Saturday, April 8, 2023

With Volpe, Patience is a Virtue...


Anthony Volpe (Photo Credit: AP)

Despite Anthony Volpe’s slow start, keep the faith…

A little more than a week into the 2023 season, the doomsayers among the Yankees fan base are out in full force. The Yankees, a notoriously slow-starting team (last year was an exception), are 4-3 after seven games, and three games behind the undefeated Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East…a half-game behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Anthony Volpe has started slowly and is bringing calls for his demotion to Triple-A.

A few things are true. The Rays will lose. Despite their strong start, I am convinced the Blue Jays to remain the greater threat. The Yankees will win more games than they lose…sitting at or near the top of the division in the coming months, and Anthony Volpe will emerge as a strong, exciting Major League player. 

Volpe’s typical entry into a new level was started slowly, only to see him emerge as a force. I expect the same at the game’s highest level. Through seven games and twenty-five plate appearances, Volpe is hitting .143/.280/.143 (.220 wOBA and 31 wRC+). Entering Spring Training, I thought Volpe would be headed to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to finish his development. His amazing Spring tore up the playbook, and he became a Major Leaguer at age 21. The Yankees committed to Volpe as the future of the team’s shortstop, and I do not feel they should pull the plug after a handful of games.

Although I do not have the stats to back it, it seems most top prospects struggle at first. Rare is the player who bursts upon the scene to become his team’s superstar player. Adley Rutschman of the Baltimore Orioles is quickly gaining recognition as the game’s greatest current active catcher, and if memory serves correctly, he started at a turtle’s pace when he was promoted to the Majors last May. Through seven games and thirty-one plate appearances, Rutschman had five hits, only one of which went for extra bases (a triple in his debut game). Not trying to compare Volpe to Rutschman other than just saying to be patient with young players.

It would be easy to say demote Volpe to Triple-A until he “gets it” but I think the Yankees have made their decision and they need to stick to the plan. Despite the slow offensive performance, Volpe has given me more confidence in the shortstop position than I had last year through his strong defensive play. It is fun to see the easy plays, in addition to the hard ones, made once again. The game will start to slow down for Volpe, and he WILL hit. We need to be patient. His speed has already shown us that once he does start hitting, he will be a game disruptor on the base paths. 

If there is a Yankee that I am down on after only seven games, it is Clarke Schmidt. I had hoped this would be Schmidt’s breakout season. He is 27, healthy, and a talented pitcher. However, he is unable to put away hitters, especially left-handed hitters. Lefties are batting .421/.500/.895 against him through two games. Small sample size, but “piece of Schmidt” is not exactly inspiring confidence when he takes the mound.  The season is young and there is time for Schmidt to step up, but with Luis Severino and Carlos Rodón starting to throw again, Schmidt is running out of time.  Granted, Sevy and Rodón are probably six weeks away, but it brings heightened urgency to Schmidt’s every start if he intends to hold his spot beyond the return of the injured starters.

Clarke Schmidt (Photo Credit: Terrance Williams/AP)

I am more excited about the return of Jhony Brito, who is scheduled to be today’s starter. Given he was just optioned to Triple-A five days ago, it appears that a pitcher will be placed on the Injured List to allow for Brito’s early return. My expectation is Michael King after his uninspiring season debut with reduced velocity. King needs more work before he is ready to become a force again. Unlike Volpe, King would benefit from time away. I want a healthy and strong Mike King for the summer and into the fall.  If that means coddling him now, so be it. As for Jhony B. Good, it seems unlikely he will be as dominant as he was against the San Francisco Giants when he pitched five scoreless innings and struck out six batters, surrendering just two hits. Yet, it seems he will be more productive than Schmidt, or at least I hope so. Another strong start by Brito could allow him to leapfrog Schmidt in the pecking order. Consistent quality starts, that is all we want. 

I am ready for the Yankees to move on from Aaron Hicks. Some players overstay their welcome, and Hicks is that guy. I have been ready for his departure for quite a while. His lack of opportunities lately seemingly implies the end may be near. Franchy Cordero received the right field assignment in Friday night’s game against the Orioles. Cordero, who hit a three-run homer against his former teammates, was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. Manager Aaron Boone preferred to go with the hitless Isiah Kiner-Falefa (.000/.000/.000 in four games before last night’s appearance) over Hicks. I am not a great fan of Hicks, but he would have been my choice in that spot. Given that Oswaldo Cabrera has been the more frequent starting left fielder, Hicks’ days appear to be numbered. I am not convinced Cordero is good enough to justify cutting Hicks, but it seems moves are imminent. 

The Yankees also have another roster decision to make today with the expected placement of Josh Donaldson on the Injured List. Oswald Peraza is the first player I think of, but he should not be promoted to sit on the bench. I would rather see Peraza play every day. Although I wanted Peraza as the starting shortstop when Spring Training opened, I would not be in favor of starting him over Volpe. Andrés Chapparo, as a third baseman, seems like a good fit to replace Donaldson, but unfortunately, his bat in Triple-A has been quieter than Volpe’s. 

Peraza and Everson Pereira (currently in Double-A) are the only two minor league position players on the 40-man roster. Anyone else will require a move to open a spot on the 40-man. First baseman Jake Bauers, a left-handed hitter, is the hottest offensive star for the RailRiders so far this season. Jesús Bastidas, 24, opened eyes during Spring Training, and his ability to play second, third and shortstop makes him an attractive player for promotion. He is the second-best hitter for the RailRiders behind Bauers. 

No doubt GM Brian Cashman and his team of nerds are hard at work while I type this post in preparation for today’s transactions. 4:05 PM Eastern will be here soon. Time is money, Cash!

The Unwanted Man

I thought it was the end of Estevan Haniel Florial’s Yankees career when he was designated for assignment earlier this month. I am not sure of his future, but he remains in the organization after clearing waivers and was outrighted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I thought some team would be willing to take a shot at the young former top prospect to see if they could catch lightning in a bottle.

Estevan Florial (Photo Credit: USATSI)

I guess it shows how far Florial has regressed. I have seen so many fans criticize the Yankees for not giving Florial more opportunities, yet every other team in Major League Baseball was unwilling to give him a spot on their active rosters. Maybe this is not a Yankees thing and Florial is just not good. 

Florial is a player I have always liked, and I have wanted him to succeed. However, I have concluded that if he eventually finds his way to the Major Leagues, it will not be with the Yankees. I would love for him to have an epiphany with his batting eye. While I hope for the best regarding his Yankee future, I expect the worst. It was truly with mixed feelings to see him clear waivers. Glad he is still in the organization (for now) but saddened he does not get the opportunity for a clean start elsewhere…if that makes any sense.

Hopefully, he can still find his way.

As always, Go Yankees!

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