It’s safe to say that Giancarlo Stanton has never had a teammate like Aaron Judge.
At 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds, Judge could conceivably blend in better on a basketball court than a baseball diamond. You can’t tell just by looking at him — his steely-eyed glare, gap-toothed grin, small crouch and slight leg kick seem affable. But it all leads to a herculean swing that sends balls into the stands faster and harder than anyone in baseball.
Well, except for his new teammate in New York, who seems impressed with Judge’s MLB career so far.
“He is pretty advanced for post-rookie season,” Stanton told Jayson Stark on Stadium’s Baseball Stories. “He is definitely further along than I was as a rookie.
“He is hunting to get better too, and that’s one of the best characteristics. There is always something more. You hit this many last year? You also gave away this many at bats. There is always more.”
That “something more” would have to be pretty special given what Judge accomplished in his rookie season in 2017.
Judge broke Mark McGwire’s 30-year-old record for home runs by a rookie, compiling a .284/.422/.627 slash line while leading the American League in runs and walks. Judge’s incredible season made him the 22nd unanimous Rookie of the Year in MLB history.
When compared to Stanton’s rookie season in 2010, you get a sense of where Judge is at in his development and why Stanton is excited about playing with the slugger.
Stanton reached the big leagues in his age-20 season, driving in 59 RBI and 22 home runs in 100 games with the Marlins. He didn’t even get a whiff of Rookie of the Year considerations. Those votes were reserved almost entirely for Buster Posey and Jason Heyward.
Stanton wasn’t known as one of the game’s premier power hitters in his first seven seasons in the big leagues, topping out at 37 home runs in 2012 and 2014. That immediately changed when he exploded for 59 home runs in his final season in Miami in 2017.
Judge’s first full season in the majors came in his age-25 season after spending parts of three years in the minor leagues, honing his craft and becoming the instant power hitter he’s become in New York.
“Even in the minor leagues, I thought you have to go out and earn a spot. Nothing is ever given to you,” Judge told MLB Network after winning Rookie of the Year. “It was the same when I was told I’d be the starting right fielder. You have to earn your job every day. Even going into next year, I’m still going to be fighting for that right-field job, fighting for my spot.”
That spot in the Yankee Stadium outfield may be slightly more crowded with Stanton in the fold. But all of the attention is at the plate, where the Yankees have created a power-hitting duo that rivals the best the game has ever seen.
From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1920s and ‘30s to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in the ‘60s, the New York Yankees have been spoiled with power. Ruth and Gehrig combined for 107 home runs in the “Murderers’ Row” lineup of the iconic 1927 Yankees, their best single season as teammates. The historic 1961 season for Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris saw the duo combine for 115 homers, an MLB record, with Maris breaking Ruth’s single-season home run record along the way.
Judge’s prolific power doesn’t go unnoticed in the Yankees clubhouse.
“I’m jealous,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner recently told Rolling Stone. “Just once I’d like to know what it’s like to hit a ball that far or that hard.”
A lot of that power comes from Judge’s outlying size. Just 12 players 6-foot-6 or taller have made at least 1,000 plate appearances in the bigs, according to MLB Network. While that list includes Stanton, names like Dave Kingman, Adam Dunn, Corey Hart and Richie Sexson don’t exactly elicit the same praise and comparisons that Judge is getting. However, the only Hall-of-Famer on that 6-foot-6 or taller list, former Yankee Dave Winfield, had high praise for Judge.
“He’s got great athletic ability,” Winfield told reporters last season. “A fantastic disposition and he’s just the kind of person that baseball needs.”
Judge may prove to be what baseball needs, but what baseball is getting right now is a humble superstar who puts the team above any individual achievement.
Hailing from a small high school in Linden, Calif., the son of adopted parents, Judge was a three-sport star who, according to coaches, had “fiery” competitiveness but shied away from cockiness, letting his athletic skills do the talking.
He passed up an offer from the Oakland A’s, who drafted him in the 31st round out of high school. Instead of signing with the A’s, Judge attended Fresno State, where he was an all-conference player all three seasons he was there. He never hit more than 12 home runs in a season during his college career, but his power was revealed to the baseball world when he won the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby in 2012.
Judge was drafted 32nd overall by the Yankees in 2013 and left school to start his professional career. An abbreviated 27-game stint in 2016 saw Judge hit four home runs, giving New York fans a preview of what was to come.
But now with Stanton in the lineup, the sky is the limit when it comes to how these teammates will mash in the middle of the Yankees’ order. Is Maris and Mantle’s record in the offing? Could one or both players eclipse Barry Bonds’ record of 73 home runs in a season as Mark McGwire suggested on a recent episode of Baseball Stories?
A difficult start for Stanton brings up even more questions. Do Stanton and Judge strike out too much? Do their similarities make them susceptible to opposing bullpens?
All those questions will be answered as the middle of the Yankees’ order appears to be locked in for the foreseeable future. What we know right now is that Aaron Judge is hungry and ready to show the world that his monster MLB debut was not a fluke.
“I still have a lot to prove,” Judge told Rolling Stone. “I’m only 25, I haven’t done anything yet.”