Aaron Judge launched a home run in his first MLB at-bat last August and Yankees fans rejoiced in what was believed to be a sign the club was set for a long time in right field. However, raw talent precedes true development.
In Judge's late season cameo, he struck out in 44.2 percent of his 95 plate appearances. The poor performance forced Judge to study and alter his hitting mechanics during the offseason. He added a leg kick and strived to change his approach at the plate. There was enough doubt among the Yankees' braintrust that Judge had to win the right field job out of spring training.
Spring training statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, but for Judge, there was some underlying meaning. In 69 plate appearances he struck out 15 times (21.7 percent), which was a marked improvement from the display last season. Beyond the reduction in strikeouts, Judge was spraying the ball to the opposite field and laying off pitches he flailed at last summer, without sacrificing his home run power. This demonstrated the extra effort he put in during the winter was taking hold.
Judge did enough to be named the starting right fielder, but got off to a slow start to the regular season. Judge managed just 2 hits in his first 14 at-bats, including five strikeouts. However, the some of the balls he put in play were well hit.
Over the last three games, Judge's at-bats have become must-see.
"I think people are curious about how far they can see Aaron Judge hit a ball," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Judge has six hits in his last 11 at-bats with three home runs and six RBIs. Judge has struck out just once during the stretch and walked twice. The home runs have been hit across three successive days, each one showing his impressive raw power, with a total distance traveled of 1,210 feet.
Judge is fully aware of what can happen when he makes perfect contact with the ball, and so is Rays hurler Jumbo Diaz, who knows what it is like to hear a 116.5 mph Judge line drive whistle by his head.
"If my barrel meets the ball, I think good things are going to happen," Judge said.
Maybe more impressive is what Judge is able to do with balls not hitting the exact sweet spot. The mammoth right fielder didn't completely barrel up Wednesday's home run and it still went 437 feet.
The book on Judge has been that he needs time to acclimate to the next professional level. Yankees third baseman Chase Headley sees the changes from one season to the next.
"It is exciting to see a guy come into his own and start to figure out things at the major leagues," said Headley.
The sample size is incredibly small, but as was the case in spring training, the eyeball test is as clear as the laser beams flying off Judge's bat. Judge is maintaining his adjustments and the results are showing.
It's true that Judge will have his skids like any other professional hitter. However, poor stretches might be fleeting and if they are balanced by surges like we've seen the last three days, the Yankees and their fans will be elated.