For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: June 17, 2024 4:25 am PDT

One of the great joys of being a fan is watching a young player come up in your team’s system, a player that is both talented and knows how to play the game with something I call: AAF.

That’s the Aggressive Advantage Factor.

That’s the player who is always looking to gain an advantage over his opponent. Always.

The player that when he gets to first base is immediately figuring out a way to get to second base. When there is a runner in scoring position, he delivers him home. And when that player is on defense, he follows the ball, is always in the right spot and most of all, never messes up the routine play.

Way back when as I was following Thurman Munson’s career, I noticed Munson had that sixth sense: AAF. Back then you followed a minor league career through the Sporting News. Munson was the 4th pick of the 1968 draft. He went right to AA Binghamton and hit .301. Defensively, his quick release made him different at catcher than other catchers.

In 1969 at AAA Syracuse, Munson played only 28 games while also serving in the Army Reserve at Fort Dix. He batted .363 before being called up to the Yankees. His hitting, defense and leadership skills were evident to all, especially to one high school sophomore at David Brearley Regional High School in Kenilworth, N.J. who had to find something good to look ahead to in the Yankees future. All his friends were Mets fans that year and they had Tom Seaver and the Miracle Mets to root for as the Mets took baseball by storm.

Munson gave Yankee fans hope.

“The reality was the exit velo of the runner was top grade and the instincts of the runner were top grade – and he embarrassed half of the opposing team on a little roller to third base.”

Same goes for a young Derek Jeter, you knew immediately he was a different shortstop, a leader on and off the field. His offense was consistent and after a slow start, his defensive ability was evident and all this was long before The Flip.

Another young Yankee minor leaguer has drawn my attention and is drawing high AAF marks. Now let me stop you right here in the social media world. I am not saying this player is Thurman Munson. I am not saying this player is Derek Jeter so save it.

I am saying this player has a feel for the game most players don’t have – and I want to see more of him because he is only playing at High-A Hudson Valley, but right now, from what I’ve seen and what scouts have told me, Anthony Volpe is gaining quite the AAF.

In a little while I will tell you about a simply amazing play he made recently, and it was all about hustle, the lost skill in the game.

One top player evaluator told me that in this era of too many statistics, there is one statistic that Volpe cares more about than all the others, and that’s winning. That is a big part of AAF. Get enough of those players together on a team and you are heading to success.

Which brings us to the Friday trade deadline.

Yankees prospect Anthony Volpe is opening eyes and turning heads on his rise to the majors. (Photo: David Gravely / Southwest Times)

The Yankees traded for lefty slugger Joey Gallo Wednesday night, acquiring him from the Rangers for a host of prospects. None of those were named Anthony Volpe. Gallo is a slugger with big swing and miss. He fits right in with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, but he gives the Yankees a lefty slugger. He’s batting .223 with 25 home runs and 74 walks – good for a .379 OBP and .869 OPS – and is hitting .200 with RISP this season As the pitching gets more precise the deeper you go into the postseason, hitters like Gallo could have major problems come October. Right now, the Yankees best chance to make the postseason is as a second wild card and that is certainly doable as they battle the A’s and Mariners.

I had mentioned in last week’s Baseball or Bust that I was looking forward to seeing more of Hoy Park playing for the Yankees because he posted a .475 on base percentage in AAA. Naturally, the Yankees immediately did the opposite and traded Park in a deal to Pittsburgh for reliever Clay Holmes.

The teams that make the best trades will be going deep into the postseason, but you also have to think of the future.

At Friday at 4 p.m. will Anthony Volpe still be a Yankee? For this generation of Yankee fans, I hope so but if he is traded it only makes sense to trade him for Colorado’s Trevor Story who would immediately bolster the Yankees on both offense and defense even though he has had some struggles this year.

Certainly, in any deal to land Story, the Yankees are going to have to trade Volpe, the 30th pick in the 2019 draft. After all, the Rockies have to make such a deal worth their while or they will trade Story to someone else, perhaps the Mets, White Sox or Phillies – or they can hold onto him and get draft pick compensation.

The Rockies draft well, and Story was a 45th pick in the 2011 draft so they know what to do with compensation picks.

The A’s and Billy Beane know how to bolster up at the trade deadline and landed Starling Marte from the Marlins, an outfielder the Yankees were interested in acquiring but the A’s were willing to give up lefty Jesus Luzardo to get the deal done and even had the Marlins pay the financial freight. Cashman has always wanted to be more like Beane, who manages to get to the postseason with small payrolls. The A’s don’t go far into the postseason, but they get there.

Newly acquired Joey Gallo brings some lefty power to The Bronx. (Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The goofy Mariners helped out the Yankees by trading closer Kendall Graveman to the rival Astros, which makes no sense, but that’s what Jerry Dipoto does as GM. His moves make no sense because he has no feel of the clubhouse and yet he continues to hold onto his job and always promises a better tomorrow.

The Mariners players have had enough Dipoto and told the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish they felt “betrayed’’ by this trade, saying management does not care about winning. And so it goes with the Mariners, who can never seem to get out of their own way. Dipoto is more like a fantasy GM than a real GM and once you lose the trust of the players, you have lost it all. I’m not just jumping on Dipoto for this trade, weeks ago I mentioned in Baseball or Bust I had no clue how GMs like Dipoto keep their jobs.

Let’s get back to more pleasant baseball happenings and listen to this scout describe a play he saw Volpe make against Aberdeen.

“This kid did something the other night that he’s the only kid in baseball who could have done that because of how hard he plays and how good his baseball instincts are,’’ the scout told BallNine. “On the second pitch of the game he topped a ground ball. It was a do or die play because he runs hard every play. He runs 4.2 to first base. Do or die, the third baseman, it goes under his glove. Volpe takes a peek and the shortstop is just jogging after the ball, Volpe takes second base. The shortstop makes a half-ass throw over to the second baseman, after Volpe was clearly going to make second base. The third baseman never retreated back to the bag. The throw to second base was so far offline, even though it was a 70-foot throw from shortstop that Volpe just ran to third base. He’s the only person in baseball that would have done that and be instinctive enough to do that because of how hard he plays and how good his instincts are.’’

That one play says so much about Volpe and the funny thing is of course, most “computer’’ scouts will look at that at bat and see an infield hit with little exit velo. They will not see what this scout saw by being there. The reality was the exit velo of the runner was top grade and the instincts of the runner were top grade – and he embarrassed half of the opposing team on a little roller to third base.

That’s a baseball player making a baseball play and that kind of play energizes a team.

Mariners' GM Jerry Dipoto managed to piss off his entire clubhouse with the sudden trade of closer Kendall Graveman. (Photo: Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Volpe, 20, a New Jersey kid, learned his baseball at Jack Cust’s Diamond Nation and went on to play with Jack Leiter at Delbarton. How about those baseball instincts between Volpe and Leiter on a high school team. Volpe is hitting .302 with a 1.067 OPS. Volpe has 22 stolen bases, 15 home runs and 57 RBI this season. He is playing a clean shortstop as well. I’m not saying Volpe is going to be a star, but it sure sounds like he could be and it will be fascinating to see how fast he climbs up the ladder to the Yankees.

More from the scout, who has seen Volpe play numerous times this season.

“You watch him play and you go, ‘Wow, this kid is a pretty good player,’ ’’ the scout explained. “You watch him again and you go, ‘Wow, this guy’s good.’ Then you watch him play again and you go, ‘Wow, he’s in the middle of everything good that happens, every play on offense and defense.’ He is making all the plays at shortstop. It was fun to watch.’’

That is exciting for fans to have that kind of instinctive young player to follow. It’s exciting for scouts to see that as well. So many scouts have told me this year they have had to suffer through some of the worst baseball they have ever seen in the minor leagues because fundamentals have gone by the wayside and players simply don’t work on the finer points of the game.

They do work on Launch Angle. The pitchers work on velocity. The catchers work on framing. But baseball stuff, forget it. So it is encouraging to hear scouts excited about a player’s baseball instincts in 2021. The scout added of the Volpe Triple, “That’s exciting, not watching people strike out or hit a home run.’’

That’s baseball. When a player makes that kind of play, it fires up an entire team. “It basically put them up 1-0 after the second hitter,’’ the scout said.

Good for Anthony Volpe, and good for the Yankees for taking him with the 30th pick.

If the Yankees trade for a shortstop, though, Volpe will be making that trip with the Rockies or the Nationals, if the Nats somehow decide to deal Trea Turner. I don’t see how Turner is traded, as Turner is the kind of young player you keep. He is among MLB leaders in hits, stolen bases and average.

A hustling play like the Volpe Triple also shows others that hustle matters. It shows you always want to get the advantage. If you have first base look to get second base. If they give you an opening, take third base. In this baseball world of shifts and lazy defense, and it is getting lazier and more confused by the day because of the shifts, there is a lot to be taken advantage of … if you have the instincts.

“The game is not played with any common sense now,’’ the scout said. He is right about that. There’s talent, there are big swings and misses but where did the common sense go in baseball?

Another scout was at AAA games this week and sent me this note of the two teams he watched: “Both teams walked in and out of the dugouts between innings, catchers struggled to catch, horrible base-running, cleanup hitter hitting .200, everyone swinging out of their ass etc. No BP on the field, no team stretch, no infield/outfield, scoring from 2B seems to be an alien idea to these players – WHY!! No one throws accurately, why not send everybody.’’

In short, much like a major league game.

More young players need to take advantage of other players falling asleep out on the field. Base-running can be so much better in the Shift Generation. I’m waiting for a runner to steal second with a left-handed batter up and the shift on and not even stop at second, if the throw is off a bit, don’t slide or just do a pop-up slide and continue right to the unguarded third base.

It can happen.

The Yankees have to find players who make more contact with the baseball with runners in scoring position. That is what they need. Gleyber Torres was going to be that player, but something has gone wrong. The Yankees are dead last with runners in scoring position, batting .218, with two outs and runners in scoring position it is .207.

Then there is Giancarlo Stanton. A scout said this of Stanton: “He just swings, that’s it. If you hit his bat it goes 450, if you don’t he strikes out.’’

The Mets are in a lot better shape than the Yankees because they are in a terrible division, not a division with the Red Sox and Rays. They are not playing crisp baseball though and need to pick it up to hang on in the NL East.

The scout also said the Pirates need to do what the Yankees did not when it comes to Park. “Let’s find a way to get this guy in the lineup, he always seems to make something happen,’’ the scout said.

Make something happen. Do that and you are a baseball player.

You might even get a  hustle “triple’’ on a little roller up the third base line. Utilize the Aggressive Advantage Factor.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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