August 15, 2016
The Situation: With Alex Rodriguez unconditionally released, the Yankees have room for another bat, and have called upon Aaron Judge (and Tyler Austin) to provide an offensive lift, and audition for a starting role in 2017.
Background: Taken in the 31st round in 2010 out of Linden (CA) HS by Oakland, Judge honored his commitment to Fresno State and in the end it paid off as he was taken 32nd-overall in 2013. Judge put himself on the map following a standout 2012 performance in the Cape, followed by a junior-year campaign where he hit .369/.461/.655 with 12 home runs. Judge has slugged .473 in his minor league career, but has also struck out at a career 24.6 percent rate thus far. The Yankees have taken it slowly thus far with Judge, allowing him to accrue over 650 plate appearances in Triple-A, and nearly 1,300 minor league at-bats in all.
Scouting Report: Judge stands out for his size, easy 70 raw power, and his athleticism in right field, with a plus arm to boot. He is incredibly strong, so much so that even with his short swing (for his size) he can muscle balls out of the park without the necessary loft and uppercut seen from big power hitters. The power should play at least to plus, but the inescapable length in his swing will always result in swing-and-miss, which could prevent him from reaching his raw power in-game. He has gotten very aggressive against spin as pitchers have mixed in more off-speed pitches, trying to avoid throwing him fastballs whenever possible. In the field he profiles best in right given his plus, accurate arm. He reads balls well off the bat and is surprisingly swift given his size. As he gets older he might have to move off the position, but for now he should be serviceable in the grass.
Immediate Big League Future: It’s hard to miss Judge, both figuratively and literally. A massive human being at 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, Judge has had his ups and downs through his minor-league career, but still possesses all the tools to be a potential above-average big league right fielder. If not, then perhaps he and Kyle Blanks can get together at Destination XL to shop for massively sized clothes. —Steve Givarz
Fantasy Take: With 665 Triple-A plate appearances under his belt, there is very little if anything left for Judge to prove in the minors. Judge could have been promoted to the majors sooner if not for a mild-PCL (knee) sprain that cost him about a month of playing time. Judge is fourth in the International League with 19 home runs, which is all the more impressive considering his home venue in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is a somewhat pitcher-friendly venue. The difficulty of Judge’s jump to the majors will be offset to a degree by the shift to a hitter-friendly venue in the Bronx.
The youth movement for the Yankees started earlier this month with the promotion of Gary Sanchez, but it is Judge and recent acquisition Clint Frazier who are most likely to make or break New York’s rebuilding plan. Judge wasn’t promoted to share time in the outfield with Aaron Hicks. He will get a legitimate opportunity to play every day. The batting average could hamper Judge’s value, but if you are investing in Judge you are not buying or claiming him in the hopes that he will hit .300 for your team. The power is what will drive Judge’s value, and over the course of a full season there is 30 home run, 100 RBI potential in his bat.
Steve Givarz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @SteveGivarz