Sunday, March 26, 2023

Yankees, In A Surprise Move, Name Anthony Volpe Their Starting Shortstop

The Yankees posted a video of Manager Aaron Boone telling Anthony Volpe he made the team on Twitter. to announce the big move. @Yankees.

The Yankees made a major statement about the status of their ballclub four days before the season opener, as they named Anthony Volpe their starting shortstop.

Volpe, who was named the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees organization by Baseball America, edged out another top prospect, Oswald Peraza, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, last season's starter for the job. 

The 21-year-old Volpe (he will turn 22 on April 28) will be the youngest Yankee to start on Opening Day since another top shortstop prospect, Derek Jeter, in 1996.

The Watchung, New Jersey, native, was drafted by the Yankees in the first round (30th overall) in the 2019 First-Year Player Draft. Last season, he played in 132 games combined with Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he hit .249 (127-511) with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 86 runs scored, 65 walks, and 50 stolen bases. 

The stolen base number is indicative of why the Yankees made the move, as Volpe did that under the pitch-clock rules that Major League Baseball is adopting this season.  

Volpe was the only player in the minors to have at least 20 home runs and 50 stolen bases, and he led Yankees minor leaguers in hits (127), doubles (35), extra-base hits (61), total bases (235), and of course, stolen bases (50). He was also tied for second in RBI (65), tied for fourth in triples (4), and fifth in walks (65).

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said, in audio released by the club, of naming Volpe his starting shortstop, "Well, we talked about it being a competition from the start, and not that spring training numbers were going to be everything, but I think when you look at Anthony's - first of all, the reputation he's earned within our organization, you know, we in big league camp and as a big league staff, got to see that first-hand for the better part of the last six, seven weeks, and while certainly the performance was there, he killed it between the lines. All the other things that we've been hearing about showed up. You know, he earned the respect of the veterans in the room. His work is excellent, there's an energy he plays the game with, and a instinct that he has that's evident, and I think when we take a step back and evaluate, you know, he really checked every box that we could have had for him, and absolutely kicked the door in and earned this opportunity."

Later in the evening, Peraza was sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, along with left-handed pitcher Matt Krook. The Yankees also reassigned catcher Carlos Narvaez and left-handed pitcher Nick Ramirez to minor league camp.

Two subtle things show how much of a surprise this move was. Volpe was not on the Yankees' 40-man-roster, making him a non-roster invitee to spring trading. He also was not included among the Major League players in the 2023 Yankees media guide, which is usually padded to include all possibilities, leaving one to question if they were not anticipating him being in The Bronx this season at all.

This is quite a turnabout in the Yankees' thinking on shortstop because it appeared that Kiner-Falefa would be the starter once again after they brought him back on a one-year contract in November, which was mystifying after he had a very underwhelming first year in pinstripes. 

Kiner-Falefa had been long sought-after by Yankees General Manager Briand Cashman until he traded for him in March 2022. IKF was brought in from the Minnesota Twins, where he spent a day after he was traded from the Texas Rangers, during spring training in a move that had many implications for the Yankees' present and future. Even though they got rid of catcher Gary Sanchez in the deal, the trade was largely a flop, as they also sent popular third baseman Gio Urshela to Minnesota, and in return absorbed the bloated contract of fading star third baseman Josh Donaldson.

When the Yankees got Kiner-Falefa, he had a reputation as a good defender, but that was dashed by his 16 errors. At the plate, he wasn't much better, as he hit .261 with four home runs and 48 RBI.

Kiner-Falefa's performance was so anemic in in the playoffs he was eventually benched for two rookies, Oswaldo Cabrera, whom they moved in from left field, where he had success; and Peraza, who played in just 18 regular season games.

The thinking in November, and up to spring training, was that IKF would basically hold the position until a top prospect, likely Volpe or Peraza, was deemed ready to take over the position on a day-to-day basis.

Luckily, that day arrived on March 26, 2022.

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