The Aaron Judge Cinderella Story Continues
The 24 year old leads the majors with 24 homers — and its only late June. What’s next for the Yankees rookie?
It’s the type of start that every big league rookie dreams of. Your first full season in the Majors, leading the league in homers, and becoming the talk of the city. New York City, to boot. Well Aaron Judge has done just that. They even created a specific section for Judge in right field at Yankee Stadium called the “Judge’s Chambers”. Your own section in honor of how great you are at baseball? Must be nice. But the former first round pick deserves it. He’s taken the baseball world by storm, hitting mammoth home runs and making diving catches in the alleys of Yankee stadium. When Judge began the season on this kind of tear, a lot of people thought it would slow down. But it hasn’t. Judge is hitting .335 with 24 bombs, and was just asked to participate in the Home run derby at the 2017 All-Star game. For good reason, too. He currently holds the longest hit home run of the 2017 season at an astounding 495 feet.
After such a lackluster to start to his big league career last season, where he struck out almost 50% of his at bats, what changed? Plate discipline, and maturity. Getting enough at bats at the major league level has also made him feel more comfortable. Judge has been able to get into a groove, and he’s just kept rolling.
If you look at Judge last year when he came up to the big leagues, he was chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone. You could tell he didn’t feel comfortable. That was evident by all of the strikeouts.
The Tampa Bay Rays announced they will let their fourth overall pick pitch and hit in the minor leaguesmedium.com
This season it’s been a whole different story. He’s still struck out 35% of his at bats, but he isn’t chasing pitches out of the zone as often. Most of his hits, whether they’re home runs or just singles, are all on pitches in the middle to outer half of the strike zone, an area where he can really extend his arms and destroy baseballs. In fact, he has a 111.1 mph exit velocity on pitches in the upper right quadrant of the strike zone. When he’s able to extend, he is really putting together good swings.
He’s a home run hitter, so there is still going to be times where he chases breaking balls out of the zone, or high fastballs way above his hands. But the maturity level of Judge’s at bats this season is night and day compared to his short big league stint in 2016.
Judge has broke out as a superstar
After last season, Judge dropped immensely in Baseball America’s pre-season rankings of the best prospects in baseball. That had a lot to do with his .179 average in the Majors at the end of last season. But one thing scouts said is “He could break out as a superstar”. Even when the Yankees drafted Judge out of Fresno State in 2013, the talk was that he was a very raw talent. Big and powerful at 6 foot 7 and 280 pounds, and the ceiling could be extremely high for him. He only hit 12 homers in his junior season at Fresno State — with metal bats. Look at him now. 24 homers in just 66 games in the big leagues. Even in the minors, he never showed this type of power. In triple A Scranton in 2016, Judge went deep 19 times in 93 games. He has always had power, but never showed this type of potential at the plate. There’s no doubt Judge has the frame for it at 6 foot 7 and built like a linebacker.
You’ve probably heard a few names tossed around in relation to the MLB Draft, which wrapped up earlier this week …medium.com
When you come across a power hitter like Judge, there’s usually a hole in their swing. With Judge, there isn’t. He literally has the perfect swing. His hands stay pretty stationary when he loads up with the front leg, and he explodes right through the baseball. Minimal movement in your hands is a huge key to success at the plate. Strength is extremely important, and Judge has a lot of it. His bat speed through the zone is among the best I've ever seen. Judge is averaging an exit velocity of 96.6 mph this season. The MLB average is 87.7 mph. Now that is impressive.
His swing this year, compared to last year, has slight changes that have benefited him. Last year, he was too rigid. When you’re 6 foot 7 that is a very big strike zone. His leg kick was a lot more violent and late, which didn’t give him a lot of time to track the ball coming in. Especially when he loaded up last year, the head was moving a lot because he was so straight up with his stance. This resulted in a difficult time tracking pitches. This year, he’s bent his knees more in his stance. The leg kick is much more quiet. He’s using his lower half a lot more this year, which is resulting in squaring up the baseball on a consistent basis. So in conclusion, Judge’s swing is simpler this year. The less movement, the better off you will be.
The thing that gets me is how effortless his power is. He literally doesn’t even look like he’s trying to swing hard, but the ball just jumps off the barrel of the bat. Judge has even attracted crowds to watch his batting practice because it’s such a sight to see.
Don’t overlook defense
He may be a monster at the dish, but Judge plays a really solid right field as well. For a guy who is so big, he’s quick. Judge has shown some unreal athleticism in right field making some tremendous diving catches in the gaps this year. He accompanies all of that with a strong throwing arm.
I’m sure at some point Aaron Judge will slow down. It’s a long season, and big league arms are going to eventually find a way to get him out on a consistent basis. But for now, it’s a treat to watch Judge tear it up as the potential AL MVP candidate.
There is absolutely no way anyone could have predicted this type of start for Aaron Judge. Sure, the potential is there. But it usually takes a little more time for young prospects to really grow into the potential they have. For Judge, it only took one off-season. He must have put in some serious work to get ready for spring training.
Either way, it’s a great story to see such a young player live up to the hype that comes along with being a first round draft pick.