Opening Day is always exciting. This year, the arrival of two elite prospects to two of baseball’s most storied franchises adds to the anticipation even more.
In Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker (No. 4 per MLB Pipeline) and Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 5), two of the game’s top prospects made Opening Day rosters and will make their Major League debuts when their teams begin play Thursday. Two of the top Minor League performers from a year ago, the 20-year-old Walker and 21-year-old Volpe both forced the issue this spring, rewriting their big league timelines with strong performances despite limited upper-level experience in the Minors.
Walker will debut having never played at Triple-A, reaching only (and excelling at) Double-A Springfield in 2022. Volpe squeezed in 22 games at Triple-A last season, his first taste of the level. Now both will debut in the Majors on the same day for two of the most iconic clubs in the sport.
Along with Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson (No. 1) and Arizona’s Corbin Carroll (No. 2), four of baseball’s top five prospects per MLB Pipeline will be starting on Opening Day in the big leagues. Here is a closer look at the two newest arrivals of that group, and a recap of how they got here.
Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
Overall prospect ranking: No. 5
Opening Day age: 21 years, 336 days
Hometown: Watchung, N.J.
The Yankees’ first-round Draft pick (30th overall) in 2019, Volpe is about as homegrown as it gets, having grown up playing baseball on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and eventually into one of the Garden State’s better prospects of the last decade. He began fulfilling that promise with a 27-homer, 33-steal full-season pro debut in 2021, and became the Minors’ first 20-homer, 50-steal player since Andruw Jones in 1996 while reaching Triple-A down the stretch last season.
Volpe then played his way onto the Yankees roster with a great spring, outplaying Oswald Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to win the team’s starting shortstop job outright. His excellent performance in Grapefruit League play (.308, 10 extra-base hits in 18 games), reflected the bat-first all-around ability that has always made Volpe such an exciting prospect.
He will be the youngest player to start a Yankees season opener since Derek Jeter in 1996, and the first Yankees position player to make his Major League debut by starting on Opening Day since Hideki Matsui in 2003. The Yankees haven’t had a shortstop do it since Jerry Lumpe in 1956.
“We entered camp with an open competition; we said it publicly and we said it privately,” GM Brian Cashman told reporters including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. “The obvious exclamation point here is: Anthony Volpe came into camp and took this position. He should be congratulated. It was well played. He’s earned the right to take that spot for the New York Yankees as we open the 2023 season. We’re excited for him and excited for us.”
Jordan Walker, OF, Cardinals
Overall prospect ranking: No. 4
Opening Day age: 20 years, 312 days
Hometown: Stone Mountain, Ga.
The precocious and immensely talented Walker did nothing but hit since becoming the Cardinals’ first-round pick (21st overall) in the 2020 Draft, posting averages above .300 and slugging percentages above .500 in each of his first two full Minor League seasons, and producing a 128 wRC+ as a 20-year-old at Double-A in 2022. He’d never seen a pitch in Triple-A when he burst onto the scene this spring, posting a .803 OPS with eight extra-base hits in 19 Grapefruit League games, including early home runs of 470, 450 and 430 feet. By taking Walker north and letting him bypass Triple-A, the Cardinals’ situation is reminiscent to 2001, when they did the same with a precocious 21-year-old named Albert Pujols.
“We were always very high on him coming into camp and he did a lot of things to impress a lot of people,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters including MLB.com’s John Denton. “He’s obviously a very mature player and has a great understanding of the game. He opened up a lot of eyes here in this camp, and he is someone who benefited from other people not being here [due to the World Baseball Classic]. It created a lot of at-bats and innings for him, and he made the most of it.”
Everything about Walker is big: his size, his power, his arm, and his potential. He’s 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, with a 70-grade arm, light-tower power and, by all accounts, a maturity beyond his years. He is the eighth Cardinal to earn an Opening Day roster spot before his 21st birthday, and the first since Rick Ankiel in 1999. He was the youngest player in Double-A last year and is the youngest in the Majors this year. St. Louis: Meet your next superstar.