Judge expected to bat 3rd, play CF in 2024

January 26th, 2024

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With fewer than three weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, Fla., the Yankees are dropping hints as to what the team’s new-look lineup will mean for .

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has said that he envisions Judge occupying the No. 3 spot in the lineup, batting behind Juan Soto, while playing the majority of his innings in center field.

“I think about it all the time,” Boone said during an appearance on the Foul Territory podcast. “Right now, you’ll probably [see] Juan in the two-hole and Judge third. … I think you start with the idea that hopefully Judge and Soto are hitting back to back over 150 times this year.”

Boone said that the club’s leadoff hitter is yet to be determined, though he listed DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres and Alex Verdugo as possible options.

But the skipper appears to be locked in on the opportunities that Judge could see by batting behind Soto, who led the Majors with 132 walks last season for the Padres. Soto’s .410 on-base percentage ranked third in the Majors, behind only Ronald Acuña Jr. (.416) and Shohei Ohtani (.412).

“First and foremost, you start with the pillars,” Boone said. “I see Aaron and Soto hitting back to back; whether one is [No.] 2 and one is [No. 3], I’m not quite sure yet. It may depend on who actually is hitting in that leadoff spot; who is hitting in the four-hole and beyond.

“I think one of the exciting things about the potential of our lineup this year is the balance we’re going to have with upwards of four or five lefties in the lineup, so you can really alternate things.”

Soto recently said that he is open to whatever lineup spot that Boone and the Yankees believe he would fit best.

“Whatever spot they need me, I’ve got to be ready for,” Soto said. “Whatever spot in the lineup, whatever position they want me to play, I’ve got to be right there for them. I’m open to do it anytime. Definitely, we’re going to discuss that when we get to Tampa in Spring Training.”

From a defensive standpoint, Judge is expected to be the Opening Day starter in center field, flanked by Verdugo and Soto. Trent Grisham, who projects as the club’s fourth outfielder, has won two Gold Glove Awards and could see frequent playing time as a late-inning replacement.

Verdugo is considered a better defensive corner outfielder than Soto, so he’ll likely see most of his time in left field, especially at Yankee Stadium. However, with the Yankees opening the season against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, Soto might be the Opening Day left fielder, with Verdugo patrolling the more spacious right field there.

Judge was drafted as a center fielder, calling the position “the best view in the house.” He has played 120 big league games in center field, including 112 starts.

During his 2022 American League MVP campaign, Judge made more appearances in center field (78) than right field (73), though he played only 18 games at the position during the 2023 season.

Boone indicated that Judge will be his primary option in center field, at least until Jasson Domínguez returns from Tommy John surgery sometime in the summer.

“I’m planning on playing Judge in center a lot,” Boone said. “He’s preparing for it now. The one thing is, when I play him in center, I tend to use the DH with him a little bit more often. If he’s playing most days in center field, especially with Trent Grisham on the roster now, who’s an elite defender and [adds] more of that balance -- he’ll obviously get some reps out there. I can use the DH for Judge there sometimes.

“I’ve even talked to Judge about playing a little bit of left field on a certain day when I want to get Grisham in the outfield, which he’s open to.”