With Aaron Hicks having himself a great spring, the New York Yankees are facing an odd circumstance regarding their right field competition.
Heading into spring training, the New York Yankees hyped up the right field battle as much as the more prominent competitions like the starting rotation, the utility role and who will round out the middle relief unit.
On one hand, there really should be a thorough evaluation of who should start in right field when the Bombers open up the season on April 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Aaron Hicks, despite struggling for the majority of the 2016 season (39-for-209, 3 HR), slashed .271/.333/.424 when he received consistent at-bats in the wake of the Carlos Beltran trade at the deadline. He also provided the baseball world the fastest throw ever recorded by Statcast with a 105.5 mph bullet on a throw from left field on April 21.
24-year-old Aaron Judge, the kid who’s competing with Hicks for the right field spot, played on a complete opposite level while Hicks was making the most of starting time.
Ater destroying a pitch for his first major league home run in his first at-bat, the monstrous outfielder slashed .121/.212/.241 and hit just two home runs in 20 games while striking out in half of his total at-bats.
Additionally, neither of the two right field options have separated themselves from the other in spring training. Judge is 17-for-53 (.321) with two home runs and 27 total bases in 21 games. Hicks is 14-for-49 (.286) with three home runs and 28 total bases in 21 games.
Hicks has also looked much better than Judge on the field and manager Joe Girardi has said it’s too close to call. When you take the numbers mentioned above for face value, yes, it is too close to call and Hicks arguably deserves the start in six days.
On the other hand, however, when some context is implemented, it makes close to zero sense that the 27-year-old should break camp as anything more than the fourth outfielder.
That’s because of the type of prospect he’s up against. Not only has Judged changed his approach and contains power that’s comparable to the Incredible Hulk, but he is the future in right field.
At 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds, he is easily one of the most physically intimidating players in the game and MLB Pipeline suggests his potential could make him the first first-round college position player taken by the Yankees to go on to become an All-Star since Thurman Munson did back in 1971.
If the Yankees decide to not go with Judge, what are they going to do? Not giving a player of his ceiling the proper at-bats at the major league level, during a time when it’s essential to assess the young talent climbing the ladder, will be detrimental to his development.
You’d almost have to stick him back in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, a place where there is nothing left for the kid, to get him everyday at-bats. For New York’s fourth-best prospect with monstrous upside, that’s the opposite of ideal.
No, Hicks isn’t up there in age and was once a top prospect with the Minnesota Twins, but he profiles best as the team’s fourth outfielder due to his ability to play all three positions and the fact that he’s a switch-hitter. He can, once again, be used over Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury against right-handed pitching.
Both Aaron’s will probably get a ton of playing time, but Judge’s track record of adjusting to an enhanced level of play, immense potential and superb spring makes it hard to believe that he did anything to lose a job that he was favorited to win.
Yet, Girardi insists:
“It’s something we’ve talked about. We thought he played better playing every day. His [playing] time was pretty sparingly last year early on,’’ Girardi said. “I think he has improved as a player. We like what we’ve seen. We liked what we saw at the end of last year. We’re going to have to iron out this week how we do this.’’
If Girardi’s words are being used to sincerely declare that Judge hasn’t all but locked the job up already and that he’s contemplating awarding the starting job to Hicks, then one would have to question the current state of the youth movement.
If these words are being used just to light a fire under both of the “candidates,” then the announcement that Judge’s first Opening Day start as the New York Yankees right fielder will come here in 2017 will assuredly be delivered.