Judge's historic start draws comparisons to other Yankee legends
The New York Yankees have always had stars in their outfield. From Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris to Bernie Williams, the Yankees’ outfield has been composed of some of the biggest names in baseball history. Is Aaron Judge the next star in the Bronx? Judge has taken Major League Baseball by storm with his towering physique and his prodigious power. Judge, the Yankees’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, seeks to become the next great Yankee superstar while trying to avoid the pitfalls that have claimed so many other hopefuls in the pressure cooker that is the Bronx.
Judge, a native of Linden, California, was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 31st round of the 2010 draft, but chose to return to school. Judge would attend Fresno State University, where he polished his skills playing for the Fresno State Bulldogs.
When MLB came calling again in 2013, Judge would answer as the Yankees selected him with their first-round pick, taking him No. 32 overall. Judge struggled throughout his minor-league career. When he was called up to a higher league for the first time, he struggled out of the gates. However, after adjusting his batting stance and swing, he developed the tools to thrive.
Last season, the Yankees became sellers at the trade deadline for the first time in years. The team broke up its vaunted bullpen by trading All-Star relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman to the Cleveland Indians and eventual World Champion Chicago Cubs, respectively. They also traded veteran right fielder Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers, which shook up the lineup and left a void in the outfield—a void that would eventually be filled by Judge. With these moves, the Yankees made it clear that there was a youth movement coming to the Bronx. On Aug. 13, the Yankees promoted both Judge and fellow prospect Tyler Austin to the majors for the first time. Facing Rays’ pitcher Matt Andriese, Austin and Judge would become the first pair of teammates in MLB history hit home runs in their first major league at-bats. Unfortunately, the rest of Judge’s first taste of the majors would not be as successful. He showed glimpses of the monstrous power that made him so highly regarded as a prospect, but he also struck out an alarming 42 times in 84 at-bats. An oblique strain injury suffered against the Los Angeles Dodgers shut down Judge for the remainder of the season, forcing him to wait the rest of the offseason for another chance to prove he belonged in pinstripes.
Sports pundits spent most of the 2016 offseason wondering whether Judge’s massive body would hinder him from being a successful major leaguer. Comparisons were made to former Yankees who had exploded onto the scene such as Shelley Duncan, Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer, all players who showed home run power as rookies, but faltered later in their careers. The Yankees re-enforced their belief in Judge on March 30, 2017, when they named him their starting right fielder for the season.
Following a slow start through the first five games of the season, Judge would hit his first home run of the season on April 9 in a 7-3 victory for the Bronx Bombers over the Baltimore Orioles. The next day, Judge would hit another home run in the Yankees’ home opener, starting a hot streak that would become a major storyline of the season. From April 10-19, Judge would collect four home runs as he helped the surging Yankees complete an 8-1 home stand. Judge would then take his act on the road collecting two more home runs in victories over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees returned home on April 28 for a rematch with the Orioles. Judge would hit another home run in the ninth inning, but it seemed this would not be the Yankees’ night as they trailed 9-1 after six innings. Judge made sure the Yankees would not go quietly into the night. In the bottom of the sixth, facing the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman, Judge would crush his second home run of the night over the center field wall to close the gap to 9-4. The Yankees would go on to win the game 14-11, the largest comeback by any team this season. Judge would hit yet another home run the next day, giving him an even 10 homers for the season and tying the rookie record for home runs in that span.
Judge’s outstanding April performance earned him the first accolade of his career, as he was named the American League Rookie of the Month. Judge’s outstanding play also put him in exclusive company, as he is only the third Yankee to hit at least 12 home runs through the team’s first 25 games, joining only Rodriguez, who had 14 in 2007, and Babe Ruth, who had 12 in 1921. On May 3, Judge became the youngest player ever to reach 13 home runs through the first 26 games of a season.
Judge’s performance and character has led to comparisons to Yankees legend Derek Jeter from none other than Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who managed Jeter from 2008-2014. Many baseball experts are predicting Judge to be the next great Yankees star, not just a flash in the pan. The future is bright for the young Judge and with his natural talent and gentle-giant persona, the sky is the limit for the man the Yankees hope will one day be in the same company as the pinstriped legends of the past.