Aaron Judge has emerged as a relatively controversial Yankee prospect during ranking season. The former 1-3 prospect was ranked by MLB.com at #4. Baseball America at #6, Baseball Prospectus #7, and John Sickels had back at #10.
This after a successful Triple-A campaign and a lackluster MLB call up in August and September. So, is Aaron Judge any good? Here are the arguments for and against.
He's Good: Aaron Judge Has Massive Physical Tools, Good Baseball IQ
Aaron Judge isn't just a big guy; he's a tank. Judge is more athletic than your average big guy, and uses it on the baseball field. He hits the ball as hard and as far as anyone in baseball when he hits the ball. On defense, Judge is an able defender in right.
Despite his size, he has shown the ability to adjust to pitching as he was promoted through the minor leagues. At Triple-A, he hit a 96 wOBA+ with a 29% strikeout rate in 2015, then improved to a 120 wOBA+ with a 24% strikeout rate in 2016.
It's not hard to imagine what a successful Aaron Judge career looks like: Mark Trumbo with better defense. Judge could be very valuable with a 110 wOBA+. In his best years, he might hit something like 275/.360/.540 with 40 bombs. Not bad.
He's Not Good: Big Swing, Big Strike Zone
Aaron Judge is a really big guy. Guys his size rarely hit well in the major leagues. Aaron Judge is the tallest outfielder in MLB history. The other notable 6'8" hitters are Tony Clark and Richie Sexson, although Frank Howard at 6'7" is notable. Sexson and Clark suffered from the same problem: they could hit for power, but would strike out too much.
Modern baseball strikeout rates make this problem worse. Pitchers have more tools to attack a hitter than they used to. Judge's huge swing and strike zone are a massive liability. Even during his best years, Sexson was at best a 3-win player. Judge's defense can make up some of that ground, but he has to maximize everything he can out of his body.
My Take: Judge is a Stealth Medium-Ceiling, Medium-Risk Player
I think the common take on Aaron Judge is that he is a lottery ticket: a future 45 home run player, or a future 40% strikeout rate flame out. I believe this is wrong. Judge's minor league strikeout rates were always manageable, and approaching average in 2016. However, his power also never really took off. Sure, Judge could hit a 450 ft home run like Giancarlo Stanton, but he never flashed even 35 HR power in the minors. Judge can't afford to sell out for power, or at least hasn't made that calculation so far in his career. This both limits his potential and should allow him to be productive. He might surprise us by looking at the plate more like early career Josh Reddick than anything else. Combine that with good defense defense, and I think Judge could be a pretty solid 25 HR, 3-win player. I don't think he'll ever be a star, but that's still a pretty good prospect. He has more risks than your average prospect likely to make the MLB roster next season, but he's still safer than pretty much any High-A prospect out there.