Wednesday, February 22, 2017


(Photo: Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News)
The spring is finally upon us and with this segment of Yankee Prospect Watch, we take a look at two guys who have something to prove this summer. Aaron Judge will seemingly get his first full season opportunity in the Bronx after a stint late last summer, while Jorge Mateo is looking for a bounce back year following a disappointing 2016.

Aaron Judge got the call last August and proceeded to blast a moonshot into the black in centerfield at Yankees Stadium in his first Major League at-bat. Following that monster blast though, not a whole lot went right for the big man.

Judge finished his 27 game stint with the Bombers slashing just .179/.263/.345 with four home runs. Most concerning was the 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats though. Judge, as we know, is a monster of a man which creates a huge strike zone that he has to work on protecting.

But all is not lost with Judge. Like many big power hitting types, he will strike out a lot, but he should also hit plenty of long balls for the Bombers as well. Judge struggled in his first stint in Triple-A, but bounced back nicely before his promotion to the Bronx, so a history of rebounding after a promotion is there.

Photo: Presswire
Judge was dominate in 2014 in his first year in the minor leagues after being drafted in the first round by the Yankees in 2013, belting a combined 21 home runs (including four in the AFL) that year. In 2015, Judge began the year in Trenton and was promptly promoted to Scranton where he struggled and slashed .224/.308/.373 with eight home runs before settling down at that level in 2016, where he belted 19 home runs in 410 at-bats while slashing .270/.366/.489.

This spring he will look to make late last year be his adjustment to the big leagues and cement himself in right field for the Yankees.

(Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)
As we know, Judge possesses plenty of raw power within his 6’ 7”, 275 pound frame. We also know he will strike out a lot. He needs to cut his strikeout rate down to 20-23% or so and belt 20+ home runs for many people to see him as a success this season, depending on the number of at-bats though of course. A slash line of .240/.330/.450 or so would be solid if he can produce the long ball and limit the strikeouts.

Some don’t see Judge amounting to much but I am excited to see what kind of adjustment he makes this season after his history of making adjustments. If he can produce the kind of numbers just mentioned, I think all Yankees fans will be happy with that! If he struggles mightily, there will be some grumblings about what kind of big leaguer he really can be.

Photo: Charles Wenzelberg
Jorge Mateo entered 2016 as one of the most heralded prospects in baseball following his breakout season in 2015. Over 117 games in A-ball and high-A ball, Mateo stole a whopping 82 bases and slashed a very respectable .278/.345/.392. After playing just 15 total games in the States prior to that season, the shortstop gained instant notice and became a top prospect essentially overnight.

But 2016 was a different story as Mateo didn’t have quite the same season as he slashed .254/.306/.379 in high-A Tampa again. After batting .374 over the first 27 games, Mateo batted just .218 the rest of the season. His career high eight home runs did show a little added pop though.

Photo: Bryan Green
One of the biggest headlines of the season for Jorge though was when he was suspended for two weeks by the Yankees for allegedly mouthing off to Yankees executives over his displeasure of not being promoted to Double-A. This caused Mateo to miss the All-Star Futures game.

His disappointing 2016 season caused Mateo to drop from the 18th overall prospect on to 47th, while Keith Law dropped him completely out of the Top 100. Law states that Mateo just doesn’t make hard enough contact often enough and although he did belt eight home runs and added nine triples, he had just 16 doubles. Too many weak ground balls is said to be a problem for Mateo.

While Mateo possesses a grade of 80 in the speed department (the highest possible grade), his .937 fielding percentage at shortstop in 2016 and his increase in caught stealing has drawn some attention along with his less than favorable soft contact rate.

It’s been speculated that with the Yankees abundance of talent at shortstop, Mateo could very well find himself at second base and center field much more often this season as the Yankees try and balance their depth.

Everyone was high on Mateo, and much like Judge, he has a lot of question marks coming into this season. Mateo says he has been working hard and he is looking to put 2016 behind while embracing the opportunity to play whatever position the Yankees determine is the best for the organization.

Photo: USA Today
Many, including myself, expect Mateo to find his way to Trenton this spring as he works on rebounding from 2016, and at just 21 years-old, he has time to still develop. If he can make more consistent hard contact this season and prove to be effective wherever the Yankees choose to play him, he could be back in the talks of one of the best prospects in baseball.

These two young men have a lot to prove this season and each face their own unique challenges. With another poor showing this year, both of these guys could hear the bust word come out, or simply with an improved season, the Yankees have two potentially long-term solutions on their hands.

It’ll be fun keeping tabs on Aaron Judge and Jorge Mateo this season.

--Dan Lucia

BYB 'Series' Writer
Follow me on Twitter: @DManLucia

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