By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Upon walking out to Wrigley Field for the first time, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge ducked his head to avoid banging it against the low dugout ceiling.
Baseball players aren’t supposed to be 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds. Judge is taller than a defensive end and more built than a power forward. He looks like the creation of a video game, dwarfing his teammates. His handshake is like the death grip of Goliath.
Judge leads the majors with 13 home runs and is tied for the AL lead with 27 RBIs entering Friday’s contest with the Cubs. The Yankees’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, Judge is becoming everything they had envisioned.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon sees Frank Howard in Judge. A natural comparison is Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins’ massive right fielder. Fascination over that potential will follow Judge throughout his rookie campaign.
What does Judge strive to become?
“Just be the best Aaron Judge I can be,” Judge said Friday. “That’s all I can do. I’ll never be a great Matt Holliday or a great CC Sabathia. I can never be those guys.
“It all comes down to me being me.”
All rise for Judge, baseball’s next young star.
Maddon marveled at Judge after watching him during the first month of the season. He couldn’t believe how big and powerful the 25-year-old seemed. Maddon was excited to see Judge in person, though grateful for the wind gusting to right field at 35 miles per hour.
That didn’t stop Judge from ripping baseballs in batting practice through the teeth of the wind at Wrigley. Yankees legend Reggie Jackson looked on like so many others, left intrigued by Judge. Each at-bat is appointment viewing.
Judge has posted absurd exit velocities on each of his home runs. Last week, he broke the Statcast record with a ball drilled at 119.4 miles per hour. It looked like a line drive yet traveled 435 feet in just a matter of seconds. On Friday, Judge ripped a double to the right-center field gap at 119 miles per hour off the bat.
This looks so routine for Judge.
“If you make a mistake, it’s going to get hit far,” Maddon said. “I’m curious about him also. I’m eager to see him play.”
Judge broke into the big leagues last season and struggled mightily. He hit just four home runs in 95 plate appearances and struck out at a 44.2 percent clip. Judge spent this offseason working to improve his contact rate — studying his swing closely on film — and the results are now there. He has 1.251 OPS through 25 games, more than twice his mark in 27 contests last season.
The Yankees were projected to be a year or two away from contention this season, with their youth movement still producing prospects. Judge is still a rookie, as is Gary Sanchez, and Gleyber Torres is still in the minors. But veterans like Brett Gardner, Starlin Castro and Holliday have played well through a month of the season, and then there’s Judge.
Judge could’ve hoped for a solid first full season in the majors. He’s playing like an MVP, and the Yankees are winning games. They’re in first place and look like a contender. Heck, they look like one of baseball’s best teams so far.
“We’re excited about the future,” Judge said. “But this team that we got, we’re just trying to take it one day at a time and do whatever we can to win the game that day.
“It’s quite an experience. I never take it for granted.”
Fans in New York have embraced Judge and his stellar play, and fans around baseball have marveled at the monster of a right fielder. He’s not your average right fielder.
Judge looks like a superhero, mashes like a superstar, and he’s only getting started.