Willits set to work with Stanton, Judge in LF

Former Major League outfielder will instruct Yankees' duo on defense

February 8th, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. -- This spring, the Yankees plan to test the comfort levels of both and in left field, a task that is set to fall under the responsibilities of new first-base coach and outfield instructor Reggie Willits.

Willits has been promoted to the big league staff after three years as the club's Minor League outfield and baserunning coordinator, and he believes that manager Aaron Boone will find ways to help Judge and Stanton co-exist in the same defensive alignment.

"It's going to be exciting," said Willits, who played six seasons as a switch-hitting Angels outfielder from 2006-11. "Everybody asks that question like it's a problem. It's not a problem at all. It's a pretty big blessing."

Though Judge was drafted as a center fielder, he has played almost his entire professional career -- including all 1,454 2/3 of his Major League innings in 168 regular-season games over the past two years -- in right. Stanton has played all but one big league inning in right field, logging 8,259 innings over 942 games in eight seasons with the Marlins.

Willits said that though he has yet to work with Stanton, he has reviewed video of the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner and came away with the impression that he's a strong defensive outfielder.

"Everything I've heard is that his work ethic is off the charts and his attention to detail is good," Willits said. "With Judge, I have no doubt that if he had to pick it up, the way his mentality is, it's not a matter of if he will get something, it's just a matter of how long it takes him, because he's got that kind of work ethic."

Boone has said that he plans to rotate Judge, Stanton and catcher in the designated hitter spot. is expected to start the majority of games in left field, with envisioned as the starter in center. Boone has said that it would increase roster flexibility if Judge and/or Stanton could handle left field on occasion.

In general terms, Willits said that the most challenging aspect of moving from right field to left would be adjusting to the way baseballs cut toward the line, requiring the fielder to pick up that reverse slice. Angles, throws and fielding grounders would also be part of the equation, as well as the spacious dimensions of Yankee Stadium's left field.

"It's going to take some time to learn to do it," Willits said. "It's going to take time to see repetitions of a ball moving a certain way. It's pretty similar. It's just going to take repetitions. The kind of work ethic that both of those guys have, I think they're going to pick it up pretty well."

General manager Brian Cashman recently outlined a scenario where the Yankees could sit Gardner against a tough left-hander, like Chris Sale of the Red Sox at Fenway Park, then have Stanton play left field in front of the Green Monster while Judge patrolled the more spacious right-field area.

"The beautiful thing about it is, the outfielders that we have, they're all-in on winning," Willits said. "With guys doing roles that may be a little bit different, when you've got guys that are all-in and just care about winning, it sure makes it a lot easier."