The various prospect lists are seriously underrating New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge based only on one bad month’s worth of plate appearances.
Despite looking like a budding superstar for most of the year in Triple-A, New York Yankees rookie right fielder Aaron Judge has sunk like a stone in the various 2017 prospect lists released so far, presumably because of his struggles during his first month of big league action.
Imagine for a second that Judge had not played at all in the majors last season. He hit .270/.366/.489 while leading the farm system with 19 home runs in 410 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, making the International League All Star Team and being named the league’s Player of the Month for June.
Yet somehow both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, have Judge ranked five spots lower (#7 vs. #2) than Clint Frazier, a guy who hit .228/.278/.396 in 108 plate appearances at the same level as Judge, and has just as many questions about his approach and swing mechanics as the big man. John Sickels of Minor League Ball actually has Judge eight spots lower than Frazier (#2 vs. #10), barely in his top 10 prospects at all.
Were Judge’s struggles in his first month in the big show that unexpected? Everyone panicked when Judge hit .224/.308/.373 with a 28.5% strikeout rate (extremely similar to Frazier’s 2016 line) during his first go-round in Triple-A. Judge worked hard on his mechanics and approach all winter to adjust to the more advanced pitching he was facing, and came back as one of the league’s premier power hitters.
Even knowing this, Judge is being more or less dismissed as a failure just a year after he was seen by many as the top prospect in the system. Having him below Frazier and Gleyber Torres is defensible as they are new to the organization, but having him sink so far below guys like Jorge Mateo and James Kaprielian seems downright silly.
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Kaprielian missed almost the entire season with an elbow injury and Mateo made zero hard contact in High-A while demonstrating serious makeup issues. Can you really make the argument they had better 2016 campaigns than Judge or are better bets going forward?
As with Gary Sanchez during the end of his long climb up the minor league ladder, Judge may be dealing with some prospect fatigue. He’s no longer the organization’s shiny new toy and the last image in our head of him was striking out in 44.2% of his plate appearances over his final 27 games. That’s definitely an ugly way to end a season, but there was a lot to love about Judge’s 2016 campaign overall.
Steamer projects Judge for a .248/.324/.446 (107 wRC+) batting line with 20 homers in 445 plate appearances while cutting his strikeout rate down to 28.5%. While that’s a reasonable expectation, I would take the over on that performance, maybe something like .250/.340/.460 with 25 homers, and I want to go on record as having Judge as my early prediction for 2017 AL Rookie of the Year. Bookmark this to throw it in my face later as you see fit.