LOS ANGELES — Anthony Volpe attended his first Futures Game eight years ago at Target Field, part of an All-Star trip with his father to see Derek Jeter play in his final Midsummer Classic.
Little did Volpe know he would potentially follow in his favorite player’s footsteps.
Volpe, who grew up in a New Jersey suburb about 30 miles from Yankee Stadium, was back at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Saturday at Dodger Stadium, this time starting at shortstop and batting cleanup for the American League.
“It’s not too often you get the opportunity to play against the best of the best,” said Volpe, who finished 0-for-2 in the contest. “I’m really excited.”
Volpe overcame a slow start to 2022 at Double-A Somerset, finally showing the skills that rank him as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and No. 8 prospect overall in the game, according to MLB Pipeline.
After hitting .203 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 40 games through the end of May, Volpe hit .306 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs in 37 games through June and July, earning his spot in the All-Star showcase of Saturday.
The lackluster start to the season didn’t faze the 21-year-old, who trusted his skill and process through tough times, confident he would emerge from his slump a smarter and stronger player.
“It actually gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I haven’t changed anything or it’s not been one thing that has unblocked me,” Volpe said. “I struggled obviously, but I haven’t changed anything and I’m seeing very different results. The process still remains the same, and it’s obviously nice to see a few hits drop.
As Volpe spoke with half a dozen reporters ahead of Saturday’s game, a familiar face stood about 20 feet across the clubhouse: Jack Leiter.
The Rangers’ top prospect (No. 16 overall in MLB) was a teammate of Volpe’s in Delbarton, NJ, so if anyone in the AL locker room had a good scouting report on the Baby Bomber, that’s it. was Leiter.
“He was always a tough batter,” Leiter said. “He’s probably the best hitter I’ve ever faced.”
Leiter praised Volpe for his skills on the court, but it was his mental makeup and work ethic that kept coming back during the conversation. Leiter’s father, Al, was a two-time All-Star during a solid 19-year career, so the 22-year-old has an idea of what it takes to succeed at the Majors. The hype that may come from being the Yankees’ top prospect — let alone being a Jersey-born shortstop, just like Jeter — can become overwhelming for many kids Volpe’s age.
In that case, Leiter said, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“Since he was 10, people all over New Jersey talked about Anthony Volpe as the next big thing,” Leiter said. “The important thing in managing expectations is really not to worry about them; work hard and don’t focus on the big picture. Don’t focus on what other people say or think about you. It’s just sticking to that routine.
“There were expectations of him from an early age and he always handled it well, so there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue. If there’s someone who can handle the biggest market, biggest fan base, all those expectations, that would be him.
Like all of the Yankees’ top prospects before him, Volpe is certain to hear his name in one trade rumor or another by the Aug. 2 trade deadline. It’s a prime example of what Leiter was talking about, and based on Volpe’s answer to such a question on Saturday, he seems to have an idea of how to handle it.
“It’s super out of my control; I’m here in LA with some of the best minor leaguers in the game, so I don’t think about things like that,” Volpe said. “It’s such a great once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so if I spent brainpower thinking about it, I’d get out of it.”
Hal Steinbrenner cited Volpe’s rise in the organization as one of the reasons the Yankees chose not to pursue one of the big-name free agent shortstops last offseason. which only pushed those expectations higher. Volpe said it was “obviously great” to hear Steinbrenner express that kind of self-confidence, but he’s not setting any personal timetable for getting to the Bronx.
“I feel like I have a long way to go,” Volpe said. “[The Futures Game] is obviously a big step in my career, but there is still a lot of work to do. While I hope to get there one day, there’s still a lot of work to be done to be the player I want to be and hopefully win a lot of World Series.
Sounds a lot like a former Yankees shortstop, doesn’t it?