, made his fair share of highlights. Fiorito remembered a game on July 29 where Volpe varied and dove to his right, making a backward shot and throwing to another to catch the leading runner. All of this happened with two outs in the ninth inning to secure a 3-2 victory over Wilmington.
The ability to hold on to that position holds weight everywhere in this sport, but especially in New York City, where the words “Yankees shortstop” could shine on a Broadway tent.
It’s a coincidence that Volpe is about to end his breakout season in the same month that Derek Jeter joined the Hall of Fame. It’s also the same month that Gleyber Torres slipped over to second base and questioned who will play shortstop in 2022 and beyond.
Maybe it’s a free agent like Carlos Correa or Corey Seager. Maybe it’s Volpe, at least in the “beyond” sense.
“When Jeter went up, I remember it the year before [in 1994], he started in [High-A] Tampa, went to Double-A in Albany and then Triple-A Columbus all in one year, ”Oppenheimer said. “He just hit and hit, and then he was in the big leagues next year. I think you can build a depth map and get some ideas about it, but these guys, they want to push themselves. ”
Given where Volpe has been, what he’s doing, and where he could be heading, it feels like – borrowing another Keys line – there’s nothing he can not do.
“It’s a dream,” Volpe said of calling himself the Yankees shortstop one day. “It simply came to our notice then. It is every child’s dream to one day be a yankee and wear the pinstripes. It’s not something I take lightly to have the opportunity one day to do so. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s the big picture. ”