Maybe it’s because Yankees prospects such as Eric Duncan and Jesus Montero never lived up to their hype several years ago. Maybe it’s because some still believe the Yankees will trade all their top prospects before they reach The Bronx.
Yet, for some reason, even though this corner and several others feel Yankees prospects Greg Bird and Aaron Judge, who will likely both start 2015 at Double-A Trenton are the real deal, they are not being given the acclaim they have earned in others.
Let’s start with Bird, who earned MVP honors in both the Arizona Fall League and Future Stars Game last month. He tied for the AFL lead in home runs with six, led the circuit in runs with 21, was second in hits with 31, RBIs with 21 and total bases with 55. He hit .313 (31-for-99) and had an OPS of .947.
So what did the 22-year-old Bird receive in some quarters? He has been stamped sub-par athletically in one opinion, a “second-division” first baseman in another.
Let’s move to Judge, whom most scouts feel has all the tools needed to be an All-Star right-fielder. Judge batted .278 (25-for-90) in the AFL with an OPS of .844. He gets a little more love from most observers than Bird has so far, likely because many are impressed with his athletic coordination for a 6-foot-7, 255-pound hitter.
Opinions are opinions, and whether either Bird or Judge becomes a major-league star in the future is open to some debate. That is a fair point until either or both are established in the majors.
Lost, however, in all this evaluation of the two is an attribute which likely will allow both to be solid major-leaguers and ensure that both will be offensive contributors to the Yankees in the future.
Both Bird and Judge have a quality that is one of the most important in a developing prospect. It is not ignored by scouts, but often is by casual observers. Both players have an advanced approach at the plate and outstanding plate discipline. Chances are, if a player doesn’t have that, he won’t make it to the majors.
P.J. Pilittere was a coach for the Scottsdale Scorpions, the team with Bird and Judge played on in the recently concluded AFL season. He is also a coach in the Yankees Minor League System after a solid minor-league career as a catcher, displaying leadership qualities that caught the Yankees’ eye as a possible coaching candidate.
Pilittere was always observing the game as a player, and, in his position with Scottsdale, easily saw this attribute.
“If a player takes an intelligent approach at the plate, and has the right kind of discipline, it doesn’t matter where he is playing, here, Charleston, Trenton, whatever level,” said Pilittere. “They have what is needed.”
Both Bird and Judge have this, and, as Pilittere mentioned, this will play at whatever level both are performing. It is legitimate to think both will arrive in The Bronx in 2016, and this attribute will help both succeed at the big-league level. Both work hard at their defense, which, at this point, is more than adequate.
One can talk about athleticism, this or that, but, compared to plate discipline, it pales. Outfielder Mason Williams has all the athletic ability in the world, and his defense is at or close to major-league level. His approach at the plate is likely one of the worst in the Yankees system and could put him at Trenton for a third straight season.
Debate the overall possibilities of Bird and Judge s future big-league stars all you want, but in one of the most important facets needed to succeed, both of these guys have it in hand.