Yankees oddly trying out Aaron Judge in center field
Only two games into the new season and Brett Gardner is getting a day off. With no other viable options to play center field, Aaron Judge is set to make his first career start in a position once made famous for the Yankees by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
As if contemplating Aaron Judge at the top of the Yankees lineup wasn’t a bad enough idea, Saturday’s defensive alignment will feature the reigning AL Rookie of the Year in center field. Yeah, you read that right.
With Brett Gardner being rested, partly due to his poor career numbers versus Jays’ starter Marco Estrada, and manager Aaron Boone’s commitment to taking it easy on his 34-year-old veteran, the Yanks are quickly running out of outfield options.
Though Billy McKinney has played 115 minor league games in center field, perhaps Boone is of the mindset that pressure on the rookie will be palpable enough, let alone having to captain the outfield.
So, therefore, McKinney will man left field, Giancarlo Stanton slots into his traditional right field and Judge goes to center.
Not a stat Judge is concerned with owning, but upon Saturday afternoon’s first pitch, he’ll become the tallest center fielder in Major League Baseball history, at 6-foot-7.
I understand that Judge is a pure athlete with a great throwing arm, and that right field is widely considered the toughest of the three outfield positions. So why shouldn’t he be given a shot at the position Bernie Williams played with the greatest of ease?
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For starters, Judge has only played 11 games in center since 2014, eight of which last came in 2016 at Triple-A Scranton.
Obviously, the range Judge will need to cover is going to be significantly more than what he’s used to in right field. Anytime a player goes out of his comfort zone you have to consider what kind of effect that could have on his body.
For instance, Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets was begrudgingly put in centerfield over the past two seasons by then-manager Terry Collins.
Due to an array of lower body injuries sustained while on defense, which limited him to a career-low 81 games in ’17, Cespedes hasn’t been shy about letting management know he’d prefer to stay in left.
How long this experiment of Judge being out of position lasts, depends not only on how he fares on Saturday afternoon but also how long Aaron Hicks stays on the shelf.
Although general manager Brian Cashman described Hicks’ right intercostal strain as being a Grade 1 injury — as learned last season, Hicks is a slow healer, which probably has something to do with the Yanks not concerning themselves with Hicks’ belief he didn’t need a DL stint.
Let’s hope Judge has an uneventful day in the field. Unless of course your Marc Carig of The Athletic. Carig, a former beat writer for the Mets said on Twitter:
"We live in an era in which the strikeout rate increases every year with no signs of slowing down. That means fewer balls in play. So, if there’s a time to play bats over gloves, that time is now. Aaron Judge in centerfield, in small doses, why not?"
Next: Aaron Hicks surprisingly to the 10-day DL
I guess covering the Mets all those years taught Carig that pitching and defense DOES NOT win championships. To each their own, but I’ve stated my case as to why Judge shouldn’t play center, so be it.
At least Boone decided to bat Neil Walker leadoff and not Judge. That would have been way too much change for just the third game of the season.