by EJ Fagan
February 28, 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.
Barring a trade, Aaron Hicks will be the starting left fielder on Opening Day, with Oswaldo Cabrera in a backup role. Maybe that works out. Hicks is a talented player who had to play in 2022 with a terrible wrist injury. Or maybe his career as a productive MLB player is over.
Let’s imagine a very plausible scenario. It’s May 1st. Hicks is hitting .200/.320/.300. Oswaldo Cabrera has now taken over, is hitting so-so and playing not great defense in left. No trades materialize. The Yankees need help in left, right now.* Giancarlo Stanton is only an occasional option.
* We could make this scenario even worse: Harrison Bader has never stayed healthy for a full season.
Let’s add that the Yankee infield is looking very strong: Peraza is holding down shortstop well, LeMahieu is healthy and even Gleyber Torres is playing well. Down in Triple-A, none of the outfielders are looking great, but Anthony Volpe is hitting .300/.400/.500 at Triple-A. He’s ready, but there isn’t a spot for him.
I think that in this scenario, I think Volpe starts playing games in left field at Triple-A.
We now have prospect rankings from The Athletic, ESPN, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and MLB.com. There’s a pretty strong consensus here on Volpe: he’s a really good hitter who is somewhere between a below-average and average shortstop, but shows great baseball instincts on the field. He’s an above-average runner with an okay arm.
In our scenario, I don’t think that there’s any question that Anthony Volpe could be a better hitter in left field than any of the real outfielders. I also think that there’s a pretty good case that he could be a solid outfielder. He has the tools. He has the instincts. With a few weeks of practice in left field (frankly, I would get him going in Spring Training if I were the Yankees) at Triple-A, I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t do what Oswaldo Cabrera did last year.
But should they? Anthony Volpe is more valuable in the long term as an infielder. The Yankees have too many infielders right now, but Isaiah Kiner-Falefa and Donaldson are free agents after the 2023 season, and Gleyber Torres is leaving after the 2024 season. The Oswaldos are far from established major league players. There will be space in the infield eventually. He can always move back.
Or maybe he won’t. When he was blocked by Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts moved from 2nd base to the outfield to break into the major leagues. Betts had a very similar skillset to Volpe, plus a tick or two of speed and contact:
Or maybe Volpe turns out to have Kris Bryant’s early career, playing between the outfield and infield as the team’s needs require:
Volpe is a talented player who has shown the ability to adapt to new situations. If he’s going to hit, I don’t care that much about where he plays during his rookie season. If Peraza pans out, Volpe isn’t going to play shortstop anyway. Teams that want to win adapt to their situation. In a few months, Volpe might be the best chance that the Yankees have to not give away plate appearances in left field all season. Give him a chance!