TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Judge’s baptism into the big leagues could not have gone much better.
Or have been much more dramatic.
The rightfielder had two hits in an 8-4 Yankees victory over the Rays last Aug. 13 on a warm and sunny afternoon at the Stadium, including a home run in his first career at-bat, a massive shot to dead center on a 1-and-2 pitch (fellow rookie Tyler Austin preceded Judge’s blast with his own homer, also in his first career at-bat).
In many ways, the 6-7, 275-pound Judge saw his season peak right there.
Though Judge homered a day later, he finished the season with a .179/.263/.345 slash line with four homers and 10 RBIs. More alarmingly to quite a few in the organization, he struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats, including 25 strikeouts in his final 44 at-bats.
Though Judge often in public projected a lack of concern with the strikeout total — “It’s all part of the game,” he said more than once — he recognized it as a problem.
“It’s not good,” Judge said Thursday after reporting to the club’s minor-league complex. “I don’t want to strike out, nobody does. But it’s just something I have to work on. The more consistent I get at the plate, the more consistent I get with my mechanics, I feel like those will kind of work themselves out.”
Judge didn’t waste much time before getting to work on 2017, beginning his preparations in November. His winter included a trip to New York to work with hitting coach Alan Cockrell and time spent in recent weeks in his native California with Luke Scott, who played in the majors from 2005-13.
“He played [nine] years in the big leagues so he must have been doing something right,” Judge said of Scott, who is represented by the same agency. “Getting a chance to pick his brain the past couple weeks has been beneficial.”
Having spent less than two months in the majors, Judge appreciated the offseason time he spent with Cockrell, as well as assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames, who watched the outfielder take batting practice Thursday.
“What I like about AC is he speaks my language,” said Judge, who with a rough spring could start the season in Triple-A with perhaps Aaron Hicks getting the nod in right. “You get coaches sometimes that speak a different language and it’s kind of hard to communicate with them, hard to work with them. With AC, Marcus . . . we speak the same language about drills, mechanics, everything.”
Thames said the biggest issue he saw from Judge last season was swinging at too many pitches outside of the strike zone.
“I thought he started expanding a little bit too much,” Thames said. “At the big-league level the game’s a little bit more physical, it’s a little bit faster and I thought it sped up on him a little bit and he started expanding.”
Thames added: “He really went and did some work this winter. We’ll see how it plays out, but I am confident if he can slow himself down so he can see the baseball better, I think he’s going to be fine.”
Notes & quotes: The signing of 1B/OF/DH Chris Carter, should be announced soon as the veteran was spotted early Thursday morning at the minor-league complex. When Carter, who agreed to a one-year, $3.5-million deal on Tuesday, passes his physical, the deal will become official . . . Closer Aroldis Chapman is expected to arrive in Tampa Friday night . . . Highly touted prospect Jorge Mateo, who has played mostly shortstop but also a bit at second in his minor-league career, did some work at third Thursday. The 21-year-old received some playing time in centerfield during instructional league last fall.