He’s become the face of the Yankees after just one season. The power hitting, wide smiling Aaron Judge took the baseball world by storm last season, crushing home runs and leading the Yankees to the American League Championship Series, where they lost to the eventual World Series champs, the Houston Astros.
It wasn’t always a sure thing that Judge would figure it out though. Heading into Spring training in 2017, he was in a close competition with Aaron Hicks for the Yankees starting right fielder job– after an up and down couple of months in the Majors.
Find out how Judge and his Ice athlete mentality helped transform him from a fringe-starter with potential in the Majors, to one of the biggest stars in the sport:
With one of the most prolific offensive rookie seasons in baseball history, Aaron Judge went from a virtually unheard of prospect outside of hard-core baseball fans to one of the most recognizable athletes in America.
He smashed a rookie record 52 home runs during the 2017 season, an incredible accomplishment that is a testament to the hard work he put in to transition from being a question mark in the Yankees lineup heading into the season into one of baseball’s biggest stars.
It seems silly looking back on it now, but there was serious consideration from the Yankees organization and some fans to give the starting right field job to Aaron Hicks heading into the 2017 season, over Aaron Judge.
“It’s all about going out and taking a job,” Judge said in an interview with ESPN at the beginning of spring training in 2017, “I feel like that should be everybody’s mindset going into spring training. You know– there’s 25 [roster] spots up there, so go out there and take one. So that’s what I’m trying to do, go out there, get prepared right, do my work, and go get a job.”
This attitude speaks to Judge’s mindset as an Ice athlete. Ice athletes, like Judge or Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, are defined by their drive for accomplishing and setting goals. They can be relentless in pursuing a personal goal while using small to moderate failure or adversity as motivation to persevere, for Judge, it may have felt like having some competition at the position could be used as fuel to push him to even greater heights.
The competition wasn’t the only thing pushing Judge to improve in 2017 though, there was also the skepticism around his game and skill-level after a roller coaster debut in the Majors the year before.
Judge started off his Yankee career strong, blasting a homerun during his first at bat. However, Judge cooled off considerably the rest of the season, striking out in exactly half of his 84 big league at bats during the 2015 season.
So with question marks surrounding his ability and his positional security, Judge just focused on getting better– something his spring training teammates took notice of, “When I see a guy like that work so hard, I can see it progressively getting better and better throughout the spring in his at-bats. I was like, ‘It’s only a matter of time before it clicks,’ and it did,” said infielder Tyler Wade.
Judge put together an impressive spring, where he definitely showed some improvements, hitting .345/.406/.569 with three homers and six RBIs in 23 games during 2017 spring training, up from his .179/.263/.345 numbers the year before.
With those improvements, Aaron Judge secured the starting job heading into the 2017 regular season.
“[Judge] had more consistent at-bats,” Girardi said when explaining his decision to start Judge, “There were less strikeouts, better contact, more consistent contact. If you look at his last week to 10 days, it was better than before, and you’re facing better pitching.”
This was obviously just the tip of the iceberg for Judge, who didn’t let the positional safety sway him from his Ice mindset, he had to keep improving and pushing towards his goals, “Nothing really changes,” Judge said, “Now the real work starts about trying to keep it. It’s great, but I’ve just got to go out there and work.”
The Yankees were supposed to be rebuilding in 2017, but sparked by Judge and some of the other young players around him– they found themselves a game away from playing in the World Series, losing to the eventual champion Houston Astros.
“We didn’t win the World Series. You’re not really satisfied,” Judge said. “That’s what you want. That’s why you play and why you train in the offseason. It’s all for the opportunity to win the World Series, and we came up short.”
Being so close to the World Series will undoubtedly push Judge to keep on improving, setting even higher goals and standards for himself. Ice athletes are competitive and they hate losing, but they are the type who isn’t afraid to be self critical– they know they can always keep improving to help them achieve their goals while also pushing their team to new heights.
I would like to thank the Yankees organization, my teammates and the greatest fans in the world for an unforgettable 2017 season! pic.twitter.com/k51pZriSOB
— Aaron Judge (@TheJudge44) October 24, 2017
“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.”
In the bright lights of New York, with a franchise as historically dominant and prestigious as the Yankees, it’s important to have Ice athletes as talented as Aaron Judge around. Someone who will question the status quo, pushing to improve continuously rather than being complacent.
Some may see the Yankees as ahead of schedule on their rebuild, but it will take the continous pushing of player and coaches in order to keep improving and truly mold themselves into a World Series contender. Having a guy like Aaron Judge around certainly helps let that mindset take over the clubhouse.