May 27, 2017 by salucco
Written By John Avino
Yankees fan or not, that byline is enough to make you stop and think. Could the next Yankees great be a 6-foot-7, 282 pound kid from Linden, California?
Of course, this is no ordinary kid.
Rightfully wearing the largest possible baseball jersey number there is, Aaron Judge has emerged on the scene in an even bigger way than one would think his enormous frame would allow. As a Yankees fan, I’ve heard about Judge for a few years now. Always considered among the top power prospects of the minor leagues, we finally saw a taste of his talents during a down season for the NY Yankees in 2016.
It was a weird beginning for Judge in the majors. It seemed like in a split second, the Yankees began the process of rebuilding and getting younger. July 25, 2016 marked the beginning of the end for the most recent try at a 28th World Championship for the Bombers. They dealt star closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for a boat of prospects, and then 5 days later, on the day of the MLB trade deadline, they moved both veterans Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran for even more prospects. The move of Beltran in particular opened up the possibility of at-bats in right field.
Eight days. It took the Yankees eight days to officially start the rebuild. From the second they traded Chapman on July 25th, and then Miller and Beltran a few days later, the rebuild was underway. (It wasn’t but a few weeks later that the Yankees would begin the process of forcing Alex Rodriguez out the door (I don’t want to talk about it), and then Mark Teixiera announced he would retire at the end of the season). Judge was called up for an August 3rd debut with Scranton teammate Tyler Austin also getting the call and start.
Debut day. Imagine the thrill. As a kid who very much grew up like the rest; wanting to be a professional baseball player who could hopefully someday play in the World Series and drive in a game-winning run, I don’t understand how the moment doesn’t consume you completely. I am a full 381 days older than Aaron Judge, but that didn’t stop the then 24-year-old from cranking a homer in his first major league plate appearance; and by cranking, I mean he absolutely destroyed a baseball off the facing off the restaurant in dead center field (over Monument Park (IN HIS FIRST PA)).
Sidebar: Shout out to Tyler Austin. He also hit a home run in his first major league at bat that day, and in fact, it was he who preceded Aaron Judge in the inning with a home run as they went back to back. First set of teammates to both homer in the their first major league at bats in the same game (I am a nerd for some of this kind of stuff!).
Anyway, Judge promptly followed up the very next day with his second career homer, and would hit a couple more dingers in the weeks that followed. Despite a brief glimpse of what could end up being, Judge missed the last few weeks of the season with an oblique injury. His batting average unimpressively sitting sub .200, his strikeouts to walks at 42/9, and an OBP of just .263; he was wildly overshadowed by a godlike final couple of months for another rookie named Gary, Alex Rodriguez’s wildly disrespectful retirement forcing, as well as the end of Mark Teixiera’s career. But, perhaps that’s why what comes next was able to happen.
The most impactful thing on a professional athlete and their careers is the way that fans and media members will portray. Most of the time, an athlete is painted in exactly the light they are supposed to be, and perhaps for Judge it just took a little more time than most. There is no real rhyme or reason for a star to be born, it just happens. As the calendar turned spring, Aaron Judge couldn’t have been further from my mind as far as the Yankees were concerned.
Spring Training 2017 arrived and many questions were asked…how would Gary Sanchez follow up what he did last year? Would Greg Bird and Chris Carter be good enough replacements for Teixiera at first? Where does Matt Holliday fit in? One question that wasn’t being asked too much though, was what should we expect out of right field and the return of Aaron Judge.
Judge came into camp needing to earn a starting right field job, and to his credit earned it with a .333 batting line, 3 home runs, and 7 runs batted in. But Judge’s presence in right field casted a much greater shadow than he already was.
From playing catch with kids in the stands, to making sure to sign as many baseballs and take as many photographs as allowed, Aaron Judge’s early season success saw his rise to stardom become immediate. He’s not just some guy playing for some team at a high level; he is a highly thought of homegrown Yankees prospect who very suddenly became a celebrity.
Just a few weeks ago, he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon disguised as an NBC Sports Reporter sitting in a New York park. He sat down with Yankees fans, asking them about Aaron Judge until they figured out on their own or with some help from him that he was indeed Aaron Judge. That is how much of an unknown he is; that at 6 foot 7, even behind a desk with glasses on, people still don’t know him.
But the better he has played, the more attention he has gotten. He has taken comparisons to Derek Jeter in stride, and has continued to mash baseball’s alarming distances at even more alarming speeds (He was second out of all qualifiers for average exit velocity last season; this year he currently sits third on the same list, however has 11 of the 50 (!) hardest hit balls of the 2017 season).
He currently leads baseball in home runs with 15, and is hitting a solid .315 with a .420 on base percentage. He has driven in 30 runs, and perhaps most impressively of all is tied for fifth in all of the MLB with 36 runs scored.
Judge obviously has a long way to go to be put in the conversation with Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson and even some of the non-C donning members of the Yankee elite, but he’s off to a great start.
He definitely has the personality of somebody who you would want to be the face of your franchise, but has a long way to go to prove that this small sample size is not a fluke. Judge will be loved if he wins and plays well, and if he finds himself as a staple in the middle of the Yankees order for the next decade plus, than he will also find himself a staple in the hearts of Yankees fans everywhere.
If you ask me, it’s pretty clear. Aaron Judge is currently on the path to be the next captain of the New York Yankees.