New York Yankees' Anthony Volpe praised for 'elite' potential

WASHINGTON -- Anthony Volpe is scheduled Thursday to become the youngest New York Yankees starting shortstop since Hall of Famer Derek Jeter's debut at 20 years old in 1995. While that might be a daunting task for any other 21-year-old who grew up in a household of Yankees fans, Volpe is no ordinary young man.

"In a way, he's been bred for this," manager Aaron Boone said after the team's last spring game against the Nationals here Tuesday. "You look at [Volpe's] childhood, growing up, being a giant Yankee fan, going to Yankee Stadium, being a smart kid, on his way to Vanderbilt, but getting drafted by his team. And who he's been in the organization since he was drafted and how he's developed and the reputation that he's earned. For being a young man and being 21, I think he's as equipped as anyone to handle it."

Volpe, who was raised in Watchung, New Jersey, about 30 miles west of New York City, grew up idolizing Yankees legends such as Willie Randolph and Jeter, dreaming of one day suiting up in pinstripes. He'll wear Brett Gardner's old No. 11 on Opening Day.

Aaron Judge, the reigning American League MVP and new Yankees captain, can certainly relate to the expectations that come from being a homegrown Yankee. He lauded Volpe's maturity.

"You wouldn't know he's 21," said Judge, who won AL Rookie of the Year when he made his major league debut in 2017. "Like, if I saw that kid playing, and he told me he was a 27-year-old guy we just traded for, I'd be like, 'Oh yeah, looks like he's got some experience.' Just his demeanor, his calmness, it's fun to see and fun to have that in the lineup."

It has been Volpe's demeanor, and especially the dedication to his craft, that has impressed Yankees ace Gerrit Cole about Volpe, particularly considering the cancellation of the minor league season in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The industry, in 2020, shut down, especially for the minor leagues, and this guy's progression just continued to go forward," Cole said. "[Volpe] wasn't hindered by that at all in terms of his growth because otherwise he wouldn't be here right now."

Cole added: "I think his preparation is elite. I think his talent is elite. I'm just starting to kind of get to know him now, but watching him from afar, he looks like he has a lot of the characteristics of other great players that I've watched over the years."

That is why the Yankees decided this was the appropriate time for Volpe's promotion, regardless of his youth or having barely played over 20 games above the Double-A level.

"That's one of the reasons that we ultimately decided now's the time. Because we feel like he is, from a makeup standpoint, equipped to handle all that's gonna come," Boone said. "There's gonna be bumps, and there's gonna be things that he's got to navigate that he's never experienced before. But I do feel like his makeup will allow him to handle it."

For Judge, Volpe's debut also speaks to the Yankees' commitment to putting a winning product on the field.

"I'm excited," Judge said. "I think the organization believing in a young guy like Volpe, and we've got quite a few other young guys who will probably help us win a lot of ballgames down the road, so as a player, that just gets you excited knowing that, hey, the organization wants the best product on the field, no matter the age or who they are."

While Volpe won the starting shortstop job over fellow lauded rookie Oswald Peraza, the Yankees still have several open roster spots ahead of Opening Day.

They are missing two crucial players in their rotation, with Carlos Rodon (forearm strain) and Luis Severino (low-level lat strain) starting off the season on the injured list. That gave way for Clarke Schmidt and Domingo Germán, who were fighting for the fifth starter spot entering spring, to both earn rotation spots alongside Cole and Nestor Cortes Jr. In terms of a possible fifth-starter call-up, Jhony Brito threw 5⅓ perfect innings in his last spring training tuneup, a spot start that might have earned him a spot in the Yankees' rotation to begin the season, although the club has not made it official.

The Yankees will likely look to former top prospect Estevan Florial to take over for injured outfielder Harrison Bader (left oblique), with the team announcing Wednesday that it's releasing spring invitee Rafael Ortega. Florial, who is out of minor league options, is one of the players who has garnered interest from other teams. Boone also announced the team has released outfielder and spring training invitee Willie Calhoun.

Relievers Greg Weissert and Ian Hamilton, who were competing for one of the two spots that opened up in the bullpen due to injuries (Lou Trivino, elbow; Tommy Kahnle, biceps), were both sent down to Triple-A. Sources told ESPN the Yankees are currently evaluating not only additional farmhand options but also what the waiver wire might bring as spring training ends.