|(Photo: Chris Pedota, The Record)|
|Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports|
And ever since a balky oblique added injury to the insult of that K fest and abruptly cut Aaron's season short, he's worked overtime to rehab and refine; plotting his return to the big club to take permanent possession of a patch of real estate many in the organization and fan base have believed is his birthright .-- right field in Yankee Stadium.
He has all the other skills and tools. Nobody doubts it. But that strikeout rate was a deal-breaker. And the keys to his kingdom in front of the Bronx short porch won't get handed to him until he can put a big dent in it like he did in the new scoreboard at the Boss last week.
Early returns from Judge's Dent-The-K-Rate comeback tour look promising.
Granted, it's absolutely microscopic in terms of statistical sample sizes; but through Wednesday's exhibition game with the Braves, the Yankees' mammoth right fielder -- currently tied for the team lead in at bats, sporting a nifty .364 BA and swinging a handsome 1.280 OPS -- has just one strikeout over five spring games.
Encouraging doesn't begin to describe how it makes fans of the big guy like me feel who've followed his path through the system ever since the Yanks snapped him up with the 32nd pick of the 2013 amateur draft as compensation for dear departed right fielder and Bleacher Creature favorite Nick Swisher.
But what's changed? As is often the case in this thinking man's game, the eye test isn't always the best judge...pardon the pun.
A couple of weeks ago at the outset of spring training, Brendan Kuty of NJ.com was among several writer who wrote about how he appeared to have eliminated his leg kick, last seen when he came up from Scranton.
Then, a couple of days ago, Kuty wrote a follow up that seemed to indicate the leg kick wasn't really gone after all, but that another part of the anatomy -- a loaded hip -- was really the difference maker; noting the club had assigned the 6'7" Judge a locker close to new DH Matt Holliday, a 6'4" slugger with a history of combining power and plate discipline, and the pair had already begun to find some time in the cage together.
"It amazed me how a big guy like that with a big leg kick, how he's able to control it and do damage on a pitch and the more I watch him, the more I saw he really controlled his back hip," Judge said. ..."Whether you're big or small, you've got to load your hips. You've got to load your back hip up,"
Holliday said. "That's how I've always done it, at least for the last 10 years. Before I started doing it, I had a tendency of striding past the ball a little bit, coming off my backside and had a hard time catching up with my hands. I had to load my backside. That allowed me to get my hands out from my body."
While that may read like a "Eureka!" type moment, though, the fact is Judge has always been a savvy student of the game who studies plenty of video, and is capable of discerning subtle tips from the greats via the electronic medium and incorporating them into his approach to make key adjustments on his own.
In fact, when Judge was first called up back in August and started his pinstripe career off with a bang by going yard in his first at-bat, Brendan wrote a story entitled How Yankees' Aaron Judge's swing change helped him take off in which Judge explained it was a self-adjustment he made all by his lonesome after studying tape of -- wait for it -- Matt Holliday and Anthony Rizzo -- while struggling for the Scranton RailRiders early last summer that led to a scorching June in which he hit .343, hit nine HRs and 25 ribbies, received International League Player of the Month honors and forced the Yankees to call him up.
"It looked comfortable for them. So I started making adjustments and it felt comfortable for me," he told Kuty back then.
|Photo: New York Daily News|
"Just bigger guys," Judge said. "Matt Holiday, bigger guy, has kind of a leg kick. Anthony Rizzo, I think he's 6-foot-4, 6-foot-3, a little bigger of a guy. I just like watching guys who have the same kind of body type, kind of make the same moves as me."
So now one of the MLB greats whose YouTube videos helped inspire Judge's hitting resurgence 10 months ago down in the minors at a stadium in Moosic just happens to be sitting near him in the Yankees locker room talking hitting strategy, working with him in the cage real time and strikeouts -- at least so far -- are about the only part of the rookie's game taking a beating.
That's either one hell of a happy coincidence or one hell of a clever move by Brian Cashman.
I'm not implying Brian signed Holliday out of all the available free agent big bats solely because it presented a unique "two-fer" opportunity to bring in a personal guest instructor for Judge and keep him within a Louisville Slugger's length of him all season long while adding a needed middle of the order DH bat to the lineup.
|Photo: Chris Pedota / NorthJersey.com|
But one of the hallmarks of a good GM is finding added value in depreciated assets. And I'd be willing to bet the entire Yankee farm it was one of the reasons he did.
By the way, fellow BYB Writer Michael Carnesi recently wrote HOLLIDAY TIME! back in January. It discussed his veteran leadership and importance of that in a young clubhouse. Couple that with the recent developments by Judge... and I would suggest there will no doubt be a follow up by Carnesi about mentoring real soon on BYB. Look for it.
|Photo: New York Post|