Something happened to Aaron Judge between the end of the 2016 season and Opening Day the following April. And that type of metamorphosis — making the transition from treading water in the big leagues to Rookie of the Year, a 52-homer machine worthy of second place in the MVP race — likely requires more than a few things.
One of those game-changing factors is nine-year veteran Luke Scott, who turns 40 in three months and was last seen fine-tuning his swing during the MLBPA’s unemployed free-agent camp in Bradenton, which closed Friday.
During a three-year stretch with the Orioles from 2008-10, Scott averaged 25 home runs and batted .266 with an .845 OPS. The pinnacle of his baseball achievements, however, may be taking place right now every time Judge steps to the plate.
The two were introduced through their common agent when Judge was the Yankees’ first-round draft pick in 2013, but Scott’s most significant impact on his friend came a little more than a year ago, when he believes he “unlocked” the swing codes of some of the game’s greatest sluggers, such as Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera.
“I texted him after the season in 2016,” Scott said. “He struggled, so I reached out and told him, ‘Hey, I got a revelation about hitting that is going to change your life, and I just want to share it with you. You need to make some time for me.’ ”
Scott relayed this story Thursday as we walked off the field at the IMG Academy after he played first base during a scrimmage at the MLBPA camp. The next step was to ask Judge about Scott’s hitting tutorials, and Judge gave him credit for helping with his remarkable offensive turnaround. Judge still considers him a personal guru of sorts, as the two stay in touch, and the relationship appears to be working out pretty well.
“He’s an interesting guy,” Judge said of Scott on Saturday. “I didn’t know some of that stuff until watching video that offseason.”
Judge previously had talked about studying Bonds and Cabrera to prepare for his breakthrough year, but Scott’s role never came up until a few days ago. As Scott described the swing mechanics, he also displayed the movements on a patch of grass at IMG, putting down his equipment bag to pick up a bat. He was more excited about talking about the weight shift and barrel angle than competing in the scrimmage.
“I discovered that the elite players, they all do three things, and they’re all very consistent at it,” Scott said. “The way their body moves and how they get to that point with no wasted energy. So I shared it with Aaron. I just worked with him a little bit, showed him these movements, and stuff like that. Taught him how to use it up there, like: This is how you want to set up, get on plane and use this weapon effectively. I’m happy to see the success that he’s had.”
On Sunday, Judge drilled his first homer of spring training — a tremendous shot to left-center in his 16th exhibition at-bat — in a 7-5 loss to the Marlins.
Scott finished his own career with 135 home runs, including a single-season best of 27 in 2010. At 6 feet and 220 pounds, Scott doesn’t have the massive build and strength of Judge, who is 6-7, 282, so there is a different body type to account for in transferring this information. Scott acknowledged the advanced level of difficulty for someone the size of Judge, who at least now has a 6-6 teammate to compare notes with in Giancarlo Stanton.
Judge struck out in 42 of his 84 at-bats for the Yankees in 2016. A year later, he became a must-see slugger. Among the multitude of people who have helped Judge get where he is, Scott seems to have played a big role.
Now that Judge’s fame has skyrocketed and the demands on him have increased, Scott continues to be only a text away, and Judge still touches base for advice or whatever else might come up.
“He went from the prison to the palace,” Scott said. “His world has changed drastically. He’s got a lot of things going on, and I reach out to him if I see something or there’s something I feel like I can help him with. New York is the mecca and he’s the face of baseball right now, so he’s being bombarded. But he’s a very humble man — a good-quality, high-character guy — so he’s going to do really well.”