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Yankees hope Anthony Volpe can make Year 2 leap like Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Five years ago, Anthony Volpe and Bobby Witt Jr. formed the middle infield of the 2018 USA 18U national team that won the Pan-American Championships.

Friday night, they were in opposite dugouts at Kauffman Stadium, with Witt taking off in his second year as a big-league shortstop the way the Yankees hope Volpe — who was 1-for-4 in a 12-5 loss Friday — will next season.

Witt was in Volpe’s shoes last year, a rookie shortstop who got to play out a full season and go through the inevitable ups and downs. This year, with that experience under his belt, he has put together a breakout season, providing the Royals a more consistent threat offensively.

“You learn every day something new, whether it’s through failure, through success or just through talking to guys in the clubhouse,” Witt said Friday afternoon. “So I know [Volpe’s] got a lot of veteran presence over there that, from what I’ve heard, he’s just been talking with them and learning from them. It’s pretty cool just to watch him grow as a player.”

Last year, Witt hit .254 with a .722 OPS, 20 home runs and 30 steals across 150 games.

Bobby Witt Jr. waves to the crowd after the Royals' 12-5 win over the Yankees.
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This year, he was hitting .273 with a .802 OPS, 29 home runs and 49 steals in 155 games entering Friday. Witt had a big night in the Royals’ win, hitting his 30th homer of the season and going for 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Witt also became the first Royals player in history to hit 30 home runs and have 30 stolen bases

One of the keys to his second-year leap was learning from his rookie year.

“Just settling down,” he said. “Trying less. Not trying to do too much, not trying to do too little and just going out there and letting all my preparation I do before the game and in the offseason, let it play on the field.”

Volpe, drafted by the Yankees 28 picks after the Royals selected Witt in 2019, has shown plenty of potential during an up-and-down rookie season.

Yankees fans only can hope Anthony Volpe can make a similar Year 2 jump as the Royals' Bobby Witt Jr.
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He has been strong defensively — and may end up battling it out with Witt for the AL Gold Glove — but offensively has been more inconsistent.

The 22-year-old Volpe entered Friday batting .207 with a .667 OPS, 21 home runs and 21 steals through 156 games.

He has looked like he was starting to figure it out at times with a strong June and August, but has been quieter in other months — including September, in which he was hitting just .148 with a .469 OPS, the lowest marks of any month of his season.

Volpe and Witt still text on occasion, but more just catching up than Volpe picking Witt’s brain, the Yankees shortstop said.

But when asked on Friday, Witt offered some advice from his former USA double-play partner.

“Just keep learning, keep being himself,” said Witt, who was the shortstop with Volpe at second base on the national team. “Don’t try to do too much and go out there and have fun, like he does.”

Keynan Middleton (shoulder inflammation) was activated off the injured list Friday with Yoendrys Gomez being optioned to Triple-A a day after making his MLB debut.

Middleton, the Yankees’ lone trade deadline addition this season, is set to become a free agent.

Middleton pitched an inning of relief Friday, giving up two runs, both earned, on two hits — including a home run to Bobby Witt Jr. — and a walk.