Anthony Volpe faces a challenge that never bothered Derek Jeter

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The remarkable ironman streak of Anthony Volpe reached its conclusion on Saturday. Prior to that, the rookie shortstop had remarkably featured in every one of the Yankees’ 128 games, earning starting positions in 120 of them. This makes him only one of the seven players — all are MLB bigwigs — who had maintained a perfect attendance record. With his big presence at the Yankees’ most scrutinized position, he faces a unique challenge that never burdened his inspiration, Derek Jeter.

Anthony Volpe’s unprecedented streak materialized after securing the coveted starting shortstop role for the Yankees during spring training, an impressive accomplishment given his absence of prior big-league exposure and just 22 Triple-A games under his belt. Notably, his perseverance at the plate persisted despite a challenging start. He struggled to find his rhythm, tallying a batting average of .186 over his initial 67 games until June 11.

As time went on, Anthony Volpe’s offensive performance saw incremental improvement. Up until the Saturday that marked the end of his streak, he boasted a .217 batting average, alongside 17 home runs, 51 RBI, and a noteworthy 20 steals in 25 attempts. While his fielding percentage of .974 ranked 13th among the 21 MLB shortstops who encountered 300 or more chances, his prowess in the field was highlighted by 13 defensive runs saved, a statistic that tied him for second place according to Sports Info Solutions analytics. Throughout the highs and lows of his journey, Anthony Volpe amassed invaluable experience by participating in every single game—a remarkable feat in its own right.

“His ability to post … I think he’s stayed physically sound, which has been encouraging going through the grind of your first season at this level as the Yankees’ shortstop,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said about Anthony Volpe.

Anthony Volpe’s Odyssey: A weight unfamiliar to Derek Jeter

From Day 1, Anthony Volpe is evaluated against the grand milestone set by Yankees legendary shortstop Derek Jeter. However, the position of the current rookie shortstop faces an unfamiliar challenge in the shadow of that fabled hero, who never had to encounter such a hurdle.

Yankees most famous shortstop Derek Jeter and the newest shortstop Anthony Volpe.

Derek Jeter’s career wasn’t solely built on luck or fortunate circumstances. Accumulating 3,465 hits and maintaining a .310 batting average over two decades in the majors requires more than just chance. Even being one vote shy of unanimous Hall of Fame induction, with a lone holdout, is not attributed to mere luck or favorable outcomes on the field.

The legend did possess one advantageous factor in his favor that Anthony Volpe doesn’t have.

Derek Jeter’s entry was supported by a lineup of shortstops that included Tony Fernandez, Mike Gallego, Spike Owen, Andy Stankiewicz, Alvaro Espinoza, Rafael Santana, Wayne Tolleson, Bobby Meachem, and Roy Smalley. These players provided depth and stability in the shortstop position prior to Derek Jeter’s career.

These were the 10 players who filled the gap in the Yankees‘ shortstop position for 15 years, connecting Derek Jeter’s rookie year to the time when Bucky Dent, the last Yankee shortstop to be named an All-Star in 1981, held the position.

However, the baseball field occupied by the Yankee shortstop is now one of the most prestigious positions in sports, and rightfully so. This reputation is largely due to the contributions of two individuals: Derek Jeter and Phil Rizzuto. While Rizzuto retired from playing in 1956, he continued to shape the position through his broadcasting career, spanning four more decades.

There was no previous player like Derek Jeter for him to emulate and follow in the footsteps of. However, Anthony Volpe had a player to look up to and aspire to be like. And Yankees fans equally have a standard to compare.

Anthony Volpe
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Anthony Volpe’s burden bigger than that of Derek Jeter

Despite players like Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa trying to fill the shortstop position after Derek Jeter’s departure in 2014, there was only one designated successor from June 3, 2019 onwards. That player was Anthony Volpe, a talented youngster hailing from Delbarton School in New Jersey. Anthony Volpe showcased his skills in the minor leagues, displayed an impressive performance during spring training, and ultimately earned the role of the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop at the young age of 21.

The outcomes have been a blend of successes and setbacks for Anthony Volpe. While he has encountered a few errors on the field, his overall defensive performance has been commendable, and he possesses an exceptional throwing arm. With 13 stolen bases and a flawless record in stolen base attempts, opposing teams are wary of his speed on the base paths, making a walk to Anthony Volpe almost equivalent to a guaranteed double.

However, as he was rested on Saturday, Anthony Volpe ended his 128-game streak with a batting average of .217. His on-base percentage stands at .294, and he is performing a bit below the top rookies in MLB. On a positive note, he has displayed power at the plate with 17 home runs, including a few crucial clutch hit assuring the Yankees victory. It includes a big one against the Astros.

In essence, Anthony Volpe’s rookie journey has been a blend of positive moments, challenges, remarkable performances, and areas of concern. Throughout this process, the Yankees deserve praise for their unwavering support and commitment to playing Anthony Volpe consistently. Despite the occasional murmurs about altering this approach, if any such discussions have taken place, they have remained relatively silent and unchanged.

He will be given a genuine opportunity to prove himself.

Yankees' Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo pour ice on Anthony Volpe, who hit the winning run against Baltimore at Yankee Stadium on May 24, 20223.

Anthony Volpe has to play in Derek Jeter’s shadow

However, it has become customary in the Bronx to immediately draw comparisons between Anthony Volpe and Derek Jeter. However, such a comparison is both absurd and unjust. Derek Jeter stands among the select few all-time greats in baseball history, and it would be unreasonable to impose such lofty expectations on anyone. Even the legend’s debut is not as smooth as that of Anthony Volpe.

The reality that was evident on Opening Day continues to hold true and will persist as long as Anthony Volpe holds the position. Being the Yankees’ shortstop can lead to a lengthy and successful career, including multiple All-Star appearances and the possibility of winning championships. Even with all that, when the time comes to comparision, one may be remembered fondly but still not warrant being mentioned in the same breath as Derek Jeter, let alone being compared to him in any capacity.

Derek Jeter witnessed the burden that fell upon his friend Tino Martinez when he took over for Don Mattingly, and he observed the impact it had on Jason Giambi when he succeeded Tino. In April 2002, Derek Jeter stated that the fans have the right to express their opinions, including through boos directed at Giambi. He emphasized the importance of not allowing those reactions to affect one’s performance.

Derek Jeter’s exceptional skills and abilities were such that no one could easily match him in the Bronx. There is undoubtedly his shadow looming over Anthony Volpe at present. It would be beneficial for everyone to offer the young player some respite by refraining from placing undue focus on that comparison, at least for now.

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