Despite lofty expectations, Aaron Judge says he feels no pressure

ByColey Harvey ESPN logo
Thursday, March 29, 2018

TORONTO -- On the eve of his second full season with the New York Yankees, reigning American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge contends he is feeling at ease heading into the new season, despite heightened expectations around him.

"With the team we've got, there's no pressure," Judge said Wednesday during the Yankees' workout at Rogers Centre.

The Yankees open the season Thursday against the Blue Jays.

"Like I've said before," Judge continued, "no one guy doesn't have to do the job of other guys. There's 24 guys behind him, willing to help him out. For me, it's just about taking it one at-bat, one pitch, one play at a time."

In theory, it sounds like a good plan. But the microscope Judge already was under after hitting an AL-leading 52 home runs last year has only intensified this offseason.

On Wednesday, a popular baseball video game franchise with his likeness on its cover hit stores. The day before, shoe brand Adidas announced a new deal with Judge, making him its latest superstar client. Signs featuring a sleeveless Judge and the words "Judgement Day" popped up in midtown Manhattan this week as Adidas touted its relationship with the power-hitting right fielder.

While all of that is very much connected to what he did in 2017, don't try reminding him of his head-turning first season.

"Last year's over," Judge said.

While the Yankees slugger turns his attention to the new season, one of his newest teammates agrees with Judge's forward-thinking approach. That teammate also had some words of advice for Judge when asked to give them during a Wednesday news conference.

"I would say not to try to be better than he was last year," said Giancarlo Stanton, last season's National League MVP, who was traded to New York in December. "You know, don't try to compare numbers or compare where you were at this point last year. Just build off, trust yourself and trust in your preparation, and you're going to do well and you will set yourself up to do well.

"Don't worry about those side expectations or the sophomore slump or whatever you want to call it. That only exists if you put it in your mind."

The only thing that was on Judge's mind last Opening Day was how anxious he was about playing.

"First Opening Day? Nerves were flowing a bit," Judge said, smiling. "But that's good. You need those. It means you're still -- I love what I do, and I get a chance to be out there and be with the guys."

Very little has changed heading into Judge's second Opening Day.

"I'm nervous right now. That's just part of being an athlete. That defines us," Judge said. "[But] it's more excitement than anything. It's not really nerves; it's being excited to get things going."

Stanton,who last season hit an MLB-leading 59 homers, also is excited for his first Opening Day as a member of the Yankees, and he took to social media to share his emotions.

Judge's 52 home runs last year were the most for any major league player in his first season. He also hit .284 and had 114 RBIs and a 1.049 OPS. After struggling through part of July and all of August (he hit just three homers that entire month), he had 11 home runs across his final 16 regular-season games. His scorching September helped the Yankees secure a playoff berth as a wild card.

First-year manager Aaron Boone said Judge will handle the heightened expectations well this season.

"There's very few people I'd put in the place more equipped to handle it," Boone said. "I think we all feel pressure on some level. And you know, obviously, he's become one of the faces of our game. But if anyone's equipped to handle all that goes with being a superstar player for the New York Yankees, Aaron is more than capable of that."

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