Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge, left, and Juan Soto.

Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge, left, and Juan Soto. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Judge has spent the majority of his career as the Yankees' No. 2 hitter, the piece of real estate typically reserved for a team’s most dangerous bat.

Judge won the American League MVP from that spot in 2022, a performance that included 62 home runs. He also earned himself a nine-year, $360 million contract in the process.

But now, only a few days into spring training, Judge is ready — no, eager — to vacate his home in the Yankees’ lineup, preferring a switch to No. 3 instead. He’s told manager Aaron Boone as much, and when asked about the move Tuesday, the captain sounded more than happy to drop himself in the order.

Of course, having Juan Soto on board is a huge factor. And even though Boone has yet to plot a lineup course for the regular season, Judge is lobbying for the switch, a career adjustment that presumably would put Soto, an on-base percentage cyborg, in his former No. 2 perch.

“For me, it was really about just trying to find the best way to have the best lineup,” Judge said. “It might be a little old-school thinking on my part, because that’s some of the guys I watched growing up hitting third, and the run producers were No. 3 and 4. I don’t know why it means so much to me. I just wanted to find a way to help the team any way I can. And if that’s me hitting third, I’ll hit third.”

Judge initially mentioned having “speedsters” in front of him to help generate more run production, but then talked about DJ LeMahieu in the leadoff spot and Soto right behind him -- not exactly burners, those two. But positioning a two-time batting champ atop the order, followed by Soto’s uncanny ability to wear out a pitcher by squeezing the strike zone? That could supercharge Judge back to his MVP levels. Or even beyond those numbers, when you consider having more traffic on the bases in front of him, as well as spiking a starter’s anxiety levels, increasing the chances of a costly mistake.

While it’s widely acknowledged that the Judge-Soto combo instantly gives the Yankees perhaps the most lethal 1-2 punch in the sport, how the pair would be arranged could be open to debate. Boone said Tuesday that balance is always something to consider in regards to how he wanted to alternate his righty-lefty bats in the top half of the order (the lefty-hitting Alex Verdugo is another leadoff option). But if Boone was concerned about unseating Judge from his familiar perch, the slugger preemptively put his manager at ease by embracing the No. 3 slot — a real captain move, clearly.

“I do feel like they’re interchangeable in those two-three spots,” Boone said. As for Judge’s potential to do more damage with Soto ahead of him — maybe even eclipsing that ’22 MVP —the manager hesitated to put too much emphasis on that specific part of the lineup.

“It could lend itself to more run-producing situations for [Judge],” Boone said. “That would be the hope. He’s hit some third for us in the past. But really, it depends on the depth of our lineup. A lot of times those numbers — runs scored, RBIs — have a lot to do with what’s around you. And I think we have a chance to have something really strong around him. And hopefully, along with that, you’ll see those numbers get a little bit gaudy.”

For Judge’s career, he’s spent 529 games batting in his customary No. 2 spot, where he’s hit .282 with a .992 OPS over 2,370 plate appearances. Down at third, Judge dips some to .272 and .926, respectively, over 164 games and 708 plate appearances.

Where Judge inflicts the most pain to opposing teams? Batting leadoff. It’s a relatively small sample size, at only 36 games (161 PAs) total, but Judge has hit .352 with a 1.177 OPS atop the order. Overall, Judge is a wrecking ball wherever he swings, and Soto’s presence — for myriad reasons — should only enhance his impact.

“He’s a generational talent,” Judge said. “What he brings to the game, in that box, he’s got such a great demeanor — the swagger, and the focus. Every single pitch, he’s prepared. Some of those takes he has, I feel like he’s so prepared, he almost has a read on what the pitcher is going to throw right out of his hand.”

Judge talked Tuesday about learning from Soto, an education that got underway shortly after the Yankees acquired him in December, as the two had numerous phone conversations before arriving in Tampa. Since then, they’ve hung around the batting cage, with the well-decorated Judge studying Soto like a pupil. On top of all the on-field benefits Soto provides teeing things up for Judge in the No. 3 spot, the shared knowledge between the two, the combined intel, makes the duo even scarier by the time they step to the plate.

“We both know the strike zone pretty well,” Soto said. “It’s either going to be two walks or two [liners in the gaps]. If I’m hitting in front of him, I’m going to try to be as much as I can on the bases, so he can do his job and drop the hammer to the ball.”

That’s what the Yankees have been dreaming about since December. Not only what Soto can deliver, but the boost to Judge, who just got more intimidating. As hard as that may be to comprehend.

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