NEW YORK -- For fans who've wanted to get a glimpse of the future of the club, Saturday was about as exciting of a day as the Yankees have had all season.
Prior to the 8-4 win against the Rays at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees called up outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Tyler Austin from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In corresponding moves, the Yankees optioned relief pitcher Ben Heller to Triple-A and unconditionally released Alex Rodriguez after he played his farewell game Friday night.
Both Judge and Austin were in the starting lineup Saturday and they played about as well as anyone could've hoped, hitting back-to-back home runs in their first career at-bats to give New York a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
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Judge, the Yankees' No. 4 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, went 2-for-4, adding a single. His home run bounced off the top of the glass in center field above Monument Park, making him just the third player to hit a ball there in the history of the new Yankee Stadium. Judge flashed both power and his ability to make contact with the RailRiders this season, hitting .270 with 19 home runs and 18 doubles in 93 games.
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After the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi explained what he thinks has led to Judge's resurgence after a lackluster Spring Training. Much like Gary Sánchez, who has recorded four extra-base hits and four RBIs in eight games since his callup after the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Judge was trying too hard. But now that's he's been able to let go, he's been much more dominant.
"I think he was trying to please everyone in a sense," Girardi said. "There were a lot of people talking to him. And that can be difficult for a young player because a lot of people want to help you, but you have to be able to say this is my plan and this is where I'm going."
Not to be outdone, Austin posted the same line as Judge and also added a stolen base. Austin hit .323 with 13 home runs and a 1.051 OPS in Triple-A this season. He's been a high-ranking Yankees prospect since 2013, but he has seen his stock dwindle in the past few seasons, mostly due to a nagging wrist injury, though he insists that is behind him. Austin began the 2016 season with Double-A Trenton before making the move to Triple-A. It was after that transition that Austin said he realized he had a chance to make it to the Majors this season, thanks in large part to the consistency of his approach.
"I'm just not trying to do too much," Austin said. "I'm staying within my approach with everything and not getting out of that. Trying to stay as consistent as I can be."
General manager Brian Cashman said he's excited whenever prospects get called up, but especially so with "high-profile guys" like Judge and Austin. Cashman gave his vote of confidence to Judge, saying he expects the prospect to slot in as an everyday outfielder. He was not as gung-ho about Austin's role, saying that first base is still Mark Teixeira's position until he retires at the end of the season, but Austin is also capable of playing in right field and left field, as well as third base in "emergency situations," as Girardi said.
The callups of Judge and Austin seem particularly poetic Saturday as the Yankees honored their 1996 World Series championship club. That '96 team included homegrown talent like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, players who helped lead the Yankees to four World Series victories in five seasons.
Girardi said he wants Judge, Austin, Sanchez, Luis Severino and all of the Yankees' young players to take notice of those Yankees legends.
"I think it's good for them to think about it. I think it's good for them to know how much confidence we have in them," Girardi said. "This is a group that doesn't take it for granted, and I think it's good for them to be here today to see that these guys were young, these guys performed at a high level and they had a long run. Let's go do the same thing."