LOS ANGELES — Entering this season, the Yankees had a gaping hole at shortstop. Gleyber Torres had struggled there and was moving back to second base. The Yankees were in luck, though, as a heralded free agent class of shortstops was hitting the free-agent market: Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Báez had all been All-Stars and three of them had won a World Series.
The Yankees passed on all of them, trading for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a sure-handed fielder not known for his bat.
Why? The team had yearned to enhance its defense and the worth tags of the free agents were extraordinary. Kiner-Falefa, who’s under team control for 2 seasons, is making $4.7 million this yr, while Correa, Seager, Story and Baez each signed contracts that paid them $23.3 million or more annually. At $35.1 million for this season, Correa is the second-highest paid position player in baseball.
But Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, said in March that there was another excuse to keep away from the top-shelf talent: “We do have two incredible prospects that I’m excited to provide a likelihood to.”
Certainly one of those prospects was Anthony Volpe, considered by many to be the organization’s shortstop of the long run.
Through the annual Futures Game, an exhibition of the game’s top prospects held within the lead-up to Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Volpe had a likelihood to indicate off the abilities that he dreams of someday taking to the Bronx.
“That’s obviously great to listen to from someone like that,” Volpe said when told of Steinbrenner’s comments before Saturday’s game, during which he went 0 for two and made all of the plays defensively at shortstop over three innings.
“I feel like I got a protracted solution to go and this is clearly a fantastic step in my profession, but there’s still loads of work to be done,” he continued. “Even once I hopefully get there someday, there’s still loads more work to be done to be the player I would like to be and hopefully win loads of rings here.”
Volpe, 21, meant that sincerely. It seems almost too good to be true: He was an ardent Yankees fan growing up in Morristown, N.J., a town 40 miles west of Yankee Stadium, and he admired Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame former shortstop and captain. He attended Jeter’s last All-Star Game, in 2014, together with his father, in addition to the Futures Game that yr. As a toddler and now as a Yankees prospect, Volpe ceaselessly pictures himself playing shortstop at Yankee Stadium, identical to his idol.
“That’s the tip goal that I’m working for and super excited,” he said.
The Yankees chosen Volpe, a right-handed hitter who’s listed at 5 feet 11 inches and 180 kilos, out of Delbarton School with the thirtieth overall pick within the 2019 draft, and so they lured him away from a school commitment to Vanderbilt University with a $2.7 million signing bonus.
“People don’t really know this story, but when he was getting drafted, he wouldn’t confer with any teams during his senior yr of highschool simply because he only cared about winning a state championship,” said infielder Max Burt, considered one of Volpe’s closest friends at Class AA Somerset. “And that’s exactly what he did. Winning is the primary priority for him.”
Volpe’s first full season within the minor leagues didn’t come until 2021 since the pandemic canceled the previous season. In 109 games, he hit .294 with 27 home runs and a 1.027 on-base plus slugging percentage. Playing half-hour from his hometown with Somerset this season, Volpe began off slowly but has been on a tear because the start of June, raising his season totals to .253 with 12 home runs and an .812 O.P.S. through 77 games.
“He’s built for Latest York,” Burt said. “He’s built to play under the intense lights. Obviously being from this area, he’s had media and a lot attention on a every day basis, and he’s handled it incredibly.”
Playing so near where he grew up has had its perks: Volpe lives in his childhood home — but with a couple of recent friends. His Somerset teammates, catcher Austin Wells (the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2020), outfielder Blake Perkins and Burt also stay there throughout the season. Volpe said his mother cooks for them and, after Sunday home games, the whole team is invited over.
“It’s a fantastic atmosphere to play in after which come home to see the family,” he said, adding later, “It’s been a fun yr.”
On the sphere, Somerset Manager Dan Fiorito said, Volpe combines discipline on the plate, power, a capability to hit the ball with the barrel of the bat, strong defense and speed on the bases. Volpe swiped 33 bases last season and already has more (35) through fewer games this yr.
“He’s far ahead of the sport at just 21 years old,” Fiorito said by email, “and we’re all so excited for his future.”
Added Volpe: “I just turned 21 this yr and I don’t think there’s any 21-year-old on the earth that couldn’t recover at the whole lot. It’s really hitting, defense, just everywhere in the game. I just wish to continue to learn and really never stop.”
But ask Yankees officials and Volpe’s teammates about him and probably the most common themes is his demeanor. Fiorito said it was rare to seek out leaders in such young players and that Volpe is a “relentless competitor.” Burt said his friend has the identical attitude whether he’s 0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts or 4 for 4 with 4 home runs.
“The best way he goes about his business, the best way he leads, inside that clubhouse he impacts his teammates in a very positive way, the best way interact with the fans,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said. “I mean, he’s got that ‘it’ factor. I do know that’s a cliché but it surely’s the perfect description I can provide. You may have five tools you’re attempting to grade, and you then do the performance and you then get that extra gear, which is makeup.
“And he’s got that extra gear. That comes with the package and that’s credit to his mom and pa. He’s going to be a successful player at the very best level, and we’d actually would adore it to be with us.”
The choice to bet on Kiner-Falefa, who’s from Hawaii but additionally grew up watching the Yankees and wanting to be like Jeter, has proved worthwhile for Latest York this season. Together with other upgrades, he has helped the Yankees turn out to be the perfect team in baseball. Entering Saturday, they’d a 62-28 record and a 12 ½ game lead within the American League East.
There’s a child from Latest Jersey who loves Jeter that hopes he can do the identical someday, too.