Baseball being a game of numbers, one can get lost in them, even bored by them sometimes. There are all sorts of impressive stats in this age of the statistical deep dive.
But there’s always those moments that can make you pause. A moment like that came on a late April day when the Yankees were playing the White Sox. Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, a guy, built a lot, almost comically, like an action figure, stepped to the plate and unloaded for a home run.
448 feet, they said. It went 448 feet.
The home run that all of baseball seemed to be talking about was the third-longest in Yankees Stadium history, per Statcast.
Folks, we’re not done here.
Days later, Judge took a ball even further; this time, on the road at PNC Park, home of the Pirates. That ball traveled 457 feet. That made it six home runs in just 16 games of the 2017 season.
That same week, the Yankees got word that top prospect Gleyber Torres was going to be just fine and would be off the DL shortly. As April came to a close, Torres was activated from the DL, and immediately marked his return with a three-run, game-tying home run for the Trenton Thunder. In his next three games, he knocked in six runs, hitting .321/.410/.491. After a slow puttering start to the season, and a brief trip to the DL, those difficult days seemed to be behind him.
Judge came to the Yankees by way of the 2013 MLB Draft (32nd overall pick). He was set to make his debut in Short Season-A ball with the Staten Island Yankees, but we waited and waited, and he never made his appearance. A torn quad muscle kept him sidelined for all of 2013. He finally made his pro debut with Class-A Charleston in 2014. He made quick work of the SAL and was promoted to High-A Tampa, where he ended the season hitting eight home runs and followed up with a Spring Training invite to big league camp the next season.
Torres wasn’t part of the picture until he came via trade from the Cubs, and he made a fast impression with High-A Tampa. He finished the 2016 campaign hitting .270 with 11 home runs and 66 RBI. When an MLB team trades for youth, it’s understood that development can take its sweet time. But Torres is what teams HOPE they’ll get instead: a fast learner, a teachable student, a player who’ll make them look brilliant by design.
With the departure of players that defined an era, the Yankees are re-defining in a way that many of this generation aren’t entirely familiar with. Yes, they haven’t won a World Series Championship since 2009, also their last American League pennant, which seems like forever to young fans in the Jeter-era. Even their least AL Eastern Division title seems so long ago, back in 2012.
The mythical Yankees are very human in the end, and in the process of reshaping and shifting, hoping to produce a new era of Yankees baseball, with players who could have maximum impact. The team’s brass and fans watch as new superstars emerge; those that fill out that Yankees mold, and, beyond that, players who will bring them back to a World Series championship. There was a time when it was expected, and anything less than that was a failure.
Enter Judge. And, potentially, Torres.
Torres stepped fully into the spotlight in a Tampa lineup that got more attention for shortstop Jorge Mateo. But Torres, the less flashy of the two, consistently caught the eye. His grittiness, aggression, power, and athleticism made him a force that helped keep Tampa competitive all season. He’s continued to get notice for his approach to the game with Trenton.
In an early-season series against the Erie Seawolves, Torres hit a game-tying, three-run home run, singled in a run, and stole a base (he now has four on the season). The stolen base was particularly definitive of one of Torres strengths, his aggressiveness.
“The thing that jumps out at me the most is the style with which he plays the game,” said Thunder broadcaster Jon Mozes. “He showed the entire package,” Mozes added, about the impressive Erie performance.
As Torres ups his game in the minor leagues, Judge continues to pose himself as a Yankee for the ages. Yeah, sure, the hype is big right now. But so is everything he’s doing.
Judge’s career has been marked with all that we’re bearing witness to now, particular power at the plate and a strong mentality. From early on in his time in the organization, he’s received high marks for his “special makeup,” in the words of one Yankees scout. And of his other outstanding quality, the scout is firm in his observation.
“That power is real.”
While Judge rises, Torres shows flashes of what he’ll become. But the flashes are exciting. Something powerful appears to be coming in the not-so-distant Yankees future.