The New York Yankees, despite making the right field battle an unnecessarily authentic competition, have made the proper final decision.
Entering the final two days of Grapefruit League play, despite Judge hitting 35 points higher than Hicks was at the time, Girardi mandated that it was all too close to decide despite the fact that Hicks struggled immensely throughout his first campaign in the Bronx.
Yes, Aaron Hicks slashed .271/.333/.424 when he received consistent at-bats in the wake of the Carlos Beltran trade to Texas at the deadline and while the argument is there that he warrants everyday time, it didn’t outweigh the argument for Judge.
First off, the 24-year-old has been highly touted for years. As mentioned in a previous column, MLB Pipeline suggests that Judge’s 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.
That’s a pretty exclusive group, huh?
Secondly, there is absolutely nothing left for the 6-foot-7 monster in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where Girardi was going to send him if he didn’t win the right field job. Yes, you almost have to do that to get him everyday at-bats, but before being called up to the pros he hit 19 home runs in just 93 games with an impressive OPS of .854 in the Electric City.
To tag along to that point, Judge has experienced difficulty at every promotion upon each call-up, yet arrives the next year and takes the level by storm.
When he was call-up from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A in 2015, Judge saw his OPS drop from .866 to .680 while also watching his strikeout rate climb from 28 percent to 32 percent. His OPS soared back up to .854 last year but dropped to .608 in the majors when he was called to the show on August 13.
With a new, aggressive approach demonstrated in spring training this March, that adjustment trend looks as if it’s going to continue into 2017.
Thirdly, this kid has already shown flashes of his monstrous power at the major league level. Last year, despite striking out in half of his total at-bats, Judge owned the highest average exit velocity (96.8 mph) in all of baseball, according to StatCast. Higher than Giancarlo Stanton (95.9 mph) and Nelson Cruz (96.2 mph).
With everything considered, whether you think Judge will pan out as a productive major leaguer or not, you have to assess who he is and what he can give you over the course of a full season.
Is he a guy who will hit 30 home runs a year? Is he a guy who will continue to strikeout in half of his at-bats? Is he everything he’s being hyped up to be? Or is he the farthest from the All-Star Pipeline is making him out to be?
If he gets a couple starts a week as a fourth outfielder when Aaron Hicks needs a day off or is sitting in Triple-A, a level he has already dominated, those must-answer questions regarding what he can do at the major league level are left a mystery. Thus, a year that should be all about assessing the next wave of youth is wasted.
So, for the few that were in Hicks’ corner, it made no sense for Girardi to make the competition seem so close nor for anyone to think it made sense for Judge not to open the 2017 season as the starter. Perhaps this was the Yankee manager’s way to light a fire under both of these outfielders — who both failed to impress last season.
Whatever the rationale of keeping the competition close was, Judge will be the fourth different Opening Day right fielder for New York since 2012 and that decision couldn’t be more reasonable.