On Monday, New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge should be named the unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year. The 25-year-old slugger will have earned that award after setting numerous records, including the most notable one for a rookie. Judge’s 52 home runs topped Mark McGwire’s 49 in 1987 to make him the rookie home run king.
That accolade alone is quite impressive. But as Judge told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch this week, he’s far from satisfied with his performance. Judge has no plans to rest on his laurels or rely on his power to carry him through his formative years and into his prime. Instead, he has visions of becoming one of baseball’s best all-around players.
Judge’s first step towards achieving that goal is his willingness to acknowledge his shortcomings. He’s had no problem doing that, most recently telling Hoch that he still sees himself as a “work in progress” in all facets of the game.
While true, this has to be a scary thing for the rest of the league to hear.
“I’m still a work in progress; there’s a lot of things I need to improve on,” Judge said. “Defensively, hitting-wise, running the bases. There’s always room to improve. That motivates me to get a little better every day.”
Judge led all AL rookies in games played, plate appearances, homers, runs, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage, wOBA (.430), wRC+ (173) and WAR (8.2), among other categories. No matter how you slice the numbers, new school or old school, he rose to the top.
The story notes that Judge joined Ted Williams as the only rookies to score at least 100 runs, drive in another 100, while collecting 100 walks.
Making that production even a bit more impressive is the fact that Judge struck out 208 times in 678 plate appearances. That included a record 37-game streak with at least one strikeout. It does not, however, include his postseason total. Judge struck out 27 times in 57 plate appearances. That set a postseason record, though one that only lasted 12 days thanks to likely National League rookie of the Year Clay Bellinger breaking it during the World Series.
The takeaway is that Judge is nearly unstoppable when he’s doing anything other than striking out. Though he doesn’t specifically mention cutting down on his whiffs while speaking to Hoch, that will undoubtedly be part of his work this winter. Then again, if he can produce at that level in spite of those strikeouts, maybe his approach isn’t one that needs to be messed with too much.
As for his non-hitting outlook, Judge played some impressive defense at times this season. He used his 6-foot-8 frame to rob more than one home run at Yankee Stadium. He also showed remarkable mobility for a man his size. The next step might be improving his first step and his reads off the bat, which would allow him to increase his range. Baseball is all about winning those small battles within the game. Even if it won’t show up in boxscores, that might be where Judge can improve his game the most.
It’s worth saying again that Judge is already an impact player. If he had the exact same season or even a slightly less productive season in 2018, few would complain. But his focus is clearly on elevating his play, which could make the Yankees most dangerous weapon even more so.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – – –