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The Chicken Parm of Destiny

Austin Wells, the Yankees No. 1 catching prospect, may have just fixed Anthony Volpe, and he did it with chicken parmesan.

Entering the 2023 season, SS Anthony Volpe seemed like a future superstar for the New York Yankees. That has not happened yet, but a breakout might be on the horizon due to a meal with old teammates.

Not Your Average Dinner Party

After a solid start to his MLB career, Volpe’s production took a turn for the worse. Through 67 games, Volpe’s batting average and on-base percentage ranked among the worst in the league and his stolen base production had ground to a halt. By June 11, Volpe’s numbers had bottomed out at a .186/.260/.345 triple slash with 16 extra-base hits (nine homers), 14 stolen bases, and 77 strikeouts to just 22 walks.

A rare night off for the Yankees gave Volpe the opportunity to head home to Watchung, NJ, where he met with former minor league teammates to catch up and share some delicious chicken parm. Among those teammates was C Austin Wells who, while watching old game film with Volpe after dinner, noticed changes in the shortstop’s batting stance. Wells and Volpe spent the night discussing the changes between his big league and minor league batting stances, a discussion Volpe said he “took a lot away from“. Boy, was he not kidding.

The Comeback Kid

In his very first game following his chicken and tape with Wells, Volpe smacked two doubles and drove in a run to beat the New York Mets 7-6, and the kid hasn’t looked back. In the 16 games since that fateful dinner party, Anthony Volpe is slashing .373/.448/.569 smacking seven extra base-hits and walking seven times to 14 strikeouts. During this streak, Volpe recorded five multi-hit games in a row to ring in the new month, finally ending in a 1-3 day in St. Louis on July 2.

Over the last 15 games, Anthony Volpe ranks as follows among all MLB shortstops: 1st  in BA (.364), 2n in OBP (.429), 3rd in SLG (.523), 4th in BB% (10%), and 4th in TB (23). The Yankees refusal to send Volpe to AAA or remove him from the lineup seems to be paying off, and the young shortstop is tearing apart fastballs (hitting .348) in the eighth spot in the Yankee lineup.

It is refreshing to see the Yankee top prospect perform like fans hoped he would, but this hitting surge is much more than that. It’s a much-needed morale boost for the club as well as direly needed offensive production to make up for an injured OF Aaron Judge and underperforming Yankee offense. It is unrealistic to expect this level of production from Volpe through the rest of the season, but his success now is an encouraging sign of things to come.

An Unlikely Hero

The dramatic and instantaneous uptick in Volpe’s big league impact following the chicken parmesan dinner with Austin Wells leaves little doubt that their conversation is what set Volpe on his tear. Frankly, this leaves the fans with more questions than answers. It took a AA catcher one conversation at a dinner party and a couple minutes of game tape to do what an entire professional coaching staff could not figure out for two months. How is this possible? Is Austin Wells the best-kept secret among hitting coaches or is the current Yankees coaching staff failing their players miserably? Anthony Volpe, C Jose Trevino, INF DJ LeMahieu, 3B Josh Donaldson, OF Giancarlo Stanton, OF Oswaldo Cabrera, OF Franchy Cordero, and C Kyle Higashioka all sport batting averages below .230, so I leave that one to you.

Aaron Judge, one of just four qualified hitters currently north of .230, has a private hitting coach! That implies he has less faith in Dillon Lawson than the team does.

Such an abysmal showing from Yankee hitters leaves fans wishing Austin Wells might sit down Josh Donaldson or DJ LeMahieu for a chicken parm dinner of their own and get this offense off the ground.

Old Friends

Who could forget OF Aaron Hicks, who sported a horrendous .524 OPS in 28 games with the Yankees before his release and now rocks an .854 OPS after 25 games in Baltimore. His OPS+ with the Orioles is a whopping 91 points higher (139) then it was with the Yanks (48).

Rewind the clock just a bit more and remember the terrible Yankee career of OF Joey Gallo. Gallo, a career 116 OPS+ hitter through seven seasons in Texas, sported an OPS+ of 85 through 140 games with the Bombers. While never a high average hitter, Gallo’s already paltry .211 average sunk to .159 during his time with the Yankees. Now a Minnesota Twin in 2023, Gallo currently sports an OPS+ of 117 and a .193 batting average.

Even OF Andrew Benintendi was not safe from the Yankee woes. Despite hitting .320 for the Kansas City Royals in 2022, Benny hit just .254 with a 110 OPS+ for the Yankees in 33 games. In Benintendi’s and the Yankees defense, he did suffer an injury which kept him off the field and limited his impact, but his average dipped 66 points and his OPS+ fell by 15 points as well. It is worth mentioning that Benintendi is currently hitting .282 and sports an OPS+ of just 100 in 80 games with the White Sox in 2023, so the Yankees coaching staff might not deserve to catch flack for this one.

It would be unfair, however, not to point out the Yankees’ success stories in recent years like 1B Luke Voit, 3B Gio Urshela, OF Greg Allen, and (kind of) OF Cameron Maybin, all of whom found greater success in New York than anywhere else before their stint in the Bronx.

What’s Next for the Yankees?

MLB is just one week out from the All-Star break, giving all the players some much-needed rest. This break could not seem to come at a worse time for Volpe, cutting him off as soon as he gets hot, but some time off might be just what the doctor ordered for the rest of the Yankee squad. SP Carlos Rodon makes his first start of the season on the seventh of July and the Yankees await the return of SP Nestor Cortes to round out the dangerous top four preseason rotation of SP Gerrit Cole, Rodon, SP Luis Severino, and Cortes.

I would be remiss to forget SP Clarke Schmidt, who has been outstanding as of late. In his last 11 appearances, Schmidt has posted a 2.39 ERA since the beginning of May, save for a lone blemish against the Tampa Bay Rays in mid-May. Schmidt has allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of his 17 starts and his ERA currently sits at 4.37, down from his 6.84 mark at the end of April.

It remains to be seen what kind of season the Yankees will have or who they will add at the deadline, but the future looks just a little brighter thanks to Austin Wells and some chicken parm.

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