Volpe Doesn’t Need To Be Jeter

AP Photo/John Raoux

From the moment 21-year old Anthony Volpe takes the field for the first time as the Yankees starting shortstop in the season opener on Thursday at Yankee Stadium, the comparisons will begin.

When 21-year old Derek Jeter took the field at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field on April 2nd, 1996, (although no one knew it at the time), it marked the beginning of a new era in Yankee history. Jeter won the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year Award, amassed over 3400 hits, became the best shortstop in Yankee history, won five World Championships and was one vote shy of being a unanimous selection for the Hall of Fame.

Volpe is not Derek Jeter, nor does he need to be. He needs to be Anthony Volpe.

Volpe was named the Yankees starting shortstop for the 2023 season and beyond. “We entered camp with an open competition,” said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, who was around when Jeter began his career and is one of the few who is still here (some members of the media and myself included). “We said it publicly and we said it privately and the obvious exclamation point here is Anthony Volpe came into camp and took this position.”

It’s an exciting time for the Yankees and their fans. Aaron Judge, who was drafted and groomed by the Yankees, is fresh off one of the greatest offensive seasons in franchise history and was named the new captain. Now here comes Volpe, who was drafted and groomed by the Yankees for this moment on Thursday. There is nothing more exciting for a fan than to see a homegrown, highly rated prospect, make the team out of spring training.

While certainly the performance was there, he killed it between the lines,” Manager Aaron Boone said after he had a little good natured fun with Volpe when he told him he had made the team. “All the other things that we’ve been hearing about showed up. He earned the respect of the veterans in the room. His work is excellent. There’s an energy, he plays the game with an a instinct that he has that’s evident. When we take a step back and evaulate, he really checked every box.”

Now that he’s made the team, it won’t be a cakewalk for Volpe. He will still have to “earn his keep.” I have not met the rookie yet, but from an outside view, he seems to have the right makeup and will not take this opportunity for granted.

There will be hurdles to clear, particularly in the early going.

The first is the inevitable comparisons to Jeter. It’s going to happen, especially if Volpe gets off to a fast start. Like Jeter, Volpe was drafted by the Yankees out of high school. Like Jeter, he’s being counted on to fill a key position without a whole lot of experience at the big league level. The fans are anxious and have a right to be excited, but they’re going to have to be patient. (A little history lesson. Mickey Mantle was struggling after he had made the team as a 19-year old rookie in 1951 and was sent back to the minors for a spell)

Volpe will have tremendous support in the clubhouse led by the new captain so that will help ease the transition to the bigs.

The other matter is how will Volpe handle it when hits a little bit of a bump in the road, in other words, a batting or even a fielding slump. If he’s struggling at the plate, will he start pressing and take that out to the field?

Again, the support system will be a great benefit to him.

Scouts that have watched Volpe at short have expressed some concern about the strength of his throwing arm. I haven’t seen him make many plays from the hole yet, but he’s shown good range and has been good at charging a slow grounder and throwing a runner out.

Volpe’s speed will be a huge asset because the Yankees need that more than ever with the bigger bases and the new rules limting pick off throws.

Suffice to say, there will be an enormous amount of pressure on the young kid, but I have to admit, when you watch him play, do you see what they call the intangibles? There’s something there that tells you this kid may be the real deal.

D.J. LeMahieu will be penciled in as the leadoff hitter but if he doesn’t start on Opening Day, will Aaron Boone use Volpe at the top of the lineup?

In the first few weeks of the 1996 season, Jeter hit ninth and didn’t bat lead off until April 27th. The Yankees had Wade Boggs and Tim Raines, two Hall of Famers on the roster, who could bat first so Jeter only had 40 of his 157 games of his rookie season in the leadoff spot.

The start of the season is always an exciting time but Volpe’s debut could make it a memorable season opener.

Volpe only needs to be Volpe, not Jeter.

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