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Inbox: What's the verdict on Judge's pace?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from Yankees fans
May 4, 2017

How many home runs do you think Aaron Judge will hit this year? -- Ethan R., New York, N.Y.I would hate to be a party pooper, but I have to assume that he will not keep up this current pace -- with 13 homers in 104 plate appearances, he's on

How many home runs do you think Aaron Judge will hit this year?
-- Ethan R., New York, N.Y.

I would hate to be a party pooper, but I have to assume that he will not keep up this current pace -- with 13 homers in 104 plate appearances, he's on a clip to hit 77.5 home runs if we assume 620 plate appearances. He can't do that, right? (Right?) After watching Gary Sanchez demolish balls at a historic pace last season, I'm not sure anyone expected to see another performance like that in pinstripes so soon.
To provide some historical context, Judge is just the second Yankees player to hit at least 13 homers through the team's first 26 games of the season. This pace is similar to what we saw in 2007 from Alexander Rodriguez, who hit 14 homers over that span. A-Rod finished that year with 54 homers and was rewarded with his third American League Most Valuable Player Award.
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Manager Joe Girardi keeps saying that he doesn't want to throw numbers out there, because that would put limits on Judge. And you have to assume that at some point teams will alter the way they're pitching to him. Judge has already shown the ability to make adjustments at every level, so he should continue to be productive as long as he's healthy.
That was a long way of saying that I really don't know. No one does -- if the Yankees did, they wouldn't have been so seriously considering having Judge begin the year at Triple-A (and that was indeed a discussion). I'll pick one of Judge's favorite numbers -- 44. Yes, it represents a fall off from the current pace, but he's got a heck of a head start, and I think the Yanks would be pretty happy with that.
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Aside from Judge, who has been the most pleasant surprise?
-- Grady B., via Twitter

Starlin Castro probably isn't getting enough credit. As the numbers stand right now, he leads all qualifying second basemen in the Majors with a .362 average and a .402 on-base percentage, and only Jose Ramirez of the Indians owns a higher OPS (.986) than Castro (.945).
Chase Headley also enjoyed the inverse of last year's April, and the Yankees wouldn't be where they are right now if they hadn't gotten such impressive contributions from their bench -- Austin Romine filling in for Sanchez, Ronald Torreyes for Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks as the fourth outfielder.
Where will Sanchez hit in the lineup when he returns?
-- Dominic P., South Plainfield, N.J.

Girardi has indicated that he is planning on having Sanchez reclaim the No. 2 spot in the order. Sanchez batted second in all five games he played this year before the right biceps injury.
"My inkling is to put him back in the two-hole. I like him in that spot," Girardi said last week. "In a National League city, maybe I do something different, but that's kind of an inkling.''
What do you think happened to Greg Bird between his awesome Spring Training and his immensely slow start?
-- Kat J., Los Angeles

I don't think Bird was healthy after fouling that ball off his right ankle on March 30 in Clearwater, Fla. He refused to use it as an excuse, but the Yanks sent him for an MRI after the first road trip, and that revealed a deep bone bruise. Bird kept playing on it, so it never had a chance to heal.

Some days were likely better than others, but Bird was consistently getting treatment. He also hit into bad luck at times, which would have helped his numbers a little. The good news is that Bird's track record suggests that he will hit when healthy. Now he just needs to get back to that point.
Which veterans are making the biggest off-the-field impact on this successful team?
-- William H., via Twitter

The media obviously isn't there to see everything leading up to first pitch, but just from being around in the spring and through the season's first month, there has been a very positive vibe around this team. Winning has been part of that, as they were rolling in the Grapefruit League and carried that into the regular season after shaking off that 1-4 start.
There have been many references to Matthew Holliday's presence; as a veteran who has played for winning teams and in World Series, having him as an approachable source of knowledge has to be valuable to the younger players in the clubhouse. Brett Gardner, Headley and Carsten Sabathia also come to mind as trusted voices in leadership roles.

With Bird's injury, would Girardi play Romine at first every once in a while?
-- Andre V., Austin, Texas

It's an option. Romine has shown that he's capable, so he's in the mix behind Chris Carter. Rob Refsnyder and Holliday could also see some time over there; even though Holliday didn't play a single inning in the field this spring, he has been regularly taking grounders and will continue to do so.
Jordan Montgomery has the look and poise of a starting pitcher. Would Brian Cashman trade him for an even better pitcher in the rotation?
-- Michael P., Las Vegas, Nev.

You're right in that Montgomery seems to belong at the big league level, and one of the reasons why is because he has found ways to get by despite not having all of his weapons in certain starts. Girardi believes that says a lot about Montgomery, who was supposed to begin the year in Triple-A before he outpitched the competition in the spring.
Cashman isn't in a hurry to trade controllable young starting pitching, but he repeatedly says that he is open to considering anything that makes the roster better. If you were making a list of untouchable players, I don't think Montgomery would be at the top of that list, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him stick around for a while.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for since 2007.