Stanton, Volpe spark big hopes for Yankees

Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Volpe pose for a photograph during the Yankees 2023 spring training game at Tampa, FL.

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For the New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton‘s first year was his healthiest. In 2018, he hit 38 home runs, drove in 100 runs, got an average of .266, and had an OPS of .852. If Stanton stays healthy in 2023, the Yankees think that his second healthiest year in The Bronx will be much better than his first.

“He’s a way better hitter than that [2018 season],” manager Aaron Boone told following Stanton’s first spring training game on Wednesday. “If Giancarlo goes out there and is healthy, plays 130, 140 games, I still think a massive season is in there.”

But as always, the most important thing for the Yankees is the player’s health. Stanton only played in 19 games in 2019 because of injuries. His right knee PCL sprain was the most important.

His 2020 season for the Yankees ended prematurely because of a hamstring injury. In the last two seasons, when he played an average of 124 1/2 games, he was healthier but not 100%.

Stanton had a great start to the last season. He was named to his fifth All-Star Game and hit 19 home runs in his first 63 games for the Yankees, giving him an OPS of .885 by the end of June. But he started getting hurt in July when he hurt his ankle and foot. This hurt him for the rest of the season and the Yankees’ offensive suffered causing their worst summer.

“His numbers fell off because he was working through something at the end,” Boone said of Stanton. “But he’s a much more polished and understanding-who-he-is … hitter the last couple of years.”

Boone thinks that Stanton, at 33, still has a fast bat speed and “massive power,” but now he also has the experience and knowledge to beat up pitchers even more. Stanton is also the Yankees player to hit the hardest.

On Wednesday, he showed that. Stanton’s first swing of the exhibition season was at a fastball from Washington’s Cory Abbott, which he hit back at 112.4 mph, right at Abbott’s calf. Stanton’s second and last swing in the Yankees’ 4-2 win at Steinbrenner Field was another rocket to right-center field that hit the warning track and fell short.

Boone said that Stanton has been “locked in” even during the Yankees’ practice games. This continued in the first semi-real game, when he hit twice, hit two balls, and got two outs.

“I want the flyouts to be against the wall,” said Stanton. “I want the line-outs. Get them all out here.”

Stanton’s first game was as the DH. But during early workouts, he has been hitting balls in the outfield.

Anthony Volpe shows Yankees his fielding chops

In the sixth inning, Anthony Volpe made a few smart plays. The shortstop caught a ball and fired it to second base to get the lead runner as he fell to the ground. Later in the inning, Volpe caught a ground ball and hurled it at the second base. It helped get rid of Luis Garcia of the Nationals while he was attempting to move to third.

A young Anthony Volpe with his family.

Volpe has one. Now 21 years old, he said this spring that some of his earliest memories of baseball happened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where his family lived when he was young. At the corner of 96th Street and Lexington Avenue, there was a park where he and his father would play baseball.

“It would just start [as] me and my dad, and within half an hour, we’d have a full nine-on-nine game,” Volpe said, “with just people that would just show up at the field wanting to play.”

During the times when there weren’t full teams, Volpe and his father used to set up simulated Yankees vs Red Sox games between them. They resorted to dirt, grass, and concrete to set up the field just next to four trains that fans used to reach Yankee Stadium.

Volpe’s Yankees career is moving quickly. He was taken in the first round of the 2019 draft. In 2021, when many minor leaguers got their first look after the 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic, he was the best prospect. Volpe had a powerful swing and hit .294 with 27 home runs. When he wasn’t running around the bases, he terrified the pitchers with 33 stolen bases. Scouts were blown away by his season, which put him in the top 15 prospects for 2022.

“The way he impacts the baseball … it’s batting practice, but watching him drive the ball the other way with ease, he’s impressive,” Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza said earlier. “He has a nice inside-out swing, impacting the baseball with a forward pass. That really stands out so far.”

Volpe is in contention for becoming the Yankees shortstop. Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Oswald Peraza are other contenders for the job. On Sunday, he went 2-for-4 and stole two bases against the Blue Jays. But next day, which saw the Yankees beating the Tigers 8-5, Volpe started at second base and threw out a runner at the plate. In his two at-bats, he also hit into two double plays by grounding the ball into the dirt. Volpe trained at second base during the offseason, and the Yankees manager will try to get each of the shortstops to play at other positions to help them become more versatile.

“I might get him in at third later this week,” Boone said. “But I know in talking with [infield coach Travis Chapman], they feel good about him at second base and that he’s done all the reps. In his mind, he’s prepared himself for that coming into this camp to be ready for any possibility.”

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