Ex-Yankees CF maestro fears a toll on Aaron Judge in position change

Yankees captain Aaron Judge is with Everson Pereira and Juan Soto at Tampa spring training camp on February 22, 2024.
Inna Zeyger
Friday February 23, 2024

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Yankees legend Bernie Williams, known for his grace and agility in center field, believes the position may be physically more demanding for Aaron Judge compared to right field. This perspective highlights the potential challenges Judge faces, despite his physical prowess.

Nearly two decades after Bernie Williams last patrolled the Yankees outfield, his youthful appearance and smooth voice continue to defy the passing years. Today, in his mid-50s, he’s not donned the pinstripes as a superstar, but rather as a revered figure returning to guide the Yankees’ next generation.

As a four-time Gold Glove award winner, he has a more specific role – to assist the Yankees’ current center fielder, Judge, passing on the knowledge gained from his illustrious career. This passing of the torch, where legends become instructors and young players become students, is a beautiful aspect of baseball, ensuring the game’s legacy thrives through generations.

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Yankees legend Bernie Williams recognizes Aaron Judge’s athleticism and baseball IQ, but highlights the significant challenge of transitioning from right field to center field, even for a player of Judge’s caliber.

Williams acknowledges Judge’s strengths, praising his power, strong throwing arm, and ability to read hitters effectively – qualities that translate well to center field. However, he emphasizes the need for careful management to avoid potential fatigue impacting Judge’s performance later in the season for the Yankees.

“It’s going to be a challenge for Aaron,” Williams said. “You have to move around more. It drains you more than in right field. I wonder if that’s going to take a toll on his conditioning later in the season.

“(The Yankees) really need his offense. So I’m thinking, his time will have to be carefully managed. He needs to be the DH a couple of times a week.”

This shift requires adjustments beyond just covering more ground. Center fielders typically handle faster hitters and more fly balls, demanding greater agility, anticipation, and stamina. Williams’ cautionary note for the Yankees suggests that Judge’s success in this new role hinges on both his adaptability and the team’s strategic approach to managing his workload.

On Wednesday, Williams commented that it would be a challenge for Aaron. He mentioned that moving around more in center field could drain one’s energy more compared to playing in right field. The Yankees CF maestro pondered whether this increased physical demand might have an impact on Judge’s conditioning as the season progresses.

Williams suggested that the Yankees would depend on his offense. He proposed that his time should be managed cautiously, recommending that he should be a designated hitter a couple of times per week.

Judge in center field: Potential challenges for Yankees

Aaron Judge hit three home runs against Arizona at Yankee Stadium on Sept 22, 2023.
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With Giancarlo Stanton currently holding the designated hitter role, Yankees manager Aaron Boone faces a balancing act when it comes to Aaron Judge’s playing time in center field. While this move offers offensive potential, it also raises concerns about fatigue management, especially considering Judge’s recent injury and age.

Stanton’s performance remains a key factor for the Yankees. If his struggles from 2023 continue, the designated hitter role could potentially open up for Judge on occasion, allowing the recently acquired Gold Glove center fielder Trent Grisham to see more playing time. Currently, Grisham serves as a late-inning defensive replacement.

However, until Stanton’s performance stabilizes and Grisham fully integrates into the outfield, Judge is likely to shoulder the majority of the workload in the Yankees center field. While his athleticism is undeniable, the transition to center demands more agility and stamina compared to right field, which could pose challenges for a 32-year-old recovering from a significant injury.

Therefore, Boone faces a delicate task: finding the optimal balance between utilizing Judge’s offensive capabilities in center field and managing his workload to ensure his long-term health and performance. The upcoming Yankees campaign will reveal how he navigates this challenge and its impact on the Yankees’ overall success.

Aaron Judge’s recent comments regarding his injured toe raise questions about his long-term ability to play center field effectively. During a press conference, the Yankees captain acknowledged the possibility of persistent pain and even suggested it might be something he never fully overcomes. This adds another layer of complexity to his transition, already requiring adaptation to a new position.

Prior to the injury, Judge reportedly dealt with knee pain and required regular icing. While his athleticism is undeniable, concerns linger about the frequency of potential setbacks that could limit his playing time.

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Williams mentioned that in right field, one might occasionally bump into the wall, whereas in center field, it involves managing territory every day. He noted that even minor tasks like backing up bases are more demanding in center field.

The second aspect of the equation involves mastering the subtleties of the position. Judge possesses the fundamental tools, such as his exceptional arm strength and ability to take direct routes to fly balls. However, Williams emphasizes that there is still much more for the Yankees captain to learn and assimilate.

Williams remarked that Aaron would need to adopt a “captain of the outfield” mindset. He explained that everything within Aaron’s reach would be his responsibility. Regarding the corners, Williams noted that there’s a limited radius of movement, but the Yankees slugger must learn when to yield and allow the center fielder to take charge. Williams cited Paul O’Neill and Hideki Matsui as excellent examples of players who excelled in this aspect.

“The center fielder also has a different trajectory throwing to home plate. The (pitching) mound is in the way. You don’t have to worry about that in right. And center fielders have to protect against collisions. Communication is important. Aaron is a very big guy. He could hurt someone.”

Williams further commented that the Yankees center fielder encounters a different throwing trajectory when aiming for home plate due to the presence of the pitching mound obstructing the path. This concern isn’t present in right field. Additionally, center fielders must be vigilant to prevent collisions, highlighting the importance of communication. Williams expressed concern, noting that Aaron’s stature poses a risk of causing harm to other Yankees.

Ready to help but with a condition

Official Logo unveiled for Yankees legend Bernie Williams #51 Retirement on May 24, 2015.
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Bernie Williams’ presence at spring training extends beyond simply being a familiar face. While not officially a member of the “Core Four” Yankees, his impressive resume speaks for itself: four World Series rings, five All-Star appearances, and a career batting average of .297.

His consistency was unmatched during his prime, evidenced by eight consecutive seasons with a batting average above .300 from 1995 to 2002. He played a vital role in the iconic 1998 team, widely considered the greatest Yankees squad since 1927. That year, he not only achieved a .339 average, securing the American League batting title, but also contributed significantly with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs.

Williams’ impact goes beyond statistics. His fielding prowess earned him four Gold Glove awards, and his graceful style on the field made him a Yankees fan favorite. His mentorship of young players like Aaron Judge further cements his legacy as more than just a baseball great, but also as a valued member of the Yankees family.

Williams remarked that he hasn’t undergone significant changes. He assured that he wouldn’t intrude on Judge during camp. Regarding assistance, Williams stated that if the Yankees captain would require help, he would be available for whatever the team needs, but he emphasized that he wouldn’t bother Judge unnecessarily.

Williams commented that if the Yankees utilize Judge properly, manage his rest, and keep him fresh, then there will be excitement. He mentioned that it would be enjoyable to watch.

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