DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Aaron Judge unpacked his bags this spring with the support of the most important voice in the Yankees' hierarchy, with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner saying that he expected the big-swinging prospect to be his starting right fielder this season.Despite that vote of confidence, Judge could begin
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Aaron Judge unpacked his bags this spring with the support of the most important voice in the Yankees' hierarchy, with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner saying that he expected the big-swinging prospect to be his starting right fielder this season.
Despite that vote of confidence, Judge could begin the year in the Minor Leagues. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Wednesday that the organization still has not made a decision on the open competition between Judge and Aaron Hicks, with that announcement expected to be made on Thursday.
"We've got to decide, is it Hicks or Judge in that situation?" Girardi said after the Yankees' 3-1 win over the Blue Jays. "When you look at Aaron Judge, you don't want him to sit. So if we don't think there's enough at-bats for him, that would be the thing that would keep him off the team. But that's not what I'm saying."
Rated as the Yankees' No. 4 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, Judge went 2-for-3 with a run scored, an RBI and a stolen base against Toronto. Judge has hit .345/.406/.569 with three homers and six RBIs in 23 Grapefruit League games.
After striking out in half of his 84 big league at-bats last year, Judge has improved his contact rate, tallying 13 whiffs in 58 spring at-bats.
"Now it's my second time coming around, so I'm seeing the same pitchers a little bit, just getting comfortable in this position," Judge said. "It's a process. It's going to be a long process."
Hicks' spring numbers -- .264/.361/.528 with three homers and seven RBIs in 23 games -- are not as gaudy as Judge's, but the Yankees believe Hicks plays better with regular opportunities. They also like his defensive versatility.
"I think defense is always important, but Aaron Judge is a good outfielder too," Girardi said. "I think Hicks might have a leg up out there just because he's got a little more speed, but Aaron Judge is a pretty good outfielder."
Girardi said the Yanks would not use Judge as a bench player, but that a rotation system could be in play. If both Hicks and Judge make the roster, their roles will be made clear.
For now, with 670 Triple-A plate appearances already under his belt, Judge said that he does not know if he has done enough to avoid a return trip to the Minors.
"I can't really worry about that," Judge said. "If I go to Double-A, High-A, it doesn't matter. I'm going to go out there and play baseball, have fun and everything will work out the way it's supposed to."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.