Yankees Thoughts: The New Version of Anthony Volpe

The Yankees extended their season-opening winning streak to five with a 5-2 win over the Diamondbacks in Arizona on Monday.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees have played five games this season and Anthony Volpe has played in four of them. The offensive player Volpe has been in 18 plate appearance is a version of Volpe we never saw in his rookie season.

Sure, he hit 21 home runs last year, but in between those home runs were a collection of at-bats you would expect from someone who had played just 132 games above Single-A, even someone as highly regarded as Volpe.

2. This Volpe, the Volpe of the first few days of this season, is the Volpe the Yankees likely envisioned when they allowed him to play in 159 games a year ago and accumulate 601 plate appearances despite hitting .209/.283/.383 over a full season. He was never threatened with a demotion, never lost playing time and kept having is name penciled into the starting lineup even as he was putting up numbers representing among the worst in the majors.

3. It’s not like Volpe finished 2023 in such a way that it foreshadowed his start to 2024 as he hit .163/.226/.255 in September and struck out in 29 percent of his plate appearances. Volpe essentially was worse in September than he had been the rest of the season and there was no promise at the time that his development was headed in the right direction.

Whatever Volpe did in the offseason completely changed him as an offensive player. This doesn’t seem to be a sample size issue either. The command he has had of the strike zone this season, the discipline he has shown laying off unhittable pitches and the swings he has taken on balls in the zone are all traits he lacked last season. Yes, players go on random hot streaks (look at Jose Trevino in 2022) and eventually revert to their normal, former selves, but for Volpe, his presence and plan in the batter’s box suggests this version of him is here to stay.

“Results can be fleeting, especially this time of the year,” Aaron Boone said. “But the fact that he is getting results and the quality of each at-bat, it’s been impressive.”

(Is that Boone and I agreeing on something?!)

4. If this version of Volpe is who he will be moving forward (and I think it is) then the Yankees may have solved their leadoff problem. With the ongoing injuries and ailments of DJ LeMahieu since 2021, and my lack of enthusiasm for Gleyber Torres in that role, Volpe realizing his potential and his former top prospect status like this would solve that problem. I don’t expect that change to happen in Arizona or next week or the week after. The Yankees, as an organization, typically take their time with lineup promotions for their young players, unless injuries make it necessary. (It took two months of Judge hitting .328/.428/.690 in 2017 for him to finally hit third in the lineup.) At the least, though, Volpe needs to be hitting higher in the order than Alex Verdugo. I don’t care about righty-lefty alternation.

5. Last season, Volpe’s at-bats were painful to watch with him flailing at breaking balls and swinging through high-and-away fastballs. This season, so far, it’s been the opposite because he’s been the opposite. On Monday, Volpe continued his early season onslaught, going 4-for-4 with two doubles. The Yankees had eight hits in their 5-2 win and Volpe was responsible for half of them and had a hand in three of the five runs.

6. Luis Gil started his first game in the majors in nearly two years and mostly stifled the Diamondbacks: 4.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K. Gil blew his triple-digit fastball by the reigning National League champions, but even after allowing just one run on one hit, with one out and no one on in the fifth, Boone came to take the ball with Gil at 84 pitches.

“I get it,” David Cone said of Boone taking the ball from Gil before he could face the Diamondbacks’ lineup for a third and qualify for the win. “I still don’t like it.”

I’m guessing Gil’s pitch count was 85 and being at 84 was enough? I didn’t have a problem with it. A “win” for a pitcher is meaningless, and the “win” for the Yankees is all that matters. Gil gave the Yankees 13 outs and trusting the bullpen to protect at least a four-run lead (even if it’s Luke Weaver you’re asking to protect that lead) is understandable.

“I understand there’s a set amount of pitches that I’m under,” Gil said. “I definitely didn’t feel bad about coming out of the game at that time.”

7. One time through the rotation and Gil gave the Yankees’ their second-best start after Marcus Stroman. I would rank the Yankees’ starters first starts this way: Stroman, Gil, Clarke Schmidt, Nestor Cortes, Carlos Rodon. Cortes gave up more runs than Rodon (four to one), but Cortes’ final four innings were strong, where Rodon had two runners on every inning and every out seemed to be a line drive.

8. It’s crazy the Yankees have won five straight against the Astros (who have been to seven straight ALCS) and the Diamondbacks (who went to the World Series five months ago) with mediocre-at-best starting pitching. Only two of their five starters has pitched into the sixth inning (Stroman and Schmidt) and only has given them six innings (Stroman). The Yankees have asked their bullpen to hold deficits and protect leads and it has to a ridiculous level. Yankees relievers have allowed one run (Weaver on Monday) in 19 1/2 innings.

9. It’s even more crazy the Yankees are 5-0 and the first five hitters in the lineup (Torres, Soto, Judge, Rizzo and Stanton) have combined for two home runs in five games (one from Soto and one from Stanton). No long balls from Torres, Judge or Rizzo. The Yankees are averaging more than five runs per game and Torres, Judge, Rizzo and Stanton have driven in a total of four runs in five games. That’s scary. In a good way.

10. In the past (especially the last two seasons), if Judge didn’t hit, the Yankees didn’t win. Judge has done very little this season (3-for-21 with two walks), which is understandable since he missed a lot of spring training at-bats, and the Yankees are still winning. It’s amazing what lineup balance can do for a team. Who would have thought having quality left-handed bats and not an all-right-handed lineup could lead to success?