BRIDGEWATER TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Go to any game at Double-A Somerset’s TD Bank Ballpark, and you’re likely to bump into someone who knows Anthony Volpe. Not just knows him as the top prospect in the Yankees’ system or one of the most promising shortstops in Minor League Baseball. But knows him on a personal level, enough to say they knew him when.
Volpe’s hometown is Watchung, N.J. in east Somerset County. Before New York selected him in the first round in 2019, he attended the Delbarton School with Jack Leiter — about 30 minutes north of where he now plays ball professionally. He says about 100 friends and family were in attendance for Somerset’s home opener on April 12, and about one-fifth of those were back Thursday for Volpe’s 21st birthday at the ballpark. It also happened to be Bark in the Park Night, so also in attendance with his parents: his dog, Jedi.
Still one of the youngest batters in the Eastern League, Volpe garners a lot of regional and national attention as he ascends toward the Bronx in an attempt to be the local kid made good. But he hasn’t lost sight of the work ethic and drive that led to his 2021 breakout and his spot among the game’s 10 best overall prospects either.
Prior to Thursday’s MLB Pipeline Game of the Month, Volpe talked to Pipeline about his transition to Double-A, his recent turnaround, his local recommendations (or lack thereof) and where his attention lies as he nears Yankee Stadium.
Dykstra: First things first, how do you feel like the season is going so far?
Volpe: It’s been a really good start to this season. We have a really good group of guys. The clubhouse is at an all-time high, and we’re excited to keep it going.
Dykstra: This is your first experience at Double-A. What has been the biggest learning experience for you here?
Volpe: I just think it’s been the pitching, how they’re planning to attack me and trying to pick up on that as early in the week as I can to make my adjustments and be better prepared every single at-bat.
Dykstra: We haven’t said it so far, so I want to say it now. Happy birthday. Today is your 21st birthday. You are a New Jersey native. What is it like to be here for this day?
Volpe: It’s pretty special. A couple of years have passed since I was able to be around my family for my birthday. For them to be here every day, especially on my birthday, is pretty special.
Dykstra: You said before we started the one thing you’ve been able to do so far was a diner breakfast. What was the other on your 21st birthday?
Volpe: I got a breakfast burrito and shared some Nutella French toast.
Dykstra: You have to stick to the diet in season, is that what you’re saying?
Volpe: We’ll see how this game goes. [Note: Volpe went 2-for-4 with a triple and four RBIs but said after the game, he wouldn’t be repeating the breakfast order. “I’m not that superstitious,” he joked.]
Dykstra: Since you are a New Jersey native, what are some of the comforts you get from being here?
Volpe: I feel like usually the worst parts of the Minor Leagues are not being with family and not being home. I get the best of all worlds now. It’s pretty cool to be able to give my family hugs after the games, go home and sleep in my own bed. It’s been pretty awesome.
Dykstra: How much are you the de facto New Jersey guide on the team?
Volpe: I think I am the de facto New Jersey guy, but I don’t think I deserve it. I have a couple of spots here and there that I point guys towards, but I don’t know New Jersey as well as I probably should.
Dykstra: Why is that? I know you spent part of your childhood in New York City.
Volpe: So I pretty much only know the parts of New Jersey that I played in high school, those different towns. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the hole-in-the-wall spots that I probably should.
Dykstra: So when you do send guys somewhere, where is that?
Volpe: Right around here, there’s a deli called Randazzo’s. They have my favorite sandwiches. It’s perfect on the way to the field to grab lunch. That’s my go-to spot, and that’s what I recommend to guys.
Dykstra: What’s the go-to order?
Volpe: I get the grilled chicken sandwich with mozzarella and balsamic.
Dykstra: You were talking before about the adjustments to Double-A and learning how guys were attacking you. How do you feel like they have been attacking you here in the first couple of weeks?
Volpe: Nothing too crazy. It’s just different between the series. Just making adjustments for one team and then kind of taking those in, writing those down for the next time we face them. Then, it could be completely different the next series, and I think that’s what’s pretty cool about these six-game sets. You’re playing everyone like a playoff series because going forward you’re never going to play teams six times in a row again. So I think it’s kind of been that. Obviously, you have your approach that you stick to, and then it’s adjusting that to how they’re attacking you.
Dykstra: One thing I’ve noticed early on — and it is still a small sample size — is that you’re getting a steady diet of breaking balls. What has been the adjustment to those?
Volpe: It’s really just getting on time with everything. I feel like if I’m on time for any fastball, I can hit whatever offspeed stuff. Last year, I got a really high amount of those, but this year, I got a lot of fastballs at the top of the zone too. Just knowing that and remembering it for next time, that helps put me in a better position.
Dykstra: What was your focus in the offseason?
Volpe: Pretty much everything. I was trying to find low-hanging fruit with my mechanics to make me more efficient and easier to throw across the diamond, I think it worked really well. Also, consistency with my hitting stuff. Working on facing stuff that I’m going to be facing as I go higher and higher — different types of pitches, locations. Just all sorts of consistency stuff with my swing.
Dykstra: How different was this spring from a pressure standpoint?
Volpe: I guess in Tampa, we were kind of sheltered away from everything with the last couple restrictions from COVID. It wasn’t too bad, and like I said, even now with it being a little more relaxed, the fun of it and hanging out with the guys [helps]. It is what it is, and you have to have perspective. Every day we’re just trying to compete, have fun and win on the field.
Dykstra: That said, this is the Yankees we’re talking about, and their shortstop position was in the news a lot in the last couple of months. How much were you paying attention to that?
Volpe: Honestly, not that much. I was working on a lot of stuff, and a lot of guys were around. We were pushing each other pretty hard. So it really was something I have absolutely no control over. I kind of have a hard time worrying or thinking about stuff I can’t really control.
Dykstra: So you’re not someone who looks at a depth chart or wonders about the spots ahead of you?
Dykstra: In terms of your defense, what are you focused on right now to make sure you are someone who can stick at short at the Major League level?
Volpe: Range and getting to the balls that other guys can’t. I work really hard in training and practice and everything to kind of separate ourselves out. Obviously, we’re always taking care of the fundamentals — your hands and your conversion and your throws and stuff like that. So it’s definitely a lot of little things to keep up on, but I’d say probably the range and getting to balls other guys can’t was probably the main priority.
Dykstra: On the hitting side, it’s early but the numbers weren’t really there in the first couple weeks of your time at Double-A. What do you focus on when hits aren’t falling in?
Volpe: I think it’s all timing. The first couple of weeks, I felt like I was really late on a lot of pitches. Like I said when I feel like I’m on time, I feel like I can get to any different location or any different speed of pitch. The timing’s feeling a lot better and it’s put me in a lot better position to hit. When I’m late, I feel like I’m late to the fastball and early to everything else. It’s not a good spot to be in, but I’m feeling a lot better the last couple of days.
Dykstra: How does getting that timing back work for you?
Volpe: I think it’s you just have to make an investment and commit to it and kind of pinpoint the best stuff you work on. With a lot of guys, I think it’s their swing or their mechanics or stuff like that. But I definitely try and stay away from that, just because I feel like I worked so hard on that in the offseason. So for me, it’s comforting that it’s just the timing issue and nothing else. Just starting earlier and slower. That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking.
Dykstra: You talked earlier of the book you write in. Last night [on Wednesday], you had two hits and reached three times. What did you write down after that?
Volpe: I was thinking I felt like I missed two balls and got two hits, which made me feel like my swing was in a good place. Just a couple of inches either way and those are hit really hard and go a long way. Just sticking to it after last night.
Dykstra: To close this out on your birthday, how many do you have coming to the park tonight?
Volpe: Probably over 20 tonight. Opening Night was probably over 100. But Sunday, we’re going to a birthday party after the game, so that will probably be bigger. Maybe 50.
Dykstra: When you play here, how many people come out of the woodwork to see you?
Volpe: It’s pretty cool. It’s a lot of people. I wouldn’t say woodwork. It’s just people that I met along the way — old teachers, coaches, people like that that I haven’t really seen or talked to in a couple of years. That has been pretty cool to just see them in the stands or wave to them after a game.
Dykstra: Did you come to many Somerset games growing up?
Volpe: Yeah, a couple. I feel like all the coaches I’ve had growing up played for the Patriots. So it’s a pretty good family and network of people that are associated with. I’ve never been treated better on a team.
Dykstra: How much do you see yourself in the 5-year-olds asking for autographs or coming to see you guys play?
Volpe: It’s pretty surreal, pretty cool. It goes a long way.