Aaron Judge has been on the fast track since he was one of the Yankees' multiple 1st round picks in 2013. He breezed through the low-level Minors the way you would expect an experienced college hitter to, and he reached Triple-A last year after another successful short stint at Trenton. Along the way Judge drew plenty of praise from scouts for being a better all-around hitter than they thought, and that added in with the rest of his impressive skill set surely helped build him to the unanimous top 100 prospect he is heading into this season, top 50 or top 20 in some cases.
Predictably, Judge felt some growing pains when he reached Triple-A last year. Better, more experienced pitchers were able to exploit holes in his swing caused by his giant frame, and the talk surrounding Judge this spring focuses almost exclusively on the work he has done and will continue to do to close up those holes. They'll likely never be completely eliminated, natural byproduct of Judge's genetics, but to truly reach his potential Judge needs to be able to handle better pitching and not settle into a low-average/high-strikeout profile.
Based on the early MLB success of top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird last season, the unspoken hope and expectation among fans and possibly the Yankee front office is that Judge will be better in his return trip to SWB this year, his swing and hitting approach will improve, and he will be primed to take over the right field job sometime later this season. But in seeing how the Yankees have constructed their roster, I wonder if that accelerated timeline is still necessary. The way I see it, the Yankees might be better served giving Judge more time in Triple-A to work on his hitting. They're certainly deep enough in the outfield to do it.
We know who the starting three in the Major League outfield are going to be, but look at everybody else on the roster. The Yanks have added Aaron Hicks as the 4th outfielder and he can play all 3 positions. They've got Dustin Ackley in the mix, and while he's expected to take over primary backup first base duties he can also handle an outfield corner. If anybody gets hurt, they've got Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Ben Gamel on standby on the 40-man to step in. Remember that Judge is not on the 40-man yet, so the reality is he's pretty far down on the depth chart right now.
And there's nothing wrong with that. There's no race to get to the big leagues and the handling of Judge and his development this year should not be treated like one. If the group of players mentioned above stay healthy and/or productive enough to help the team win, let Judge stay down and get 400-500 at-bats at SWB this season. If he has made strides in his approach and his numbers spike up, great. I have no problem letting him crush Triple-A pitching a little longer than he might need to. He won't be accumulating any service time, he'll still be learning and improving, and he'll probably be better prepared to take over the right field job from Beltran full time in 2017.
The Yankees have a ton of players knocking on the door to the show right now and Judge is absolutely in that mix. He's looked at as a bigger part of the team's future than almost all of his peers at the Triple-A level too, but that doesn't mean the Yankees need to start doing a roster juggling act to force him into their crowded outfield mix. Let him stay in Triple-A, continue to work on what he's working on, and let him beat up on pitchers for a little while if everything clicks. I know I wouldn't hate seeing him hit 25-30 homers down there this year to start building excitement about 2017.