Judge to the No. 3 hole? Slugger may get his wish in '24

February 18th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- has a preferred spot in the lineup, repeatedly telling manager Aaron Boone over the last several seasons that he’d like to bat third. This could be the year the Yankees follow their captain’s advice.

With Yankees position players set to report to Spring Training on Monday, Judge has voiced his opinion for the ideal top of the Bombers’ batting order. Judge would feature DJ LeMahieu in the leadoff spot, followed by Juan Soto in the No. 2 hole, then Judge batting third.

“That’s been going on about six years now,” Boone said, with a smile. “He might get his wish, finally. But in the end, whatever I decide, he’s usually good with.”

Most of Judge’s at-bats have come as the No. 2 hitter, where he has started 528 of his 835 career games. He has seen 161 starts in the No. 3 spot, with most coming in 2017 (62 starts) and 2021 (90 starts).

Last season, Judge saw just two games as the No. 3 hitter, with Boone writing his name into the No. 2 spot for 102 games. But the top of the lineup looks different now with the addition of Soto, whose elite blend of power and patience promises more traffic on the basepaths.

“I may be old school in that fact, but all the great hitters when I was growing up watching, you want to be a three-hitter,” Judge said recently on former Yankees hitting coach Sean Casey’s podcast, “The Mayor’s Office.” “You want to be that guy coming up third, the big heavy hitter in the back. We have so much depth now. There’s not an easy part of our lineup now.

“… I’d love to hit third, especially with how much Soto gets on [base]. He’s an on-base and base-hit machine. Plus the power -- he’s going to give you 30-plus homers every year. But when he’s walking over 100 times and driving in 100, that’s who you want to hit behind. I might be fighting him [for third]. I want to hit behind him.”

Judge’s performance has been similar between the Nos. 2 and 3 spots. When batting second, Judge has compiled a .282/.396/.596 slash line across 2,370 plate appearances. When batting third, Judge has hit .272/.386/.540 in 708 plate appearances.

Interestingly, one of Judge’s most productive spots has been as the Yanks’ leadoff hitter, a role he filled down the stretch while chasing Roger Maris’ single-season American League home run record in 2022.

When batting first in the order, Judge has hit .352/.466/.711 with 13 homers and 25 RBIs across 36 games (35 starts).

“In the year he hit 62 [home runs] and we were beat up a little in the second half, I was leading him off,” Boone said. “It wasn’t to get the home run title. It was just where we were lineup-wise and injury-wise, it made the most sense. [But] he always sneaks in a, ‘What about third?’ on me quite a bit.”

Judge also spoke highly of what Alex Verdugo could bring to the top of the lineup, providing Boone with another table-setting option.

“Adding someone like Verdugo, who’s been a great leadoff hitter for the Red Sox for so long, having him in the mix where you can get DJ a day off and you can mix him up there at the leadoff spot,” Judge said. “Then you can maybe slide me into the two-hole, Soto three, but I’ve been telling Boonie since 2021 that I want to hit third.”

Judge, who lives in Tampa during the offseason, has led a group of Yankees stars working out at the club’s Minor League complex since early January. Other position players participating in drills there have included LeMahieu, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Verdugo, shortstop Anthony Volpe and catcher Austin Wells.

“So far, so good,” Judge said. “This is the exciting time of year where it’s not official yet. Guys are coming into town, so we can work out, we can hit and we can kind of be us. Have a little bit of fun and do our thing before we go to work to bring a championship home to New York. It’s a lot of fun; guys are jacked up. Guys are pumped up to be down here. It’s going to be a great spring and a great season.”