The most ballyhooed of the Yankees prospects was eating dinner with his parents at a Dinosaur Bar-B-Que late Friday night in Rochester when he was notified that he was headed to the Bronx.
And Aaron Judge almost didn’t believe what his manager, Al Pedrique, was telling him.
“At first, yeah it was kind of a shock,” Judge said Saturday, hours before he would make his Major League debut. “But he meant it and it was pretty cool.”
So off Judge was, his parents driving a rental car from Rochester to the Bronx. Less than 24 hours after Alex Rodriguez’s exit, the Yankees have kicked their youth movement into high gear, calling up their most big-name prospect in the monstrous Aaron Judge.
The 6-7, 275-pound outfielder was set to bat eighth on Saturday at Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s not in the Bigs to sit, either; GM Brian Cashman said Judge will likely play every day.
“You could definitely see Judge playing every day in right,” Cashman said.
Cashman wasn’t sure he’d see Judge on Saturday, though. The Yanks’ post-Rodriguez plan always included Judge, but then Nate Eovaldi’s injury forced the club to burn through seven relievers on Wednesday in Fenway. Initially, Cashman said, that shifted the plan; the Yanks called up Tyler Austin on Friday night and planned to leave Judge in the minors a few more days so the bullpen could recover.
When Brett Gardner was hit by a pitch on Friday night, things changed. Gardner played all nine innings of A-Rod’s going-away party, but the veteran won’t be available Saturday. He may miss a few days.
“After the game, it was clear he was not going to be a player today, and maybe not for the next few days,” Cashman said.
So here comes Judge, joining the new wave of Yankee prospects. Catcher Gary Sanchez has been up and impressive for several weeks, hitting .313 with one homer, and he batted sixth on Saturday, slotting into Rodriguez’s old DH spot. Austin batted seventh in his debut, manning first base.
Behind both of them was Judge, hitting eighth but with the light-tower power to move quickly up the order. He crushed 19 homers to go along with 65 RBI at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. There’s some swing-and-miss in his game (97 strikeouts in 92 Triple-A games this season), but the power is enticing. Judge arrives red-hot, too, with three home runs and nine RBI in his last five games.
He arrives to a team that’s in the midst of its biggest youth movement in years, too. On the same day the Yanks celebrated their 1996 World Series champion, a squad built on homegrown prospects, its biggest homegrown prospect couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s exciting to see what’s about to unfold here with the Yankees.”