It’s hard not to get a kick out of the smile that slowly forms on Anthony Volpe’s face when someone digging into the start of his season asks about his confidence level.
Those in the business of grasping at straws in wondering why the traditional statistics next to the 21-year-old Somerset Patriots shortstop’s name haven’t been as reflective of the obvious talent that’s carried him to consensus top-prospect status in the New York Yankees farm system will occasionally make the mistake of wondering aloud about it when speaking to the man himself.
Good-naturedly and in a typically extremely polished fashion beyond his years, the answer typically isn’t much different than the one he gave after a 3-for-4 showing at the plate on Saturday night.
“For me, confidence has never really been a problem,” he said. “I’ve always been super confident. At the end of the day, confidence and concentration are the two things I worry about. So, if I’m playing with confidence and competing with confidence, that’s really the only stat that matters to me. ”
The Delbarton grad and Watchung native says he doesn’t really know many of his own numbers these days, but “we obviously have what we evaluate ourselves on a daily basis, and that’s probably a lot different than what people see on the back of a baseball card. ”
Were that card to be printed heading into the team’s upcoming road trip – seven games in six days – to New Hampshire that’s set to start on Tuesday night, it would show some numbers at the plate that, even with a resurgence in recent weeks and a team-high 22 stolen bases, are below anyone’s expectations: a .224 batting average with six home runs and 27 RBI in his first 51 games at the Double-A level.
Sometimes reluctant to speak about himself as the team’s most frequent interview subject, Volpe says he evaluates himself more on wins and losses and how the team is performing, deflecting some questions to ensure that the spotlight shines on others.
Internally, however, how the organization evaluates its progress is entirely different.
“I think if you look at some of his traditional stats, looking at his average and all that other stuff, I don’t think it paints a very good picture,” said Patriots hitting coach Jake Hirst. “If you dive a little bit deeper and you look at his year-to-date walk rate, strikeout rate, hard-hit percentage and all that other stuff, that kind of looks more at the process of what’s going on to make him a household name in the big leagues. I think those numbers are indicative of what he’s capable of. ”
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In recent years, the Yankees player development team largely ignores batting average, with a focus more on what Hirst alluded to, as well as things like swing decision (how well a player controls the strike zone when facing different pitches), launch angle, exit velocities and more easily quantifiable and public things like BABIP (batting average on balls in play); the latter of which, currently sitting at .266 and under his career mark of .303, would indicate Volpe’s been the victim of some tough luck as well.
Although he’s not looking at the metrics themselves in saying so, Volpe, who is hitting .302 in June, admits that balls finally finding some holes has been comforting.
“When you’re hitting the ball hard and making outs, even though you’re pleased and felt like you did everything to hit it hard and square it up, you feel like you’re not helping your team at the same time,” he said. “So, just to be out there running around and feeling like you’re contributing has always really felt good.”
That, according to Hirst, is the product of an approach and mindset far beyond anything expected of someone who just turned 21, with the cliché of an even-keeled mentality actually being applicable towards Volpe’s recent successes.
“I think it’s been cool to see him settle in,” he said. “Externally, it’s been a lot of ups and downs, but I was looking a few days ago now, and you look at his year-to-date stats, and they’re really in line with what he was doing in Hudson Valley last year. So, the cool thing is to see him be so level-headed throughout all of it, and just go about his business and trust in the process with what he’s doing and what he knows he needs to do.
“Some of it is directing (his) attention to the more important things, and I think he does a good job of not really needing that push,” Hirst continued. “He knows what he’s doing on a day-in, day-out basis. Maybe there’s times where we all look up and it’s a little frustrating to see a certain number on the scoreboard, but I think he’s one of those guys who doesn’t get too high or doesn’t get too low. If there’s adjustment that needs to be made, he kind of makes it without making a big deal out of it, whether he’s hitting 1,000 or he’s hitting a buck-fifty. ”
There is, of course, a work ethic element that factors in as well. Take it all into account, and regardless of what the back of that baseball card may still see, nobody – not Volpe himself, and certainly not the Yankees organization as a whole – is worried in the slightest about a player many believe will be the shortstop of the future in the Bronx.
“With him, nothing is an accident,” Hirst said. “I think that’s a good way to put it, is he doesn’t get lucky. You might see an adjustment and think, ‘Oh, that was cool,’ but at the end of the day, he consciously did something, and that’s the cool thing to see, especially at his age with how quickly he’s able to make an adjustment .
“He’s calculated. He’s really attentive in our advance meetings. He’s methodical in that sense. He knows that if a guy has ride, he has to make ‘x’ adjustment to his swing. If a guy has a bunch of sink, then he needs to do this or that. If a guy has a sweeping curveball he needs to start on his hip, he’s making that adjustment and shifting fields and things like that. I think he’s aggressive in all the right ways. He’s a hunter; he’s not passively waiting for the perfect pitch; he’s going out and he’s looking to do damage. He’s methodical, he’s competitive and he’s a hunter. ”
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: New York Yankees: Evaluating Anthony Volpe with Somerset Patriots