By Brad Carroll
With the season opener just days away in Tampa Bay, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi has made it pretty clear which way he's leaning with his everyday lineup. Some of it is predictable, some of it is even exciting, but there is one big glaring mistake that could haunt the team to start the year.
Aaron Judge has to be this season's starting right fielder, and he should be in that spot Sunday against the Rays.
While the player Girardi has penciled in for that position, Aaron Hicks, has been comparable to Judge for the most part this spring, the upside in having the youngster play everyday over the veteran is immeasurable. Plus, if the spot was open to competition on the field this spring, Judge would have won it.
While the power numbers were nearly identical over the 23 games each has played so far, Judge hitting 81 points higher in average would no-doubt seal the deal. Judge is hitting .345 after another big game Wednesday, while Hicks is batting .264. That couldn't be more noticeable a difference on a stat sheet, and represents an obvious reason to go with youth over experience. And if Judge can hit well over .300 against MLB-caliber pitching, there's no reason why he should be kept on the bench.
Playing time and getting at-bats is key for young players trying to get acclimated to the big league game and Judge would benefit greatly from it. So would the Yankees.
For Hicks, it's unfortunate there's only one spot available, as Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have been bad this spring, continuing trends from last year in the Bronx. Ellsbury, a mistake of a free agency signing, is hitting .267 with two doubles, a home run and four RBI, while Gardner is batting .211 with a homer and six RBI. Hicks has better numbers, and he might be more deserving of grabbing one of their starting slots, but there's no way Gardner or Ellsbury are in danger of losing their jobs.
That leaves Hicks as the odd man out. But more aptly than anything, Judge has earned the chance to be the man in right, not only on Opening Day, but for the next decade. Hopefully Girardi understands that come Sunday and the right man is in right field.