On Sunday, Anthony Volpe completed his dream Spring Training by making the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. On Monday, Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced that the rookie would be starting and hitting 9th in the Opening Day lineup.
While hitting at the bottom of the order may seem like a letdown after the spring that Volpe had, it’s actually the same spot in the lineup where Yankees rookie shortstop Derek Jeter was slotted back in 1996.
After appearing in 15 games for the Yankees in 1995, Derek Jeter came into spring training in 1996 having to compete for a spot on the big league club. Unlike Volpe, Jeter struggled in spring, specifically with his defense, and felt that he was not going to make the Yankees out of camp. However, an injury to starting shortstop Tony Fernandez opened the door for Jeter and he never looked back.
In that rookie season, Jeter started the vast majority of games hitting out of the 9th spot in the lineup. He hit first or second a few days when players were resting, but most of the time he was in the bottom third or the bottom spot entirely, even as he started to heat up in the month of May.
In fact, it wasn’t until August 4th, in the middle of a series with the Kansas City Royals, that Jeter seemed to stake his claim to the leadoff spot, beginning a stretch of 14 games in a row and 20 out of 21 games where he appeared as the leadoff hitter for the Yankees.
A similar timeframe would seem to make sense for Volpe.
Aaron Boone has already said that D.J. LeMahieu will be the leadoff hitter when he’s in the lineup, and with Harrison Bader sidelined and Giancarlo Stanton set to see time in right field, LeMahieu will likely be in the lineup at DH or 2B often. With Aaron Judge also locked into the number two spot in the order, it seems highly unlikely for Volpe to rise up out of the bottom third since his profile as a contact-first hitter with speed doesn’t fit as well in the middle of the order as a guy like Josh Donaldson.
Volpe could be used as a “second lead-off hitter” getting on base at the bottom of the order so that guys like LeMahieu, Judge, and Anthony Rizzo can drive him in. However, if Lemahieu falters or there are any injuries to players at the top of the Yankees lineup, then Volpe could have an opportunity to rise during the summer, as Jeter did.
While it can seem lazy to draw comparisons between Volpe and Jeter, there are also some similar facts about both shortstops that are too similar to ignore.
Both players were born in New Jersey (even though Jeter moved to Michigan when he was young) and were drafted in the first round by the Yankees as contact-first infielders with good speed. Both were also on record as saying their dream as a kid was to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. Something they both accomplished four years after being drafted, and both realized that dream of being starting shortstop for New York in the Majors in their age 22 season.
With Volpe idolizing Derek Jeter growing up, and photos circulating of him meeting Jeter when he was a kid, the comparisons are fun but also real.
Young Anthony Volpe with Derek Jeter feels like a photo we'll see for a very long time
(via @SOMPatriots) pic.twitter.com/ltQ7JrHqsW
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) March 1, 2023
At least in regards to how they got to be the starting shortstop for the Yankees. Any comparison between the two when it comes to Jeter’s career and legacy with the Yankees is unfair to Volpe as he just begins his MLB career. He has followed in his idol’s footsteps to get to this point, but the journey from here can be his own.
In fact, Volpe started to differentiate his career by winning the 2023 James P. Dawson Award, given to the most outstanding Yankees rookie in spring training. In 1996, Jeter lost that award to Australian pitcher Mark Hutton, who would go on to pitch in 84 games across five professional seasons.
While it may be one award for the young shortstop that his idol doesn’t have, it’s likely one that doesn’t matter nearly as much as stepping onto the dirt between second and third base where Derek Jeter used to roam for 20 years.
What happens after that is anybody’s guess.
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