Anthony Wolpe of the Yankees: “Made for New York”

LOS ANGELES. The Yankees had a gaping hole in their shortstop earlier this season. Gleyber Torres struggled there and went back to second base. However, the Yankees were lucky as the announced class of free agents entered the free agent market: Carlos Correa, Corey Seeger, Trevor Storey, Javier Baez were all in the All-Stars, and three of them won the World Series. .

The Yankees beat them all, trading for Isaiah Keener-Falefa, a reliable fielder not known for his bat.

Why? The team was looking to improve their defense, and the price tags of free agents were extraordinary. Keener-Falefa, who has been under the team’s control for two seasons, is making $4.7 million this year, while Correa, Seeger, Storey and Baez have signed contracts that pay them $23.3 million or more in year. This season, Correa earned $35.1 million and is the second highest paid player in baseball.

But Hal Steinbrenner, managing general partner of the Yankees, said in March that there was another reason to stay away from first-rate talent: “We have two incredible perspectives that I’m happy to give a chance.”

One such prospect was Anthony Wolpe, who was widely regarded as the buddy of the organization of the future.

During the annual Game of the Future, a showcase of the best promising sports held ahead of Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Wolpe had the opportunity to showcase the skills he dreams of one day heading to the Bronx.

“Obviously it’s nice to hear from someone like that,” Wolpe said when told about Steinbrenner’s comments ahead of Saturday’s game, in which he went 0-for-2 and made every shortstop defense over three innings.

“I feel like I have a long way to go and this is definitely a big step in my career, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” he continued. “Even when I hopefully someday get there, there’s still a lot of work to be done to become the player I want to be and hopefully win a lot of rings here.”

Wolpe, 21, said this sincerely. It seems too good to be true: He was an avid Yankees fan who grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, a town 40 miles west of Yankee Stadium, and he admired Derek Jeter, a former shortstop and captain Yankees Hall of Fame. He attended Jeter’s last All-Star Game in 2014 with his father, as well as the Futures Game the same year. As a child, and now as a Yankee prospect, Wolpe often imagines himself playing shortstop at Yankee Stadium, just like his idol.

“This is the ultimate goal that I work for and am very excited about,” he said.

The Yankees selected Wolpe, a 5’11” right-handed forward at 180 pounds, from Delbarton High with the 30th overall pick in the 2019 draft, and they poached him from college commitments to Vanderbilt University with a $2.7 million subscription. bonus.

“People don’t really know the story, but when he was drafted, he didn’t talk to any teams in his senior year of high school just because he only cared about winning the state championship,” infielder Max Burt, one of Wolpe’s players, said. . closest friends in class AA Somerset. “And that’s exactly what he did. Winning comes first for him.”

Wolpe’s first full season in the minor leagues did not come until 2021 because the previous season was canceled due to the pandemic. In 109 games, he hit .294 with 27 home runs and 1,027 on base plus a hitting percentage. Playing 30 minutes from his hometown with Somerset this season, Wolpe started off slow but has been in tears since early June, pushing his season total to .253 with 12 home runs and an .812 OPS in 77 games.

“It’s made for New York,” Bert said. “It’s built to play in bright light. Obviously he was from that field, he had so much media and so much attention every day and he was incredibly good at it.”

Playing so close to where he grew up has its perks: Wolpe lives in his childhood home, but with a few new friends. His Somerset teammates, catcher Austin Wells (a first-round pick in 2020 by the Yankees), outfielder Blake Perkins and Bert are also staying there for the season. Wolpe said his mother cooks for them, and after Sunday’s home games, the whole team is invited.

“It’s a great atmosphere to play in and then come home to see family,” he said, adding later, “It’s been a fun year.”

On the pitch, according to Somerset manager Dan Fiorito, Volpe combines discipline on the plate, strength, batting ability, strong defense and speed on the bases. Wolpe grabbed 33 bases last season and already has more (35) in fewer games this year.

“He’s way ahead of everyone, he’s only 21,” Fiorito said via email, “and we’re all so excited about his future.”

Wolpe added: “I turned 21 this year and I don’t think there is a 21-year-old guy in the world who couldn’t be better at everything. It’s really hitting, defending, just all over the game. I just want to keep learning and really never stop.”

But ask Yankees officials and Wolpe teammates about him, and one of the most common topics is his demeanor. Fiorito said it was rare to find such young players as leaders, and that Volpe is a “relentless competitor”. Burt said his friend has the same attitude, whether he’s 0-for-4 with four outs or 4-for-4 with four home runs.

“The way he runs his business, the way he runs, at this club he’s really a positive influence on his teammates, the way he interacts with the fans,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I mean, he has this ‘it’ factor. I know it’s a cliché, but that’s the best description I can give. You have five tools that you try to evaluate and then you do a performance and then you get additional equipment, which is makeup.

“And he has extra equipment. It comes with the package and it’s a credit to his mum and dad. He will become a successful player at the highest level and we would certainly like to be with us.”

The decision to bet on Keener-Falef, who is originally from Hawaii but also grew up watching the Yankees and wanting to be like Jeter, has proved beneficial for New York this season. Along with other improvements, he helped the Yankees become the best team in baseball. On Saturday, they had a 62-28 record and a 12 1/2 game lead in the American East League.

There is a guy from New Jersey who loves Jeter and hopes that someday he can do the same.