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The Yankees are rolling with Anthony Volpe, but what are realistic expectations?

Anthony Volpe Yankees
Minnesota Twins center fielder Michael A. Taylor (2) is forced out as New York Yankees second baseman Anthony Volpe throws to first on a double play off the bat of Andrew Bechtold in the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday, March 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Rookie Anthony Volpe has been the darling of spring training, winning over fans and teammates with his attitude and impressive play on the field. His performance in Florida not only won him a spot on the Yankees roster but also a place in the starting lineup. 

But now that he has that, what are realistic expectations for the 21-year-old shortstop? 

So far, Volpe has been compared to Yankees’ great Derek Jeter and currently has the second-best odds to win the AL Rookie of the Year. Is that asking a lot of a player who has only 99 Triple-A at-bats? In this article, we’ll use Volpe’s past performance, as well as the past performance of other top rookies with similar experience to see if we can set realistic expectations for the Yankees’ new shortstop. 

Anthony Volpe Yankees
New York Yankees’ Anthony Volpe, left, steals second base against Detroit Tigers shortstop Ryan Kreidler during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Volpe’s Past Performance

While Volpe has been all over spring training highlights, it’s important to keep in mind that the talent level is pretty widespread in spring games.

For example, in his 63 spring training plate appearances, Volpe is hitting .302/.413/.623 with three home runs and five RBI. However, his opponent quality, as listed on Baseball Reference, is 6.9, which means the pitchers he has at-bats against rank just below Double-A quality. You’d certainly hope your star prospect could put up big offensive numbers against Double-A pitching. 

That’s not to take anything away from Volpe, but it’s just important to put his stats into context. Especially when also looking at the 15 strikeouts he has in 63 plate appearances, which is a 23.8% strikeout rate. He also had a 30.3% strikeout rate in his first taste of Triple-A ball, so while Volpe will settle in as a high-contact hitter, it’s fair to expect some elevated strikeout rates early in his time with the Yankees as he adjusts to major league pitching that is not Double-A quality. 

Another important thing to keep in mind is that Volpe has a .249 career batting average in 511 minor league at-bats. He struggled to start last year in Double-A but was able to pull himself up to a .251 average before hitting .236 in Triple-A. While Volpe has been showing out in spring and is undoubtedly a better hitter than he was last year, it might not be fair to expect him to immediately be a high batting average hitter out of the gate given his past results. 

The power production does look real for the 5’9″ shortstop. He hit 21 home runs across two levels last year and 27 home runs across two levels in 2021. Given his uppercut swing, Volpe should be able to pop between 15-20 long balls this year if given full-time plate appearances. 

Lastly, the speed is without question. Volpe stole five bases in the spring, 50 bases last year, and 33 bases in 2021. Given the new rules in Major League Baseball, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him steal 25-30 bags, but the important thing to remember is that Volpe will begin the year hitting 9th for the Yankees. If he’s on first when Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton come up, Yankees manager Aaron Boone is going to have to ask himself if he wants to risk running himself out of an inning with his big bats up. 

Can Anthony Volpe of the Yankees follow in Julio Rodriguez's path?
Seattle Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez hits an RBI single against the Oakland Athletics during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Past Performance of Similar Rookies

Now let’s see how rookies with similar Minor League experience performed in their MLB debut.   

PLAYER (Age) GAMES TRIPLE SLASH HR SB RUNS RBI
Julio Rodriguez (21) 132 .284/.345/.509 28 25 84 75
Michael Harris (21) 114 .297/.339/.514 19 20 75 64
Bobby Witt Jr. (22) 150 .254/.294/.428 20 30 82 80
Nolan Gorman (22) 89 .226/.300/.420 14 1 44 35
Jarred Kelenic (21) 93 .181/.265/.350 14 6 41 43
Andres Gimenez (22) 63 .218/.282/.351 5 11 23 16
C.J. Abrams (21) 90 .246/.280/.324 2 7 33 21

Almost all of these prospects were consensus top 2o prospects with some of them, like Jarred Kelenic, being hyped up as some of the best young players we’ve ever seen, so they provide us with a decent barometer for what the Yankees can expect from Volpe right out of the gates.

Immediately, we can see that the slash lines for Julio Rodriguez and Michael Harris II are anomalies. It’s hard to ask a rookie to come into the Majors and hit for a really productive average and given Volpe’s track record in the minors, it would be unfair for fans to expect a triple slash better than what Bobby Witt did last year, which was a strong year. 

You can also see that only two of these guys hit 20 home runs or more. While some of that is because they played the most games, it’s important to know that hitters like Kelenic and Nolan Gorman lost at-bats or were sent down because they didn’t perform. It would certainly take a lot for the Yankees to do that with Volpe, but Kelenic was also a “can’t miss” prospect, so it needs to be considered as a possible outcome. 

Rodriguez, Witt, and Harris also all hit near the top of their respective lineups, which helped their runs and RBI totals. I can’t see Volpe pushing the 160 Runs+RBI that Witt and Rodriguez had given his slot as the 9th hitter in the Yankees lineup. The 140 Runs+RBI from Harris is far more attainable, especially if Volpe were to move up in the lineup over the summer. 

With all of that said, it seems like ATC projections on Fangraphs pushed out over perhaps 550 plate appearances make the most sense. Even if we give Volpe a slight boost from the .234 batting average ATC projects, you’re looking at a .240 average with 16 HRs, 62 runs, 57 RBI, and 25 stolen bases as a realistic outcome for what Anthony Volpe can provide for the Yankees this season.  

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