Probably to the dismay of a number of Yankees fans, the starting RF competition has continued on into the wee hours of spring. What may have seemed early on like a clear win for Aaron Judge, competitor Aaron Hicks has done everything he can to make it a heated battle.
But what gives? Why in the world wouldn’t Joe Girardi and the Yankees want Judge as their starting right fielder? They’ve tried the Aaron Hicks experiment before and failed. Well, the truth is there are a fair number of reasons to consider both candidates. Let’s break it down.
Judge and Hicks are both having pretty solid springs. Judge has done a great job cutting down on strikeouts and showing off power while Hicks has displayed power and great defense. Both have an OPS over .900.
The issue here with Hicks is he’s typically been a strong spring performer, but unfortunately for him that hasn’t really translated to the regular season. Give Judge credit for doing everything the Yankees asked of him; he adjusted his swing and cut down on his strikeouts. Based on spring stats alone, it’s hard to argue one player launched ahead of the other.
This can be a little tricky since the majority of Judge’s stats come from the minors, along with one terrible big league stint, though Hicks hasn’t done much in the majors either. Both players had solid prospect pedigree, with Hicks being ranked in the top 100 prospects by multiple organizations from 2009 – 2013. Judge has been ranked in the top 100 each of the last two years.
Hicks sports a career .223 batting average and a total of just 28 home runs. Maybe he’s fast? He’s swiped 29 bags and been caught stealing 13 times. Not all that great. In the minors he’s been better with a .276 batting average across eight seasons, but still just 36 home runs.
Before Judge’s terrible major league debut, he had put up nice numbers in the minors. Similar to Brett Gardner when he was coming up, Judge usually took a year to master a level, performing poorly upon initial promotion. For example, in 2015 when Judge was called up to AAA he sported a .224 batting average with eight home runs, yet the next season in just 30 more games he raked to a .270 average with 19 home runs. His career minor stats include a .278 batting average and 56 home runs across just three seasons.
Judge certainly has more pedigree and the higher ceiling, as well as a better track record throughout the minors. Neither has yet to perform consistently in the majors.
Hicks is the better defender of the two. His cannon of an arm has been on highlight reels, he covers more ground in the outfield, and can play some center field. Judge projects as an average defender suited for the corner outfield and not much else. His arm is supposed to be above average but not on the level of Hicks.
Minor League Options
Pretty simple here. Judge has minor league options remaining and Hicks doesn’t. If Judge wins the job, Hicks will become the fourth outfielder where we know he’s been inconsistent. If Hicks wins the job, he’ll have a chance to show he can perform when given consistent at-bats and Judge will head to AAA to continue developing. The questions here are does Judge has anything left to learn in Scranton and can Hicks perform well on an everyday basis? I’m not sure of either answer, and the Yankees might not be sure yet either.
Given where the Yankees are in their retooling process, I think it makes the most sense to give the job to Aaron Judge. The Yankees should be developing their major prospects now and going through the growing pains to see what they have before they really start contending again. I think Hicks could still be a decent everyday outfielder, but his future with the Yankees makes less sense than Judge. Hicks doesn’t really have a role with the team moving forward, either as a veteran presence or a rising star.