Last Thursday night, Yankees top-prospect Anthony Volpe celebrated his 21st birthday with many of his teammates from the comfort of his family home, which is just a short drive from TD Bank Ballpark, following the Patriots 15-3 victory over Portland. A group of 20-somethings enjoying dessert and cake – and then there’s Derek Dietrich. The elder statesman of the roster and 12 years the senior of Volpe, the 32-year old Dietrich, who has eight years and nearly 750 games of big league experience under his belt, has been carrying himself just like another one of the guys on the Somerset roster after inking a minor league deal with the Yankees for the second consecutive season in mid-April.
‘We had Volpe’s birthday party at his parents house. Sure enough, Dietrich shows up to the party,” said outfielder Brandon Lockridge. “He didn’t have to do that – this is a guy that has had a lot of show time and to be as good of a sport as he is right now is great. He is continuing to bring it; he is going to hit while he is here, he’s a big league guy and just wants to play baseball. We respect the heck out of him being a good teammate to us.”
“I always enjoy the leadership role,” said Dietrich. “I was teasing the guys that I had to clear it with HR to go to Volpe’s 21st birthday. We had a good time; we had some cake and dessert – it’s fun because I remember the really good veterans and older guys that played the game when I was coming up and I remember how they treated me. Guys showed me how to go about my business the right way and I was always grateful for that so I am enjoying having that opportunity, even if it is for a few weeks or however long it is.”
Dietrich was drafted by Tampa Bay way back in 2010 and ultimately touched down in the big league with Miami in 2013. He has four double-digit home run seasons under his belt in the bigs and after struggling to find a clean bill of health in a lost 2021 season, the versatile slugger is eager to prove that those concerns are behind him and is ready to help the Bombers if a need should arise.
During his injury riddled 2021 campaign, Dietrich slashed just .163/.338/.293 in 79 games split between Triple-A Scranton and Rochester (Washington Nationals).
“Last year was tough, no kidding,” admitted Dietrich. “I really had to dig deep and once I felt like I was healthy and ready to prepare I wanted to give it another go and I think I still have a lot of baseball left to be played.”
“I’m healthy,” added Dietrich. “I wasn’t at 100% last year and it was just tough to get going and do what I am capable of doing. This year I am feeling a lot better and the success has been there so far. It’s always a work in progress to find it on a daily basis and I am just fortunate that we have good people here to help me and give me the opportunity to hopefully help the team sometime soon.”
So far, so good. In just nine games since joining the Patriots, Dietrich has blasted three homers and driven home 11 runs while slashing .314/.400/.657. He is also showcasing the versatility that he could potentially provide across the diamond by spending time at first, second and third base.
“I’m just kind of having fun with these guys, they’re keeping me young” said Dietrich. “I feel good being on the field with some of these amazing young players that the Yankees have and just getting a chance to play every day and find the consistency with the routine and the work before the game and after the game; just kind of getting back into it. I didn’t have a spring training, so I am kind of getting going as quickly as possible.”
Beyond his impressive stat line and what he may be able to do in the Bronx at some point, one of the most valuable things that Dietrich is doing during his time in Somerset is leading by example and rubbing off his big league work ethic on some of the most important prospects in the Yankees system. Rather than carrying himself like he is beyond playing at this respective level, Dietrich has been as humble as they come and the clubhouse has taken notice.
“He’s awesome, man,” said Lockridge. “I’ve told my parents and my wife, but just having a guy like him around – in this situation he is with a really good team. The Yankees have good players across the board and for him to be in the state of mind and as positive and fun to be around knowing that he is in Double-A and could probably be elsewhere; probably in the big leagues somewhere else, he’s been so good to us.”
“For us to have a guy with that amount of time in the big leagues around the guys for a little bit over a week is great,” said Patriots manager Dan Fiorito. “The feedback that I get from the other players is just how lucky they are to talk to him and hear his approach and see the way that he goes about his business every day is a huge benefit to all of the players here.”
Having now spent two weeks with Somerset, both Dietrich and the organization have said his situation is one that is going to be monitored daily and handled under the understanding that his build up is going to be a process. Dietrich said he typically needs 35-40 at bats during a spring training period in order to get rolling. At the conclusion of play on Sunday, Dietrich was at exactly 35 at bats and there’s a good chance that he could find himself in Triple-A with the RailRiders before too long.