27 Outs Baseball Network

Red Sox-Yankees Rivalry Enters Rookie of the Year Race

Photos by Tony Capobianco

The teams that usually make the playoffs are a strong mixture of young players on the rise and veterans staying strong and aging like fine wine. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees reflect that this season and are on the path for a return to the playoffs.

Yet it is the performance of their star rookie outfielders that are front and center of the race. Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi and Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge are the best player of their respective clubs.

Benintendi leads the Red Sox in hitting with a .339 batting average just a month and a half into his rookie season. One could tell this was going to be a great season for him when he started it by hitting a three-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60 ERA in 2016) on Opening Day. Combine that with two run-saving catches in the outfield and it was the type of performance that had reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello saying, “The sky is the limit.”

The craziest thing about Benintendi is the acceleration of his rise to competing with Judge for the Rookie of the Year Award. In 2013, was named ACBA/Rawlings National High School Player of the Year and First Team All-American after hitting .564 with 12 home runs, 57 RBI and 38 stolen bases as a senior in high school in Cincinnati. He had the most prolific season in Arkansas Razorbacks history in 2015 when he led the SEC with 20 home runs and a .376/.488/.717 slash line as a sophomore, all while collecting every possible collegiate award out there including the Golden Spikes Award (the baseball version of the Heisman) and SEC Male Athlete of the Year.

That got him drafted seventh overall by the Red Sox. He hit 11 home runs in a Single-A split between Lowell and Greenville with a .313 batting average through 54 games. He started last season in Single-A Salem and got promoted to the big leagues out of Double-A Portland after hitting .312 and driving in 76 runs in 94 games. He has yet to appear in Triple-A and it looks like the only way he would ever make an appearance in the minor leagues again is during a rehab stint.

Benintendi started his MLB career weighing 165 pounds, basically a younger Dustin Pedroia who somehow hits home runs. He came into spring training this year with 20 extra pounds of muscle and is now on pace for 25 home runs and 108 RBI.

If that is impressive, after hitting .317 with 13 home runs and 23 RBI before his 30th game of the season, Judge is on pace for an astounding 68 home runs and 146 RBI. If he ever came close to that, it would be the greatest rookie season in the history of baseball.

Standing tall at 6-7, 282 pounds, Judge draws comparisons to NBA star Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers. Trenton Thunder pitcher Caleb Frare met both Judge and Griffin at the same time and despite Griffin being three inches taller, Judge was bigger.

“Judge looks like he could dominate Blake Griffin in the post,” Frare said. “It’s hard to believe because Blake Griffin is such an amazing athlete and Judge looks like he would dominate him. He’s massive. He’s just a massive human being.”

According to Frare, Judge has a hard time playing certain video games because his thumbs touch together while grasping the controller, which makes him one of the few athletes in professional sports to prefer the Nintendo Wii over the Playstation.

Ask any of Judge’s former Minor League teammates and you would be amazed to hear of the stories that come from working out with him.

“It was one of the first workouts this year and I thought I went to the workouts in shape,” Frare said. “We’re halfway through and I’m puking, all the other pitchers are puking and Judge is like, ‘you guys are out of breath?’ All the other position players, they’re puking and Judge is just standing there like he hasn’t done anything.”

Given the history of this rivalry, it only makes sense that the Red Sox’s rookie is listed at 5-10 while the Yankees’ rookie is the largest position player in Major League Baseball.

 

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