- E.J. Fagan
Anthony Volpe Sure Is Batting Leadoff A Lot
by EJ Fagan
March 19, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
Spring Training statistics aren’t meaningless, but they aren’t great indicators of future success in the majors. It’s nice to see a player performing well, but if you asked me, “Is Anthony Volpe going the break camp in the majors?”, I probably wouldn’t think much about him hitting .333/.460/.667 with a 19% strikeout rate, 16% walk rate and 6 out of 6 stolen base attempts.
That said, Spring Training itself isn’t meaningless. It sure feels like Anthony Volpe is going to break camp with the Yankees. Here’s why:
He’s Batting Leadoff, A Lot
The best information we get about a team’s opinion of a player in the Spring are lineup decisions. Volpe is leading off a lot lately, usually playing shortstop.
Major league teams have generally abandoned the idea of the speedy, base-stealing leadoff guy. Even just five or six years ago, few teams would ever consider DJ LeMahieu as a good leadoff type. However, I wonder if the Yankees are thinking about Volpe as a bit of a throwback, high-OBP base stealer at the top of their lineup.
The Yankees sure need another good hitter at the top of the lineup. As it stands today, they looking at Rizzo-Stanton-Donaldson/Torres as their 3-4-5, which feels pretty below average, even with Judge batting second. Last season, the Yankees were constantly frustrated by their 4-through-7 hitters grounding into double plays or striking out with the bases loaded. They waste a lot of Aaron Judge home runs and times on base because the lineup is so short.
But with Volpe leading off? You could imagine this lineup:
Obviously, Volpe has to play shortstop for this lineup to work. What does that mean for Peraza? See below.
Everyone seems impressed with his personality As much as someone like me would love it, baseball isn’t all about statistics. Players, coaches and management are human beings. They are also increasingly professional, and value professionalism. As a certified mid-30s old guy who teaches college students still in the grips of adolescence, I imagine that a lot of young prospects seem like they lack the professionalism necessary to succeed in the majors. They are kids. Supremely talented and athletic kids, but still kids. Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and especially the coaching staff are full-blown adults. If they feel like they are talking with a kid and they have to make a hard choice, I imagine they default (even if unconsciously) to picking an adult like Kiner-Falefa or even a 24-year old Oswaldo Cabrera.
I think it’s telling that when people in the Spring discuss Volpe, they note how surprised they are that the 22 year-old just fits in. He’s a professional. He’s a leader. Dare I say, he’s a Jeter-type. I’m not sure if Volpe calls his manager, “Mr. Boone”, but I wouldn’t be shocked.
The veterans seem to know they are done Isaiah Kiner-Falefa has quietly been preparing for a utility role, including some time in the outfield. As I’ve written, he’s a great bench player. Falefa hasn’t complained. He sees the writing on the wall with the three young infielders on the team.
Then there’s Josh Donaldson, who claimed last week that he would retire if he didn’t have anything left in the tank. I don’t think Donaldson would actually give up $29 million even if he was batting .150 (nor should he), so why would he say it? He knows that his job is threatened. He knows that the Yankees are probably considering releasing him. He wants to keep playing professional baseball. He’s puffing up his feathers in response to a threat.
Professional athletics is a tough business. Your skills degrade every year, while young, increasingly well-prepared players emerge every year to take your job. You summon every ounce of experience and wisdom to stick around for one more year. Aaron Hicks survived the challenge from Jasson Dominguez, for now, but sure feels like he’s in the same mindset as Donaldson. We’re all mortal, but athletes have to feel their own mortality sooner than most of us.
Peraza Could Be the Loser Here The Yankees have to cut two infielders from the major league roster. We always assumed that the solution would be to send the least experienced player, Volpe, down to Triple-A, while some veteran was traded away or released. Peraza was competing with Kiner-Falefa for the starting shortstop job, and appears to have beat out the incumbent. Volpe was competing for… something? His only other position so far this Spring has been second base, where the Yankees are stacked. The Yankees wouldn’t bring him up in a part-time bench role, especially with so many players competing for playing time at his positions.
I think Peraza could be the causality here. He’s a great shortstop and underrated hitter, but doesn’t receive the kind of rave reviews that Volpe does. One player is a potential franchise star, while another is a young Didi Gregorius. If the franchise player is ready, maybe the right move to sacrifice the Didi, at least temporarily.
What happens to Peraza in this case? Second base seems unlikely without a lot of roster moves. Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu are already sharing playing time there, and are probably better players than even Peraza’s best case. A bench role seems both bad for his development and unnecessary given the current roster.
Maybe he gets sent to Triple-A. I don’t think there’s much upside for Peraza or the Yankees if he’s there. Peraza has proven he’s a major league hitter and potential Gold Glove shortstop. His value can only go down after a demoralizing demotion.
Maybe he’s the centerpiece for a trade. The Yankees still need an outfielder. They may need depth pitching, or even a high leverage reliever if Kahnle’s injury gets worse. Peraza has a ton of value. I wonder if the Pirates get a call to ask if they’ve reconsidered the asking price for Bryan Reynolds.