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1 year ago, Judge's eye-popping HR set stage

Revisiting rookie sensation's first spring blast, rise to stardom
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- The phrase "All Rise" had yet to be linked to the rookie outfielder with the hulking football build, to say nothing of a dedicated seating area that debuted at Yankee Stadium three months later, celebrating both his immense power and fan appeal.

Yet we should have known that Aaron Judge was about to accomplish special things. It was one year ago today, Feb. 24, 2017, that Judge dropped jaws with a monstrous home run that clanged off of George M. Steinbrenner Field's scoreboard in the Yankees' first home game of the spring.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The phrase "All Rise" had yet to be linked to the rookie outfielder with the hulking football build, to say nothing of a dedicated seating area that debuted at Yankee Stadium three months later, celebrating both his immense power and fan appeal.

Yet we should have known that Aaron Judge was about to accomplish special things. It was one year ago today, Feb. 24, 2017, that Judge dropped jaws with a monstrous home run that clanged off of George M. Steinbrenner Field's scoreboard in the Yankees' first home game of the spring.

Spring info | Tickets | Schedule

The fifth-inning blast off of Phillies left-hander Elniery Garcia was an appetizer for the greatness to come. MLB.com is marking the first anniversary of that moment with remembrances of that swing and the ones that followed for the reigning American League Rookie of the Year.

Judge, outfielder: "I was still thinking about my first at-bat, taking a first-pitch strike and getting behind, and eventually striking out that first at-bat. I told myself just going into it, 'Hey, if that first pitch is there, you're in a game. Compete! If he leaves it right in the middle, take a good swing at it.'"

Garcia challenged Judge with a 93-mph, first-pitch fastball, a little above belt-high. Judge was ready.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Judge: "I took a good swing, and it was a hot spring day here in Tampa, with the wind blowing out. I was able to get it off that Budweiser sign."

Phillies left fielder Tyler Goeddel and center fielder Roman Quinn hardly moved in pursuit, while catcher Andrew Knapp craned his neck for a better view. In the Yankees' dugout, most of Judge's teammates marveled.

Luis Severino, pitcher: "I was here. I've been playing with him since maybe 2014, so I'm used to seeing those kinds of homers. I wasn't that impressed for that. I've seen it before."

Tyler Wade, infielder: "When you're that strong and that big and you can connect with the ball when you haven't seen pitching in six months, and you can do that, that's pretty special."

Austin Romine, catcher: "I'm sure everybody was talking about it throughout the camp. Any time somebody hits the ball really far, everybody talks about it."

Judge: "The longest one I got here, I think I got one over the scoreboard, but I think that was in batting practice. I don't even know. The wind was blowing out, too, so it probably pushed it out a little bit."

Judge homered in his first Major League at-bat on Aug. 13, 2016, going back-to-back with Tyler Austin off the Rays' Matt Andriese, but his first taste of the big leagues produced mixed results. Judge hit .179 with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats before sustaining a season-ending oblique injury. Returning home to California, Judge etched ".179" atop the notes folder of his iPhone, vowing to use the digits as fuel for his winter workouts.

Video: TB@NYY: Statcast™ on Judge's 446-foot milestone homer

Greg Bird, first baseman: "Early on in spring, I would just check in with him. He would tell me, 'I'm ready. I'm good.' There was a lot of chatter last spring for him, in general. He would say, 'I'm good.' That was all I needed to hear from him."

Judge: "In the offseason, the work I was putting in, how my body was feeling -- I knew that the way my swing was feeling, we had a chance to do something special. You're never given anything, especially with the season I had before that. There were a lot of question marks. I knew I had a chance of making this team. I just wanted to go out there and prove it and give it my best shot, and just leave everything out on the table. Through all the hard work in the offseason, I felt like I had a pretty good chance of doing something."

Wade: "When I see a guy like that work so hard, I can see it progressively getting better and better throughout the spring in his at-bats. I was like, 'It's only a matter of time before it clicks,' and it did. Be yourself and just work hard. Don't let anyone outwork you. I asked him this year, 'Hey, I'm kind of in the same situation you were last year -- you came off a tough rookie year. What was your mindset?' He goes, 'Dude, just come in and work your butt off. Just stick to the process and things are going to work out.'"

The homer was one of three Judge hit in the spring of 2017, batting .333/.391/.540 in 25 games as he edged Aaron Hicks (.268/.379/.518) and was named the Yankees' Opening Day right fielder.

Video: NYY@PHI: Judge cranks opposite-field solo home run

Brian Cashman, general manager: "I'd say halfway through camp, Hicks was winning by a hair. The last two or three weeks of camp, Hicks didn't necessarily lose it as much as Judge took it. That wasn't false conversations. If Hicks wins the everyday job, then having Judge with options versus having Judge come off the bench, him coming off the bench would serve him no good. It was more like, you've got to win that everyday job or you're going to Triple-A, and he knew that."

Judge: "[Spring Training] didn't start off too well with the strikeout in the first at-bat, but just being able to make solid contact, I was happy with the swing. I felt comfortable in the box. That's all I was looking for. If I'm making consistent contact, even if they're outs or right at somebody, if I'm just making consistent contact, I'm happy."

CC Sabathia, pitcher: "He was fighting for a job. We just wanted him to feel comfortable and make the team and just be on the Opening Day roster. Everything that came after that was just amazing and not a surprise, but the icing on the top."

Romine: "Any time you look at Judge, you can see the possibility of unbelievable things. He's an unbelievable athlete. I knew his swing was in a better place, I knew he was comfortable, but no one could have predicted what he did."

Reggie Jackson, special advisor: "Our owner, Hal Steinbrenner, wanted him in the big leagues in 2017. We were going to take a chance one way or the other, and he was going to make it or fail because he was going to get a chance to play. Our owner saw to that, our general manager made sure he was there, and of course, our manager [Joe Girardi] put him on the field."

Judge's first homer of the regular season came on April 9, off the Orioles' Michael Givens. His teammates quickly learned to pay attention during batting practice, not wanting to miss the next fireworks display.

Video: NYY@BAL: Judge ties the game, fan excited over catch

Adam Warren, pitcher: "When he first got drafted [in 2013], we were in Oakland. He came out and took BP with us. The ball sounded so much different off of his bat. You're talking about hitting with a bunch of big league guys. He was just out of college. You just knew right then why he was drafted and what kind of potential he had with the power. The best part about shagging BP for a pitcher is watching him. He hits balls where you've never even thought balls will be hit."

Bird: "I just know Judgey and know what he's capable of, and know how much work he puts in in the offseason. When he told me that he was ready, that was all I needed to know. He was confident, his work was good, he was sticking to what he knew and what he wanted to do. There's always been a lot of people helping him and around him. He's just very good at getting what he needs to get done, and saying thanks and being polite, but doing what he needs to do and taking care of his work."

Judge set a Major League rookie record by hitting 52 homers, highlighting a remarkable season that also included a winning performance at the T-Mobile Home Run Derby in July. Judge was named the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and finished second in the MVP Award chase to the Astros' Jose Altuve.

Video: Must C Crushed: Aaron Judge hits homer number 52

Severino: "Everybody was expecting that [Judge would be successful], but nothing crazy like what he did. I think he changed a little bit with his mechanics, how he hits. I thought maybe there was a good chance for him to have a good year, but nothing crazy like what he did."

P.J. Pilittere, assistant hitting coach: "There's a million people in the organization who had a hand in helping that guy speed the process up. He's such a genuine guy. What he gives the world and the media is the truth. It is a really clear picture of who he is as a person, and that personality is infectious. He's really fun to be around."

Sabathia: "I think everybody knew what he was capable of doing, you know what I'm saying? But to have him do that throughout the whole year was amazing to watch, especially his first season."

With the December 2017 acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees created a tandem that has been likened to the modern-day version of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Despite the star power, Judge said that he is taking the same approach that helped him be successful in 2017.

Judge: "You're always still trying to win a job. That's everyone's mindset, come in here and fight for your job, win a job. Getting a chance to be with the team all of last year, you're more familiar with things, which is a little bit easier for me. But I've still got to fight for a job or my spot, just like everybody else."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge

Yanks ecstatic about Florial's potential

Club high on 20-year-old prospect who will likely start year at Class A Advanced
MLB.com @BryanHoch

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Faces beam when Estevan Florial's name is mentioned around the Yankees' talent evaluators, and as the 20-year-old phenom settles into his first Major League Spring Training, manager Aaron Boone said that it is already apparent why the center fielder is held in high regard.

Ranked as the Yankees' No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline and the No. 44 prospect in all of baseball, Florial ripped a stand-up sixth-inning triple to right-center field in Saturday's 4-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Pirates at LECOM Park.

View Full Game Coverage

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Faces beam when Estevan Florial's name is mentioned around the Yankees' talent evaluators, and as the 20-year-old phenom settles into his first Major League Spring Training, manager Aaron Boone said that it is already apparent why the center fielder is held in high regard.

Ranked as the Yankees' No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline and the No. 44 prospect in all of baseball, Florial ripped a stand-up sixth-inning triple to right-center field in Saturday's 4-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Pirates at LECOM Park.

View Full Game Coverage

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"He's one of those guys that I'm really excited to see these first couple of weeks, because he's going to get some opportunities to play," Boone said. "He's going to log some at-bats. We just want to get him as comfortable as possible. When we see him do that, even though that [triple] was the first one, it's not a surprise to us. The talent is real."

Florial hit .298/.372/.479 with 23 doubles, 13 homers and 57 RBIs in 110 games for Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa last year, and he wants to cut down on his strikeouts after fanning 148 times in 420 at-bats. He is expected to begin the season in the Florida State League.

Boone said that Florial's spring experience alongside established big leaguers should prove beneficial.

"There's just kind of a calm, a grace to the way he plays the game," Boone said. "There's no panic, really. Then you watch him ... he looks the part. He's someone me and the coaches get excited, like, 'Oh, Flo is going in.' You just get excited to see what he can do."

Gift of grab
Clint Frazier wowed the crowd with a leaping grab in left field that ended the second inning on Saturday, fighting the wind to rob Ryan Lavarnway of an extra-base hit. Frazier tumbled to the warning track and said that he banged his head into a chain-link fence covering the scoreboard.

"I've just got to make it look a little bit easier from here on out," Frazier said. "That way, I can have people trust in me whenever the ball is hit to me."

Video: NYY@PIT: Frazier makes a great jumping grab in left

Frazier hit the ball hard in both at-bats Saturday, lining out to left field in the first inning and singling up the middle in the fourth before being picked off. Frazier said that he made adjustments to remove a hitch and limit the movement of his swing over the offseason.

"This is the best I've felt, as far as kind of being aware of what my body is doing and how it is supposed to do it," Frazier said. "In the past, I just tried to muscle everything. I created a lot of moving parts to hit the ball harder. I struck out a lot and I fouled off a lot of balls last year. I needed something to change."

Bumper stickers
Hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere have been repeating several key catchphrases to players early in camp, one of which concerns urging aggressiveness in the strike zone while laying off borderline pitches. Last season, the Yankees led the Majors in homers (241) and paced the American League in walks (616) while ranking 12th in the Majors in strikeouts (1,386).

"I want us to be obsessed with controlling the strike zone. That's one of our bumper stickers, if you will," Boone said. "And I know Marcus and P.J. are really driving that message home with our guys. We want to be great at that, because we feel like if we do that with our slug potential when you're controlling the strike zone, that's a dangerous combination."

Boone was asked what some of his other "bumper stickers" have been.

"I've got a lot. I'll unveil them as we go," Boone said. "You'll hear me repeat myself a little bit."

Bombers bits
• After singling in his first at-bat during his Yankees debut, Brandon Drury was plunked in the left hand by a pitch in the third inning. Drury remained in the game and said that he had treatment, but X-rays were not necessary.

Video: Hoch on the Yankees landing Drury in trade

Billy McKinney cracked a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning. McKinney also played five innings at first base as he looks to provide depth behind Greg Bird and Tyler Austin.

• Infielder Thairo Estrada has resumed training on an elliptical machine as he recovers from a gunshot wound to his right thigh, sustained during a late January robbery attempt in Venezuela. Estrada is unlikely to be ready to begin the Minor League season.

• Right-hander Albert Abreu is recovering well from appendix surgery performed on March 7, Boone said. Rated as the Yankees' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Abreu has been playing catch at the Yankees' complex.

Up next
The Yankees are on the road Sunday, visiting the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET, and the game can be seen on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery will start for New York opposite right-hander Aaron Nola for Philadelphia. The Yankees' lineup is scheduled to include Bird, Gleyber Torres, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Hicks.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees

'Judge's Chambers' took star to new heights

MLB.com @BryanHoch

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Bryan Hoch's first book, "The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty," which is being published by Diversion Books and includes a foreword by Mark Teixeira. On sale March 6, it is now available for pre-order.

The concept of "The Judge's Chambers" was first floated in the spring of 2017, during a time in which team officials were brainstorming avenues to make Yankee Stadium more appealing to a younger generation of fans. Work had already begun in The Bronx to add children's play areas, terraces and party decks to the facility, which was readying for its ninth year of service. Noting the popular response that Aaron Judge had received during the exhibition games in Florida, the Yanks' decision-makers deemed a dedicated cheering section to be a logical next step.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Bryan Hoch's first book, "The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty," which is being published by Diversion Books and includes a foreword by Mark Teixeira. On sale March 6, it is now available for pre-order.

The concept of "The Judge's Chambers" was first floated in the spring of 2017, during a time in which team officials were brainstorming avenues to make Yankee Stadium more appealing to a younger generation of fans. Work had already begun in The Bronx to add children's play areas, terraces and party decks to the facility, which was readying for its ninth year of service. Noting the popular response that Aaron Judge had received during the exhibition games in Florida, the Yanks' decision-makers deemed a dedicated cheering section to be a logical next step.

Similar concepts had been successful in other ballparks, such as the Astros' "Keuchel's Korner" for ace Dallas Keuchel and the Mariners' "King Felix's Court" for standout pitcher Felix Hernandez. It may not have been groundbreaking, but it seemed that way for the Yankees, a team that often had to fight the temptation of simply leaning upon their storied history to sell tickets. Though some would argue that there had never been a special section devoted to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera, the willingness to innovate represented a refreshing change of pace.

Judge told the Yankees that he thought the idea was "cool," but first, he had to actually make the team. It may seem difficult to believe in hindsight, given how sensational Judge's rookie season turned out to be, but there was legitimate consideration given to having Judge begin the season in the Minors. Because Judge still had Minor League options remaining and Aaron Hicks did not, the Yankees decided to carry Judge on the roster only if he won the starting right-field job, believing that a backup role would stunt his development.

Video: Robert Flores on Aaron Judge's new cheering section

"He never had a full year in the big leagues," general manager Brian Cashman said. "He had competition that was legitimate with Aaron Hicks. Aaron Hicks had performed just as well for a period of time, if not better, for the first half of the spring. It was a tight competition. I'd say halfway through camp, Hicks was winning by a hair."

Driven to convince management that he was ready for the opportunity, Judge said that he locked his focus on having quality at-bats for 30 days straight. The organization held daily meetings in the final weeks of camp, with Cashman, Tim Naehring and numerous other assistants disappearing into then-manager Joe Girardi's office. Judge ignored their lengthy chats, saying that he couldn't afford to waste time worrying about whether he would begin the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or the Yankees.

"I wasn't getting paid enough to make that decision," Judge said. "I had one goal in my mind: to go out there and compete and do whatever I can to fight for a job. Every day, I was just taking that mindset, 'I've got to go out there and work my butt off to get this job.'"

At 10:07 a.m. on March 30, the heavy steel door to the manager's office swung open, indicating that a decision had been made. Someone joked that it reminded them of the clouds of smoke that rise over the Sistine Chapel to announce the selection of a new Pope. Girardi summoned the team's beat reporters and lauded both Hicks and Judge for making it a very tough call, but announced that Judge's late-spring surge had tipped the scales in his favor.

Hicks took a couple of days to stew over the decision, and though he was disappointed with the outcome, he acknowledged that the team had given him a fair shot. The job had been given to the man who had played the best.

"The last two or three weeks of camp, Hicks didn't necessarily lose it as much as Judge took it," Cashman said. "Those weren't false conversations. It was more like, 'You've got to win that everyday job, or you're going to Triple-A,' and Judge knew that. Aaron Hicks is an above-average right fielder in this game, but Judge has turned out to be an MVP candidate. It was real. I guess we made the right decision."

Judge, meanwhile, was elated. He responded by saying that "now the real work starts," adding that the challenge would be to ward off the competition from Hicks and the team's stable of talented Minor Leaguers. Girardi said that the Yankees were now locked in and would give Judge plenty of leeway if he got off to a slow start. With the Yankees about to open the regular season, Judge called his folks in California, urging them to hop on the next flight to Florida.

"They were worrying about it, just like any parent would," Judge said. "They just wanted to know what was going on, so I just called them and let them know, 'Hey, I'll be in Tampa on Opening Day.'"

Video: NYY@TB: Judge plates Castro with a double in the 2nd

Judge was one of five players on the Yankees' active roster who participated in their first big league Opening Day, joined by Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Jonathan Holder and Bryan Mitchell. Judge hit eighth in the season opener and opted to settle into an art deco hotel in the heart of Times Square, living out of two suitcases between road trips. It was the same hotel where the Yankees had sent him after his first big league callup the previous August.

"I didn't know where else to live," Judge said. "This is my first go-round, so I just kind of thought, 'I'll live in New York.' It was just busy. There were a lot of things going on. That was probably the first thing I noticed when I came here, especially from a small town in California. Then you come here, and usually on the sidewalks back home, there's nobody on the streets. Here, you're shoulder to shoulder with people."

Judge's plate appearances quickly became the ones that no one wanted to miss, easing traffic at the concession stands and the stadium lavatories. Judge tied a Major League record by hitting 10 home runs in April, and the top spot in the books would have been his alone if not for an April 16 drive against the Cardinals that was inexplicably credited as a fan-interference triple.

Video: Must C Classic: Judge ties rookie record with 10th HR

"Last year was kind of like a practice test," Judge said. "I saw the league a little bit, got a chance to face some pitchers. Now, I'm seeing some familiar faces and just getting used to the league, going out there and trying to compete and just keep continuing to have quality at-bats."

Hitting them high, far and often, Judge quickly won a fan in Matt Holliday. After Judge homered twice in a 14-11 slugfest victory over the Orioles, the 14-year veteran gushed that he thought Judge was "probably the most gifted baseball player I think I've ever been around." That was no small compliment, considering Holliday had shared a clubhouse with Albert Pujols for four seasons in St. Louis.

"You just look at the guy in batting practice, and he hits the ball 550 feet," Holliday said of Judge. "He can run and he can throw at 6-foot-7, 280 pounds. You just don't see it. I haven't seen anything like it. It's fun to watch. He's fun to watch. I think the whole stadium stops when he comes up to bat. That doesn't happen all the time."

When Nick Swisher stopped by Yankee Stadium in a new role as an analyst for FOX Sports, Judge's former Minor League teammate and Waffle House dining companion marveled at how far the slugger had come in such a short period of time.

"He's a whole different player now than he was at Triple-A," Swisher said. "He's got a new stance, he's got a new swing. Everything has changed. He went home in the offseason and I think what really got him was when he missed those last few weeks of being up here in the big leagues. When he left here, I know that man went home and busted his tail to get ready for this year. He knew that once this season came around, this was his shot."

Exit velocity was the new buzzword for hitters around Major League Baseball, and the Yankees had started displaying those miles-per-hour readings in the top-right corner of the center-field scoreboard, as they would for a pitcher's velocity. It did not take long for Swisher, and any other observer with eyes and ears, to realize that Judge's 35-inch, 33-ounce Chandler bat was impacting the ball more loudly than any other in the Majors.

"I've never seen anybody hit a baseball like that," Swisher said. "He's the red circle in the lineup now. Guys don't want him to beat them, but this man hits popups for home runs."

Judge's mighty strokes were incredible to watch from a safe distance, while unnerving for those who had the misfortune of standing 60 feet, 6 inches away. Pitching for the Rays, reliever Jumbo Diaz surrendered a game-tying single on April 12 that rocketed off Judge's bat at 116.5 mph, whistling past the hurler's right ear into center field.

Video: TB@NYY: Statcast™ measures Judge's hard-hit single

"It was very close. I felt the wind go by my head," Diaz said. "When I got back, I received a message from my wife. She was a little scared, a little jolted by it. She was just grateful I was OK."

Judge celebrated his 25th birthday on April 26 at Fenway Park, where he had captured the Yankees' attention a few years earlier with a memorable batting-practice session in a Cape Cod League showcase. The party started quickly, as Judge mashed the first pitch he saw from Rick Porcello over the wall in right-center field for his seventh homer of the season.

Judge's production carried the Yankees early, as he became the youngest player in Major League history to hit at least 13 homers through his team's first 26 games of the season. The only other right-handed-hitting outfielder of any age to accomplish that feat had been Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who did it for the Giants in 1964.

It was during this time that Judge received a call from Mike Batesole, his baseball coach while at Fresno State. Having once been a high school teammate of Lenny Dykstra and a scout-league teammate of Darryl Strawberry, Batesole told ESPN that he wanted to make sure that the temptations of New York City weren't having a negative impact on Judge.

"On his first day off this year, I said, 'Look, dude. Bars across America are full of guys who had one good month," Batesole said. "'You haven't done anything except piss the rest of the league's pitchers off, and now they all want you extra bad. You're better off shutting your phone off. Get some alone time, call Mom, give thanks. I don't want to hear that you had dinner with Jay-Z and Beyoncé on your first day off. Make sure you're keeping your feet on the ground and taking care of business.' His response, as it always is, was, 'Yes, coach.'"

The national media enthusiastically embraced the storyline of a hulking Yankees superhero with an aw-shucks demeanor. A May 15-22, 2017, double issue of Sports Illustrated featured Judge on the cover, depicting his mighty pinstriped cut behind the words, "All Rise! The Yankees' Youth Movement Is in Session. The Powerful Aaron Judge Presiding." Stephanie Apstein's accompanying article traced Judge's roots, painting Judge as a shy rookie from a small California town whose career happened to be off to the most prolific start ever.

The next week, NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" aired a hilarious segment in which Judge tested his acting chops with his best Clark Kent impression, donning a blazer and glasses behind a desk in New York's Bryant Park to quiz Yankees fans about … Aaron Judge.

After asking one fan how much he thought the rookie might be able to bench press, Judge nonchalantly replied, "400? You're right." One fan referred to the prospect as "Adam Judge," and another passerby wearing a Yankees jersey figured out the gag when Judge held up his SI cover, offering a double take before taking note of Judge's toothy smile.

"It was the gap," he said. "There's only two gaps in New York, you and [Michael] Strahan, man."

Video: NYY@KC: Judge was a hit on the Tonight Show

The Yankees were visiting Kansas City the day after that segment aired, and Judge said that his phone had been overwhelmed with text messages and voicemails. Judge had tipped off his parents to the upcoming bit, asking them to set their DVRs, but the late-night appearance had come as a surprise to most of Judge's friends and family.

"I'm not really a comedian at all, but I think it turned out great," Judge said. "I was nervous the whole time. When I was going through it, I didn't think I was doing well at all. They did a lot of editing, and it really turned into something great."

When several groups of fans began attending games in black robes and white powder wigs, waving signs that included variations of "All Rise," the Yankees responded by unveiling the project that they had discussed during the spring. When the Yankees took the field for batting practice on May 22, "The Judge's Chambers" appeared at the rear of Section 104 in right field, 18 seats boxed in by wood to create the appearance of a courtroom jury box.

New York vs. Kansas City was first on the docket. It would only be Judge's 66th Major League game, but Jason Zillo, the Yankees' director of media relations, said that "The Judge's Chambers" had simply continued the momentum that the fans established on their own.

"It's all part of a shift toward making the experience more interactive," Zillo said. "It's a different era. It's a different group of fans. Fans are looking for things in their trip to a stadium that fans weren't looking for 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago."

The seats became a wildly popular attraction, with fans lining up early for the opportunity to snap selfies in the area. Fans flooded the team's ticket office with inquiries about the section and were told that they could not buy their way into "The Judge's Chambers." Instead, Yankees employees roamed the concourses prior to first pitch, looking for fans who were wearing Judge paraphernalia and offering them the opportunity to upgrade their seat location.

Upon entry, fans were issued black robes with the Yankees logo on the front and Judge's No. 99 on the back, as well as foam gavels. The gavels (also sold in stadium gift shops) were theirs to keep, but the robes were washed and reissued for the next home game. On one occasion, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor spent a few innings in the Chambers, cheering along with her fellow Yankees fans.

"It's pretty unreal," Judge said. "I never would have thought [this could happen] so soon. But the fans like it, so I'm glad they're having fun."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge

Stanton relishes excitement of Yanks debut

Slugger: '[People] can't wait to see what we can do'
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- Even though the details of Giancarlo Stanton's first stroll to home plate in pinstripes aren't likely to be referenced in any future history texts, the image seemed to drip with importance as the slugger dug into the right-handed batter's box on Friday afternoon.

There are moments where Stanton can't completely process that he is here, on this team, so surely the rest of baseball should appreciate the visual evidence. Playing four innings in New York's 3-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers, Stanton worked an eight-pitch walk before grounding into a double play.

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Even though the details of Giancarlo Stanton's first stroll to home plate in pinstripes aren't likely to be referenced in any future history texts, the image seemed to drip with importance as the slugger dug into the right-handed batter's box on Friday afternoon.

There are moments where Stanton can't completely process that he is here, on this team, so surely the rest of baseball should appreciate the visual evidence. Playing four innings in New York's 3-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers, Stanton worked an eight-pitch walk before grounding into a double play.

View Full Game Coverage

• Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"It was fun, a lot of fun," said Stanton, who batted second and played right field. "I was just trying to get my timing out there. It was good. It was a good day."

Video: DET@NYY: Stanton walks in Yanks Spring Training debut

Stanton said that he felt no significant nerves, but he acknowledged that there has been "a cool anticipation of something new and exciting." He was later asked how the Yankees' opener measured against what he experienced in past seasons with the Marlins.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"How'd it compare? This is better," Stanton said. "Just more exciting, I'd say. More excitement. More can't wait, happy for spring -- it's a spring game, but [people] can't wait to see what we can do. That's what would be the difference."

After watching from the third-base dugout, Tigers star Miguel Cabrera said that he expects Stanton to be an instant success in New York.

"I think he's going to have a great year," Cabrera said. "Like I say to every hitter going from the National League to the American League, you're going to hit more here than the National League, because this league is about more hitting. We have good pitchers, great pitchers in the American League, but you're going to face a ninth hitter.

"The National League, you face the pitcher. It's a big difference. Here, everybody can hit, so I think with that team they have and the stadium they play in, the division they play in -- I think he's going to be able to hit more home runs. I think he's going to hit more for average, too."

The afternoon also marked Aaron Boone's debut, with the rookie skipper carrying a lineup card out for the first time as a manager at any level. Boone was cheered in pregame introductions, but not as loudly as Stanton, who has taken on a Hollywood aura in a camp where each batting practice session is chronicled by a phalanx of media outlets.

Video: DET@NYY: Boone talks about managing first spring game

"I think that goes with the pinstripes on; it adds a little bit to that," Boone said. "I think the excitement of this day and seeing a guy like Giancarlo out there, it seemed like a lot of people -- maybe even moreso than usual -- were really looking forward to this day."

Tweet from @Yankees: .@Giancarlo818 rockin' the pinstripes like WOAH. pic.twitter.com/bLCuCX2SHt

Tigers left-hander Ryan Carpenter worked carefully to Stanton in the first inning, missing with two fastballs away before the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner fouled a pitch back. Carpenter dropped a slow curve for a called strike, then missed up and in with a heater to work the count full.

Stanton fouled the next two pitches back before taking ball four outside, passing the baton to Greg Bird, who batted third in Friday's lineup.

"I've got the best view in the house besides the catcher. I'm excited to learn from him," Bird said of Stanton. "I feel like even in BP and in practice, people are watching. They're not just at the park having a good time. They're watching. There was definitely a buzz, I think."

Facing Johnny Barbato in the third inning, Stanton chopped a grounder up the middle that second baseman Alexi Amarista converted into a 4-4-3 double play. Stanton shrugged, anticipating that the next five-plus weeks will provide plenty of time to iron out the kinks.

"Being completely ready, feeling how I would when I'm grooving in a season, it's a little bit of everything -- timing, sight," Stanton said. "I think the thing that takes longest is the mental aspect of the pitches. The sequencing, how they're going to pitch with runners on, without. … It's good. Reminds me how hard it is."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

McKinney among top prospect performers

MLB.com

It's good to see familiar faces return to the field after a long, slow offseason. But it's thrilling to watch top prospects show intensity this early in the spring.

On the second full day of Spring Training, all eyes were on two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, in his pitching debut against the Brewers. The much-anticipated outing featured electric talent and potential for growth.

It's good to see familiar faces return to the field after a long, slow offseason. But it's thrilling to watch top prospects show intensity this early in the spring.

On the second full day of Spring Training, all eyes were on two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, in his pitching debut against the Brewers. The much-anticipated outing featured electric talent and potential for growth.

Top prospects from the Rockies are also coming out of the gate fiery hot, with five players combining for nine hits and five RBIs in the process. Cardinals prospects showed skill with the leather, including a diving catch by Harrison Bader as he fought the Florida sun for the out.

Video: STL@NYM: Bader runs down a soft fly ball

Without further ado, here's a first-look at how some of the game's biggest prospect names performed on Saturday:

• Ohtani gave up two runs (one earned) and struck out two batters over 1 1/3 innings in his Cactus League debut against Milwaukee. He was stung when Keon Broxton took him deep on a leadoff home run in the second inning, one of two hits Ohtani gave up through 31 pitches on Saturday. But the 23-year-old Japanese phenom showed a deep arsenal, topping out on a 97 mph fastball and notching a strikeout on a 69-mph curveball. Despite Ohtani's shaky Spring Training debut, the rookie proved to live up to the hype.

Tweet from @AdamMcCalvy: Brett Phillips saw ���the kitchen sink��� from Shohei Ohtani. Here���s his animated take. pic.twitter.com/hW7AP23WA7

• A trio of Phillies prospects in J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and Roman Quinn combined to go 5-for-6 with a walk, a home run, three runs and five RBIs against the Orioles. Alfaro knocked five home runs in 29 games last season and picked up right where he left off with a grand slam off veteran Dylan Bundy in the second inning.

Video: BAL@PHI: Alfaro launches a grand slam to left-center

• Another trio showed massive potential on the Cardinals squad. Carson Kelly, Bader and Randy Arozarena combined for two doubles, a home run, two RBIs, a stolen base and a walk to cap their Saturday matinee going 5-for-12.

• Athletics prospect Franklin Barreto (No. 66 overall) belted a monster home run in the first inning to put the A's on the board quickly. The highly-touted 21-year-old finished 1-for-2 with two RBIs.

Orioles No. 7 prospect Cedric Mullins turned the jets on and made a phenomenal diving catch in shallow center, smoothly doubling up a runner amidst the action. The 23-year-old went 0-for-2 against the Phillies at the plate, contributing mostly with the leather.

Video: BAL@PHI: Mullins makes amazing diving play, turns two

• The Marlins showed electric and promising power from the hill as pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara (No. 3) tossed two perfect innings and struck out a batter against the Nationals. 22-year-old Merandy Gonzalez (No. 16) rocked another perfect inning while notching two strikeouts en route to a save.

Video: WSH@MIA: Alcantara, Mattingly on outing against Nats

• A quartet of Astros pitching prospects walked off with goose eggs in their individual ERAs. Cionel Perez (No. 6), David Paulino (No. 8), Framber Valdez (No. 16) and Riley Ferrell (No. 20) combined for six strong innings, allowing just one unearned run on four hits and three walks while punching out six.

Video: ATL@HOU: Paulino gets Albies swinging in the 3rd

• The Rockies' top prospects are ready to put the offseason behind them. Jordan Patterson went 3-for-3 with two doubles, Ryan McMahon (No. 41 overall) tallied two RBIs and a walk and Garrett Hampson swiped a bag while going 1-for-2. Brian Mundell saw the most at-bats out of the bunch, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a walk. Sam Hilliard tacked on another RBI to complete the quintet of Colorado prospects' successful day.

• If fans could peel their eyes away from new Yankee giant Giancarlo Stanton for a moment, they'd witness prospect Billy McKinney showing up when it matters most. The 23-year-old exemplified power on a three-run home run that broke a tie in the ninth inning, leading the Yankees to a 4-1 win against the Pirates.

• Padres prospect Franchy Cordero created a buzz in San Diego last season, smashing three home runs and 21 hits in 30 games. The 23-year-old collected his first dinger and a pair of RBIs in a tough Padres loss to the A's on Saturday.

Mets No. 10 prospect Luis Guillorme added to the rookie home run parade by cranking a solo shot off the Cardinals' Bud Norris in the fifth inning. He finished the Mets' second day of spring games by going 1-for-2 with an RBI.

Video: STL@NYM: Guillorme belts a solo homer to center field

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Gleyber thrilled to spring into game action

Returning from Tommy John, top prospect logs 5 innings at 2nd in Grapefruit opener
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- Having experienced his first game action in eight months, Gleyber Torres tugged on a black long-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "I'M BACK." The wardrobe choice had been a coincidence, the Yankees' top prospect said, but it was appropriate for the milestone.

Returning from season-ending Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, Torres played five innings at second base while notching two hitless at-bats in the Yankees' 3-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers on Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

View Full Game Coverage

TAMPA, Fla. -- Having experienced his first game action in eight months, Gleyber Torres tugged on a black long-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "I'M BACK." The wardrobe choice had been a coincidence, the Yankees' top prospect said, but it was appropriate for the milestone.

Returning from season-ending Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, Torres played five innings at second base while notching two hitless at-bats in the Yankees' 3-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers on Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

View Full Game Coverage

• Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"I feel happy, excited," said Torres, who is ranked as baseball's fifth-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline. "I lost a lot of months last year. This spring, my focus is right now to play hard, stay focused, stay humble, try to help my team win and do my job. I don't think about winning a job or something like that. I just want to try to stay focused, do my job every day and enjoy."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that the second-base competition is "to a degree, wide open," and Torres was immediately thrust into action. Detroit leadoff hitter Leonys Martin smacked Luis Cessa's second pitch up the middle, which Torres smothered for an infield hit. Torres said that he had the wind knocked out of him when his chest hit the dirt, but his left elbow was fine.

Video: DET@NYY: Martin leads off the game with a single

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I know he was excited to get out there today," Boone said. "You get five innings under his belt, an at-bat where he almost got a hit, a guy made a good play against him. Hopefully the first of many for us this season."

As for the shirt? It was celebrating Michael Jordan's return to the Bulls, marked with the date March 18, 1995. Torres, 21, wasn't born until December '96.

Paying tribute
Each Major League team and umpiring crew wore black caps with the maroon "SD" of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for Friday's spring opener, honoring the victims of a Feb. 14 mass shooting in which 17 people were killed -- 14 students and three staff members. The caps will be autographed and auctioned to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund.

Video: Baseball pays tribute to Stoneman Douglas victims

"It means that we stand with them," Brett Gardner said. "I just can't imagine something like that hitting close to home, like it did for all these people. It's an honor for us to wear their logo. It's obviously an honor to put on the pinstripes every day and wear the Yankees logo, but to be involved with something like this and let them know that we're there in a way, I think it means a lot."

Video: DET@NYY: Yankees hold moment of silence for Parkland

Bombers bits
• There was no palpable carryover from the Aug. 24 clash between the Tigers and Yankees in Detroit, which led to suspensions for Miguel Cabrera, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez and Alex Wilson.

"I think on some level, baseball players never forget things," Boone said. "But one of our messages will always be that we're out there to win games and compete and turn the page on those kind of things as best we can."

• Non-roster invitee catcher Jorge Saez had two hits Friday, including a two-run single to center field as part of a three-run sixth inning.

Video: DET@NYY: Saez smacks two-run single to center field

"I thought we had a lot of patient at-bats from a lot of different guys," Boone said. "I thought we were aggressive swinging at pitches in the strike zone, but also laying off. Overall, pretty pleased offensively."

• The Yankees are counting on a healthy season from Greg Bird, so there was a pang of concern as he closed in on the wall behind first base to snare Nicholas Castellanos' third-inning foul pop.

Video: DET@NYY: Bird makes difficult catch in foul territory

"Nothing different than the regular season," Bird said. "Just being conscious of the wall. You just catch it."

Up next
The Yankees play their first road game of the spring on Saturday, visiting the Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest. Domingo German will start for New York. Position players making the trip include Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Brandon Drury, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Gleyber Torres

Stacked Yanks have dark-horse roster hopefuls

Slugger Austin, infielders Espinosa, Wade, Peterson, lefty LeBlanc trying to make team
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- The battle for spots on the Opening Day roster has grown tighter in the wake of this week's trade for infielder Brandon Drury, but manager Aaron Boone promises that there is "still a level of competition going on" as the Yankees prepare to open their Grapefruit League schedule.

While some players can use the spring to fine-tune their mechanics, beginning with Friday's 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Boone and his coaches will be evaluating a bevy of hopefuls who are trying to impress.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The battle for spots on the Opening Day roster has grown tighter in the wake of this week's trade for infielder Brandon Drury, but manager Aaron Boone promises that there is "still a level of competition going on" as the Yankees prepare to open their Grapefruit League schedule.

While some players can use the spring to fine-tune their mechanics, beginning with Friday's 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Boone and his coaches will be evaluating a bevy of hopefuls who are trying to impress.

Spring info | Tickets | Schedule

As part of MLB.com's around-the-league breakdown of dark-horse candidates, here are five Yankees whose exhibition stats could make or break their April:

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Tyler Austin, 1B/OF: After making history with Aaron Judge in 2016 by hitting back-to-back homers in their first big league at-bats, injuries limited Austin to 20 big league games in '17. Austin sat out the spring with a fractured left ankle and missed 37 team games with a right hamstring strain sustained in late June. With first-base depth thin behind Greg Bird, a big spring could send Austin to New York.

"Tyler Austin's had some freakish injuries happen to him," Boone said. "The power is real. I think there's a real opportunity because that depth is lacking a little bit. He's going to have a chance to prove that he belongs here."

Danny Espinosa, IF: Having hit .173 for the Angels, Mariners and Rays in 2017, Espinosa is hoping for a bounceback year as a non-roster invitee. He has played every infield position, and he hit a career-high 24 homers for the Nationals in 2016. The switch-hitter could be used as a starter or in the utility role that Ronald Torreyes filled in '17.

Video: Espinosa, Yankees agree to Minor League deal

"He's a really good defender," Boone said. "That's a big reason why we brought him in here. And even though he's 30 now, we feel like there's also potential upside offensively. He probably, for the first time in his career, made some significant adjustments in the winter with his swing and how he's holding his hands."

Wade LeBlanc, LHP: The veteran believes that he can stick in the back end of the bullpen, where he'd figure to be challenging Chasen Shreve. LeBlanc had a 4.50 ERA in 50 appearances for the Pirates last year, permitting 64 hits in 68 innings while walking 17 and striking out 54. His career numbers are better against righties (.742 OPS) than lefties (.872 OPS).

Video: PIT@CIN: LeBlanc notches a three-inning save

"A couple of crooked numbers as a reliever can be a season-ruiner," LeBlanc said. "It's not the smartest thing to sit back and look at ERA as a reliever to determine how your season went. I stayed healthy, remained in the big leagues and gave my team what they needed."

Jace Peterson, IF: Much like Espinosa, the left-handed Peterson is seeking a fresh start after hitting .215/.318/.317 in 89 games for the Braves last year. Peterson is a career .234 hitter in 383 big league games with Atlanta and San Diego, and he has appeared at every infield position plus the outfield corners.

Video: ATL@NYM: Peterson doubles home Swanson in 2nd

Tyler Wade, IF: A fourth-round Draft pick in 2013, Wade has been envisioned as the Yanks' version of Brock Holt or Ben Zobrist, bolstering his versatility by playing second base, shortstop and the outfield corners. Wade's expected to play some third base this spring, coming off a winter in which he trained with Angels slugger Albert Pujols in Newport Beach, Calif.

Video: NYY@CWS: Wade collects first hit and RBI in the 6th

"I hit with him about twice a week for two weeks," Wade said. "He asked me, 'Do you have trouble with the inside pitch?' I said, 'Sometimes,' and he goes, 'Open it up a little bit.' He made some swing suggestions with my hands and my [right] foot. It felt weird, but he was like, 'Dude, this is going to help you a lot.' I feel really good. Hopefully it plays."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Tyler Austin, Danny Espinosa, Wade LeBlanc, Jace Peterson, Tyler Wade

Russell Wilson challenges Stanton, Judge

Dressed appropriately as a Yankees fan, Seahawks quarterback filmed a short Twitter video on Thursday to let everyone know two very important things: 

Cashman: Initial plan is to have Drury play 3B

Yankees GM, Boone excited to bring versatile infielder aboard
Special to MLB.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had D-backs infielder Brandon Drury on his radar for years. He was finally able to get his target, obtaining Drury on Tuesday in a three-way trade that also included the Rays.

"He is someone I think the industry has valued for a while because I know we have," Cashman said.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had D-backs infielder Brandon Drury on his radar for years. He was finally able to get his target, obtaining Drury on Tuesday in a three-way trade that also included the Rays.

"He is someone I think the industry has valued for a while because I know we have," Cashman said.

Yankees Spring Training information

After hearing rave reviews regarding Drury from new Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin, who coached in Arizona from 2014-16, Cashman ramped up discussions with D-backs GM Mike Hazen during the Winter Meetings. Once Hazen brought the Rays into the discussion about 10 days ago, the trade came together quickly.

As part of that deal, the D-backs received outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and Yankees pitching prospect Taylor Widener. The Rays received Yankees infielder Nick Solak, New York's No. 8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, pitcher Anthony Banda, Arizona's No. 4 overall prospect, and a pair of players to be named.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Drury was expected to arrive at Yankees camp Wednesday.

Cashman was extremely high on the prospects that he ended up having to part with, noting that he had previous talks with the Rays -- along with "about 10 to 15 other teams" -- regarding Solak.

"We gave up two players that we really liked," Cashman said. "I think both of these players have a lot of upside."

The 25-year-old Drury batted .267 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs in 135 games last season as the D-backs' primary second baseman. He has also logged time at third and in the corner outfield positions over his three seasons.

Video: How Yanks will deploy Drury, Andujar and Torres in IF

"Hopefully he is one of those guys we can help take another step and make even more of an impact than he has already been," manager Aaron Boone said.

In three years in Arizona, Drury compiled a .271 average with 31 home runs in 289 games. Drury has shown the ability to drive the ball to all fields, as he has proven with 68 doubles over the past two seasons, and can hit against both lefties and righties (.271 vs. .266). A jump in power numbers is likely as he continues to fill out his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame and continues to improve on his average exit velocity (87.9 in 2017) for a third consecutive year.

"We believe there is some more gas in that tank," Cashman said. "Our pro scouts are really high on his potential to dream on a little bit, so we are going to dream on a little bit. At the very least, we are happy with where he is at and what he is capable of."

"I think there is power in there, which he has already shown at the big league level," Boone said. "But I think his athleticism will allow him to potentially take another step. This is a guy that has had success already, but hasn't had a regular role and I think he has that opportunity here."

Video: Hoch on the Yankees landing Drury in trade

Cashman said the initial plan is to use Drury at third base, where he played throughout the Minors, but because of his versatility and athleticism, plus what he could potentially do offensively, the Yankees would like to get him in to the lineup however they can.

"This guy has the ability to be more than just a quality everyday player," Cashman said. "He's got a lot of potential. He's established himself as a quality Major Leaguer and I know he has dreams to be even more."

Whether Drury sees more time at either second or third could also depend on the spring performances of rookies Gleyber Torres, who was an early camp favorite to win the keystone job, and Miguel Andujar, who was in line to take over at the hot corner. Torres, the team's No. 1 overall prospect, batted .309 in 23 games at Triple-A last season. Despite the addition of Drury, the team remains high on the 22-year-old Andujar after he hit .315 with 16 homers and 82 RBIs in 125 games over two Minor League stops last season.

"It just adds to the competition," Boone said. "It adds to the depth of competition that we want to create with our infield this spring. Nothing changes as far as Miguel Andujar is concerned for us. He's still going to have opportunities. There's still a level of competition still going on and I still feel great about the player."

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar, Brandon Drury, Gleyber Torres

Top 20 players who will shape AL East race

MLB.com @williamfleitch

If you can believe it, Opening Day is only five weeks away, and we're previewing each division every Wednesday. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team sport, so, thus, we'll be previewing each division by counting down the 20 most pivotal players in the division. These aren't necessarily the best players. They're just the ones whose 2018 performance will be most vital to their teams' success this season, and in seasons moving forward. To keep it fair, we can only pick four players from each team.

Today: The American League East. Tell me what you think -- not just about what you think of this list, but also whom I should not miss when I do the National League West next week -- at will.leitch@mlb.com.

If you can believe it, Opening Day is only five weeks away, and we're previewing each division every Wednesday. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team sport, so, thus, we'll be previewing each division by counting down the 20 most pivotal players in the division. These aren't necessarily the best players. They're just the ones whose 2018 performance will be most vital to their teams' success this season, and in seasons moving forward. To keep it fair, we can only pick four players from each team.

Today: The American League East. Tell me what you think -- not just about what you think of this list, but also whom I should not miss when I do the National League West next week -- at will.leitch@mlb.com.

Previously: NL Central

20. Christian Arroyo, Tampa Bay Rays
Arroyo is an extremely promising third-base prospect who already has 135 at-bats in the Majors and is ranked No. 81 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects. I hope Arroyo can remember all those things when Rays fans look over at third base and, for the first time in a decade, see someone other than Evan Longoria there. Not just that, but Longoria is saying that he "feels bad for the Rays' fanbase." So, you know, good luck, kid.

19. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
He's not going to be back for a few months, but by the time he gets back, the Orioles will have a pretty solid idea of whether they're coming or going. Either they're going to need Britton to come back and work himself back into Britton-shape because they're fighting for an American League Wild Card spot, or they'll need him to come back because they're selling hard at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Video: Must C Combo: Kiermaier flashes leather, power bat

18. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
You can tell pretty well what kind of baseball fan you're talking to when you discuss Kiermaier. Your FanGraphs obsessive thinks he's one of the best, and certainly one of the most underrated, players in the game. Your usual baseball-card-stat fan is totally baffled at what all the fuss is about.

17. Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays
Did the Blue Jays just get themselves a cost-controlled power bat, one who can play center field, on the cheap? After trading for Marcell Ozuna, the Cardinals didn't have a place for Grichuk, so they sent him to Toronto for reliever Dominic Leone, and Grichuk might be exactly the right fielder the Blue Jays were searching for. He strikes out way too much, and he's probably never going to be a consistent on-base threat, but he's under club control through 2020, plays the outfield like a dream, and if you make a mistake pitch to him, he will pulverize it.

16. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are making a last-ditch, all-in mad dash in the AL East this year, and while some might question the wisdom of such a maneuver, heck, the world was never made worse by people doing everything they can to win. (Note: The world is in fact always made worse this way.) If the O's are going to hang in, they're going to need all the offensive firepower they can muster, so it might be handy if the guy they still owe $127 million to could start launching bombs again.

15. Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays
You can forgive Rays fans for growing a bit exhausted with the "when our stud prospects get here, it's gonna be a different story, you'll see!" game, but the waiting game for Adames, the No. 22 prospect in the game according to MLB Pipeline, may still be worth it. Not only does Adames have all the tools, he's one of those makeup machines, the instant team leader everyone is always looking for, particularly out of the shortstop position.

14. Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles
Gausman is the next in a long line of talented Orioles starters to never quite put it together in Baltimore, and there is always the fear he will leave town and immediately turn into Jake Arrieta. Gausman was healthy all of last season, which means he's ostensibly Baltimore's ace, but his skills have never quite translated into top-tier success. Which means the rest of baseball is ready to buy low.

13. Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox signed Porcello to a four-year contract extension before the 2015 season, they didn't think they were getting an AL Cy Young Award winner, any more than they thought they were signing a bust. The first two years of the deal, they've gotten both. Porcello led the Majors in wins in 2016, and losses in '17; that's pretty difficult to do. Somewhere in the middle would be just fine for Boston, particularly now that he's just a fourth starter.

Video: Stroman, Gibbons on Stroman losing arbitration

12. Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
For all the talk of Stroman's unpleasant arbitration experience, there isn't much evidence that contentious arbitrations cause any sort of damage, short or long term. Good thing, because despite whatever they said in that room to Stroman, the Blue Jays desperately need Stroman to keep pitching like the ace he nearly was in 2017. It's almost impossible to see a way for the Blue Jays to contend without Stroman at least duplicating his '17 season.

Tweet from @MStrooo6: Just being real. Not mad at all. I???????????????????????????m aware of the business. Just opens your eyes going through the arbitration process. Second time going through it. Still love my team and the entire country of Canada. More upset that I had to fly to AZ and miss my Monday workout. Lol

11. Greg Bird, New York Yankees
It's funny to think that the young Yankees player everyone was excited about heading into 2017 wasn't Judge: It was Bird. After his horrendous start, he came on late, and the Yanks felt comfortable enough with him that they avoided any first-base free agent temptations. If Bird is fully locked and loaded, this lineup is even more terrifying that it already is. And if not: The Yankees will not lack for options.

* * * * *

Halftime break! AL East mascots, ranked!

1. The Oriole Bird
The name could use some work, but otherwise, the perfect Oriole color scheme makes for a perfect baseball bird mascot. He's such a pretty bird that we'll ignore that he's naked. (The other bird in the division is far more modest.)

2. Raymond Ray
Discovered by fishermen who noticed he was drawn to the boat by the smell of hot dogs, Raymond Ray looks a little like a character in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."

3. Ace
Blue Jays are actually quite aggressive birds, but Ace is pretty chill, all told. He does get points for being an improvement on the old BJ Birdy, who looked insane and had a redundant name.

4. Wally the Green Monster
All mascots are for kids, but I might humbly submit that Wally is maybe a little too scary for kids.

5. Unknown Yankees mascot
The Yankees famously do not have a mascot, though in a pinch, Justice Sonia Sotomayor would make a pretty great one.

Gif: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Judge's Chambers

* * * * *

10. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka's peripheral numbers suggest that if he's not an ace, he's No. 2-starter material at least. He has a terrific K/BB ratio (the best on the team), and his season ERA was inflated by a dreadful May (8.42 ERA). Tanaka at his worst is still a rotation mainstay, and he is the one guy in the rotation who should be better but, in 2017, just wasn't.

9. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
In the 2013 World Series, when most of us were first seeing Bogaerts, it appeared we were looking at the next great superstar. It hasn't worked out that way, with Bogaerts never becoming that superstar -- and even taking a big step back in 2017, dropping to only 10 homers and losing 21 points in batting average. He's still only 25 years old, though, and the talent is still all there. If this is Bogaerts' breakout season, the Red Sox's lineup could be scarier than you think.

8. Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
What was up with Osuna last year? He struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings. Osuna dropped his walk rate for the third straight year. He gave up only three homers in 64 innings pitched. Osuna had a 0.859 WHIP. Those numbers look totally dominant, right? So how in the world did Osuna blow 10 saves? If the results match the skills, the Blue Jays will have the ninth inning on lockdown.

7. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Essentially the last man standing at this point, right? Now that the Rays' rebuild seems imminent, there's not much reason to keep Archer around, particularly when there isn't a team in baseball (save for Tampa Bay, apparently!) who couldn't use a cost-controlled ace who's also charismatic and fun. If the Rays want to fully restock their farm system, Archer and closer Alex Colome are surely the next (and maybe last) to go.

6. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
One of the many enticing aspects of trading for Machado in the offseason -- as many, many teams tried to do -- was the sense that he's going to erupt in this, his contract year. Machado had an unfortunate 2017, but he still had his moments, and he clearly has talent to burn everywhere. He'll be at shortstop this year and eager to impress potential free-agent suitors. How long Machado is in Baltimore may depend on how long the Orioles can hang around the race; the minute those leaks trickle out about "the O's are listening to offers on Machado," this is instantly the biggest story in the sport.

5. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
All right, so now that he's finally here, now what? The long, slow, pained offseason seduction between the Red Sox and Martinez finally consummated this week, at a reasonable price for Boston and, of course, a fortune for Martinez. But there is an extended, sordid history of expensive free agents coming into Fenway Park and being eaten alive almost immediately; remember, the Red Sox will still be paying Pablo Sandoval $18.5 million next season. Martinez is no Sandoval, but Red Sox fans have a way of eyeing a new guy warily for a while when he shows up in town. The upside is obviously huge, but remember: They were mocking poor Jack Clark in The Town 20 years after he signed.

Video: Ian Browne discusses J.D. Martinez signing

4. David Price, Boston Red Sox
Speaking of big, expensive Red Sox free agents whom the town quickly turned on. Price is only two years into his $217 million deal, and he spent most of his 2017 either in the bullpen, hurt, feuding with Dennis Eckersley or being hissed at by Beantown faithful. Just five years to go! Price apparently isn't too sore about his time in Boston so far; he was one of the main ambassadors selling Martinez on the place. But he has an opt-out clause after this season if he wants to use it, but that would require exactly the sort of year the Red Sox were paying him for in the first place.

3. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
A little like Archer and Machado, but Donaldson's far more fascinating than those two. Unlike them, he:

A: Is beloved by the fan base and actively interested in signing an extension;
B: Has nevertheless been unable to come to terms on one;
C: Is on a team that has a chance to contend for an AL Wild Card this year;
D: Could still be dealt, even through gritted teeth, at the non-waiver Trade Deadline;

What are the Blue Jays going to do with Donaldson? Merely the whole next decade of the franchise might rely on the answer.

1 and 1a, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
It is a big story that one of these massive humans exist. It's a bigger story that they both exist. It's an even bigger story that they're on the same team. Now add to the mix that their team is the Yankees -- a club that seemed to have lost its swagger but now has it back a thousandfold. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that these two wooly mammoths are in the same lineup, in the Bronx, secured now to spend their most formidable years together. They're the primary reasons to hate the Yanks again, which, of course, means the Yankees are, once again and at last, completely unmissable. They're the biggest story in baseball this year, and one of the biggest stories in sports. Who doesn't want to see what happens here? I cannot wait.

Video: Judge, Stanton could lead Yanks to back-to-back mark

* * * * *

We finish this preview, as we will with all of them, with predictions. I apologize in advance because these predictions are guaranteed to be correct and thus I'm a little worried I'm spoiling the season for you.

New York Yankees: 92-70
Boston Red Sox: 90-72
Toronto Blue Jays: 82-80
Baltimore Orioles: 74-88
Tampa Bay Rays: 69-93

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.