Yankees' Aaron Judge says he took full advantage of healthy offseason

TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Judge arrived for the New York Yankees' first day of full-squad workouts Tuesday feeling exponentially better than he did at this time a year ago.

What a difference a fully healthy offseason can make.

After slogging through rehab from a shoulder surgery conducted just after the 2017 season, Judge was limited in the work he could do when the Yankees arrived to spring training last February. This year, despite his having broken a wrist last season, the story was far different for him.

"The majority of my offseason last year and the majority of spring training was just getting healthy," Judge said. "But this year, getting a chance to work on my swing, my approach, this is where it gets fun.

"The biggest thing for me was just getting a chance to finally work on some things, work on things in my swing, work on baserunning things and just start to improve."

Manager Aaron Boone last weekend said that he can tell an offseason like the one Judge just had has his slugger feeling like he's in a good place.

"He's as healthy as he's been probably since he's been in the big leagues," Boone said. "He's so much further ahead of the game from where he was last year."

Judge admitted that at the start of this latest offseason he was concerned that the wrist injury that kept him inactive for about eight weeks in the second half of last season would slow his push to get ready for this season, too.

"I was a little worried about it, but it's 100 percent," Judge said. "I feel nothing. It feels like it never even happened."

But it did happen. It was on July 26 when Judge was hit on the outer edge of his right wrist by a 94 mph fastball from Kansas City's Jakob Junis. The chip fracture cost Judge eight weeks, although the team originally thought he would be out only three. After Judge returned Sept. 14, he came back in time to erupt in the postseason, hitting three homers in five games.

Because of the amount of time he missed, Judge can safely say there's one lesson he learned above all others in 2018: "Don't get hit on the wrist. Turn the other way."

That's certainly advice Judge would be wise to heed in 2019 as he enters his final season before the arbitration process is scheduled to begin for him. In an effort to avoid arbitration, the Yankees could begin discussing a contract extension with him.

Judge said Tuesday he hasn't heard anything about possible extension talks between his representatives and the team.

"Nah, nothing," he said. "I'm focused on the season."

Judge should once again be among the biggest bats in the lineup. It's a lineup, however, that could feature very little balance, particularly when it faces right-handed pitching.

Until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery rehab, New York's most likely batting orders feature only Brett Gardner and Greg Bird as left-handed-hitting options. It's worth mentioning that both players are in position battles this spring, with Gardner having to hold off Clint Frazier in left field, and Luke Voit standing in Bird's way at first base.

Regular center fielder Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitter, also would bat left-handed against right-handed pitchers.

It's because of the dearth of lefties that many expected the Yankees to be part of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes this offseason.

"As a righty, I've always faced righties growing up," Judge said. "I didn't see too many lefties coming up as a kid. So for me, I feel more comfortable facing right-handed [pitchers]. Lefties, it's just a little icing on the cake that I don't have to see a curveball or anything from those guys.

"Our lineup's ready, so it'll be no challenge, I don't think."

Boone understands why the likely right-handed-rich order may cause some concern. But he doesn't think it should be worrisome.

"It's hard to be perfect, and in a perfect world, you have a bunch of guys that hit .300 and hit for power and hit from both sides of the plate and you can balance it perfectly, but that doesn't always exist," Boone said. "I'd rather have better players, than going out and say acquiring someone because eh, he's a better fit because he hits from a certain side of the plate.

"Considering relative health, we're going to have a stud lineup that we roll out there at you every day. Is it perfect that it may be heavily right-handed most days? Maybe not. But I think we'll be all right."
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