NEW YORK — When Aaron Judge struggled after being called up to the major leagues last season, the New York Yankees insisted they were not concerned about the massive right fielder.
“If you look at his history, he initially struggles at each level,” general manager Brian Cashman said this year during spring training. “Then once he settles in, he’s fine. We have no doubt he is going to be a quality major-league player.”
Judge has proven Cashman and the Yankees right during the early part of the season.
The 24-year-old is hitting .277 with a team-high five home runs and 12 RBIs through 14 games while posting a .444 on-base percentage and a .778 slugging percentage.
The 6-foot-7, 282-pound right-handed hitter has played a big role in the Yankees’ 10-5 start, a surprising record considering they are in the beginning of a youth movement. Judge’s 448-foot home run into the left-center field bleachers at Yankee Stadium highlighted a 9-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night, the Yankees’ ninth win in their last 10 games.
Judge made his major-league debut last Aug. 13 after being called up from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and hit just .179 with four home runs in 27 games. He also struck out in 42 of his 95 plate appearances.
While Judge has punched out 16 times in 53 plate appearances this season, the quality of his at-bats has been much better and he has shown better plate discipline.
“The big thing is, it’s about learning which off-speed pitches to swing at,” Judge said. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, this guy can’t hit a curveball, this guy can’t hit an off-speed pitch.’ But it’s about swinging at the right one. Swing at the hangers. Swing at the ones you can handle.”
Manager Joe Girardi had Judge hit eight in the batting order on opening day. However, Judge has already moved up to No. 6 and has the look of an eventual cleanup hitter with his size and power.
Judge has impressed Girardi with the improvement he is showing over last season.
“It’s a lot different,” Girardi said. “Much more consistent contact. I think (he’s) ready to hit early in counts a lot of the time, into his legs more, mechanically more sound, and he’s impacting the baseball, I think, more often. That’s a lot of differences, but that’s how I’d sum it up.”
As Cashman noted, it is a pattern Judge has followed since the Yankees used the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft to select him from Fresno State in the supplemental first round.
It was never more evident than last year when Judge batted .270/.366/.489 with 19 home runs in 93 games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In 2015, he hit just .222/.308/.373 with eight homers in 61 games for the RailRiders after being promoted from Class AA Trenton.
The only thing better than watching Judge in games might be watching him take batting practice. He routinely drives the ball to the deepest reaches of the ballpark and has even hit one offering completely out of Yankee Stadium.
“It’s like watching McGwire take batting practice,” a scout from a National League team said, referring to retired slugger Mark McGwire. “You’re never ceased to be amazed at far the kid can hit a ball. He’s special. You don’t see his kind of raw power every day.”