Let me preface this hot take by explicitly stating my aversion to hot takes. My reticence to author them is arguably a detriment to my job performance as the tepid, clear-eyed takes garner so much less traffic.
With that said, here’s one. Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees’ gigantic slugger, will exceed even the highest expectations set for him, health permitting. He will emerge as one of the top three players in Major League Baseball over the next 10 years and will be a perennial contender for the MVP award.
The Yankees have long pined after Bryce Harper and have been rumored to be willing to pay dearly to get him. They’ll soon realize they have an outfielder with similar quality in Judge. He’ll become the next King of New York, filling in the space departed by Derek Jeter admirably.
Now, granted, he has all of 279 Major League at-bats to his name and building long-term expectations on such a small sample size is to get caught up in the moment. Luckily, I’m not basing this scorcher on only three of those.
Set aside for a moment the fact Judge leads the American League in average (.344), home runs (21) and RBI (47), that he appears a lock to win the Rookie of the Year Award and, more importantly, is the leader in the clubhouse for the MVP. Set aside that he could push for a Triple Crown. His comparative stats speak for themselves.
This take is built on gut feeling and the eye test as much as any empirical data. Sure, the glowing way those in the Yankees organization speak about Judge’s mental makeup is a helpful look behind the curtain. And sure, it’s easy to see the potential when a guy posts a 121 mph exit velocity on a laser of a home run.
Seeing Judge in person, as I did on Sunday, though, was arresting. His 495-foot home run in the sixth inning is one of the most impressive things I’ve witnessed in over 30 years of watching baseball. The absolute, palpable sense of disbelief that swept across the stadium was chill-inducing.
Strangers turned to each other and conducted a peer review on their sanity, making sure everyone saw the ball land near the left-center field scoreboard.
For an encore, Judge blasted a 402-foot homer to right-center in his next at-bat on a pitch mere mortals serve into the gap for a single or double if they’re lucky.
These two astounding highlights are powerful. But perhaps the reason I’m most sold on Judge’s staying power is an otherwise pedestrian, opposite-field single in the first. Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman got in on Judge’s hands — way in. The 6-foot-7, 282 slugger managed to hit it over the first baseman’s head with surprising force.
I am not sure even Miguel Cabrera, the gold standard of righthanded hitting, would have had the power to do this. I’m not sure anyone else would have been able to single.
Judge’s enormous size and power will always be there. He has a seemingly endless reserve to draw upon. There will be struggles once opposing pitchers develop a book on him. But his might affords him such a wide margin for error. His mishits become liners and his liners become lasers. His 96 mph average exit velocity is the highest in the game and he leads the majors in barrelling up the baseball.
The numbers are there. They eye test was passed in flying colors.
Ergo I’m willing to stand behind this take, even if it’s too early. Judge reminds me of a young Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez — only bigger and stronger. My gut tells me this excellence isn’t a flash in the pan.
Judge is already a superstar — and will be for years to come. At 25, he’s getting a late start on a path to Cooperstown. I still think he’ll get there.
Hot take: made.