Tomase: Is Yankees' Anthony Volpe a blueprint for Marcelo Mayer?


This is how the plan works: Draft the toolsy high school shortstop in the first round, develop him for four years, rejoice when he forces his way into the opening day lineup weeks before his 22nd birthday.

The Red Sox are halfway there with Marcelo Mayer, and if they're looking for inspiration, he's wearing pinstripes.

Yankees farmhand Anthony Volpe possesses the skills that have made Mayer a can't-miss prospect. Both are athletic shortstops with the ability to hit for average and power. Both are consensus top-10 prospects. The biggest difference is that Volpe was drafted at the end of the first round in 2019, whereas Mayer went fourth overall two years later.

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But otherwise there's a lot to learn from New York's approach, which paid off on Sunday when Volpe officially made the team. He'll start at shortstop Thursday against the Giants in the Bronx, a homegrown player with superstar potential who provides an infusion of youth and excitement just as New York's roster starts to age.

"He absolutely kicked the door in and earned this opportunity," manager Aaron Boone told reporters, including the New York Post.

The last 21-year-old to start on opening day for the Yankees was a shortstop by the name of Derek Jeter. Volpe wasn't supposed to join him -- he only played 22 games at Triple-A last year -- but he beat out veteran Isiah Kiner-Falefa and fellow prospect Oswald Peraza with a monster spring. Volpe hit .314 with three homers and a 1.064 OPS, leading general manager Brian Cashman to note, "he just dominated all sides of the ball during February and March."

Volpe opened eyes with his defense and his power, including a home run into the bullpen off veteran Red Sox reliever Chris Martin. This is exactly how player development staffs draw it up. They gave Volpe instruction and opportunity and followed the adage of letting prospects announce when they're ready. Volpe opened the spring realistically third on the depth chart and then made himself impossible to cut.

It's not a total surprise. Volpe has posted even better numbers in the minors than Mayer, averaging 24 homers and a nearly .900 OPS over the last two years. He has also become the face of the next wave of great Yankees players, and there's some symmetry in Volpe arriving just as MVP Aaron Judge begins his $ 360 million extension; by the time that contract expires in nine years, Volpe could be well into a megabucks extension of his own.

At least that's the hope. The Red Sox have similar expectations for Mayer, a rangier shortstop who stands 6-foot-3, a good four inches taller than his more rugged counterpart.

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It's easy to envision Mayer following a similar developmental path, which would have him in the big leagues by 2025. The Red Sox are banking on the emergence of their homegrown stars, with Brayan Bello and Triston Casas getting their turn this season, and perhaps Ceddanne Rafaela joining them next year.

But the real prize is Mayer, who overcame an injury-marred start to look like he belonged at High-A Greenville last year despite being one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League.

Though he has yet to exhibit Volpe's power, all the tools are there. Mayer controls the strike zone like the player he will no doubt frequently be compared to over the coming years in a possible reprisal of Jeter vs. Nomar Garciaparra in a battle for American League shortstop supremacy.

Both players have the potential to fight for starting All-Star berths as the faces of their respective franchises. Volpe got here first, but he also had a head start. New York is buzzing about his arrival, and the Red Sox can only hope Mayer generates similar excitement whenever he forces his way up to Boston.

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