Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger Make Their Mark With Homer After Homer

When Aaron Judge dispatched Justin Bour in the first round of the Home Run Derby in Miami, he gave Bour a brief hug and pat on the back. When Judge beat Miguel Sano in the finals, he was doused with water and Gatorade by his celebrating teammates.

But when Judge beat Cody Bellinger in the semifinals, the 25-year-old Yankees rookie star did something different. As soon as Judge blasted his 507-foot moonshot to vanquish Bellinger, he made a point to walk over to his fellow rookie slugger, wrap his arms around him and give him a message.

“I just said, ‘Way to put on a show, man. That was awesome,’ ” Judge said. “It’s pretty cool watching him develop this year. When he first came up, what he’s done in this first half, what he did in the Home Run Derby, he’s a special player and a special kid.”

As for Bellinger?

“(Judge) is special,” the 22-year-old Dodgers rookie said. “He was (mis-hitting) balls and putting them where I was hitting them. He’s going to be fun to watch for a lot of years.”

Two of the game’s brightest young stars collided that night in Miami and provided a glimpse of the future. They have each taken the game by storm in the nation’s two largest media markets, hitting home runs at unprecedented rates and propelling their teams to new heights.

Judge and Bellinger met each other for the first time in person the night of the home run Derby. If all goes according to plan, they will be seeing a lot of each other in the future at marketing shoots, All-Star Games and, quite possibly, the World Series.

“Those guys are both phenomenal baseball players,” Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “It’s awesome to see such young guys as calm as poised as Bellinger, and with Judge it’s just awesome to see him out on the field. The things he does, the things he’s capable of doing, it’s pretty amazing. It’s fun to sit back and be a fan and watch what those guys do.”

Their performances as rookies defy explanation. Judge, the soft-spoken, 6-foot-7, 282-pound leviathan with an easy swing and bashful smile, broke Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees rookie home run record—in half a season.

Bellinger, the baby-faced son of former big league utilityman Clay Bellinger, bashed 25 home runs in his first 70 games with the Dodgers since being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City in late April. In June he became the first player in major league history to have five multi-home run games in his first 51 contests.

Their power was evident for all to see in their home run Derby showdown. Bellinger lifted balls into the upper deck in right field like it was nothing. Judge hit home runs measured at 504, 507 and 513 feet during the round, as well as a ball that clanked off the roof of Marlins Park in the first round.

“I asked someone, ‘If you were a superhero who would you be?’ And I think the answer might’ve been Aaron Judge,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “And that’s a pretty good one. I’d like to be able to feel what it’s like to be him for a day and be able to hit a baseball that far.”

As for Bellinger: “It’s early in his career, I don’t want to get too excited one way or the other, but he’s an all-star already,” Reds first baseman Joey Votto said, “and he’s (second) in the league in home runs. That’s a pretty good thing.

“He clearly has a lot of pull power, he’s aggressive and he seems to be able to put the ball in the air. It’s a very good start to his career.”

It seems odd now, but it wasn’t always this way. Judge hit just 18 home runs in three years at Fresno State and never hit 20 home runs in any minor league season.

Bellinger hit one home run his senior year of high school and had a grand total of four home runs his first two seasons a pro.

Each required significant adjustments and rigorous work to unlock their power potential.

In Judge’s case, that meant remaking his swing after striking out 42 times in 84 at-bats in his big league debut in 2016.

“My bat is kind of working, how I see it, like a Ferris wheel instead of like a merry-go round,” Judge said in May. “The past couple years when I started getting bad, I would start rolling over a lot of balls because my bat was like a merry-go-round, it was not staying through the zone. Controlling that (back) hip allows the bat to get through the zone like a Ferris wheel. So my contact point now, if I’m expecting 95 (mph) and a guy throws 98 or 99, my bat is still in the zone and I can drive it to right-center field. Or if I’m expecting a fastball and the guy throws something offspeed, my bat is still in the zone; I can hit something to left field.”

Bellinger, meanwhile, made his adjustment at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga in 2015. He hit 18 of his 30 home runs in the second half of that season and another three in the California League playoffs. From there he went on to hit 31 home runs in 135 games at Double-A and Triple-A, quite the turnaround for a player whose power output was rock bottom his first two seasons.

“I give credit to a few things: kind of learning my swing a little bit and creating a hitch to where I was comfortable,” Bellinger said. “That one little move to create a consistent plane made me take off. There were two people in the organization, (then-Dodgers minor league hitting coordinator) Damon Mashore and (then-Double-A hitting coach) Shawn Wooten who helped me a lot. Those two guys kind of teach the same thing. They got me on track and they know their stuff.”

Even with their adjustments, strikeouts remain a part of both young sluggers’ games. Bellinger entered the all-star break with a 29.1 percent strikeout rate and Judge had a 29.8 percent mark.

But both are getting to their power enough and making frequent-enough contact that it doesn’t weigh them down, a testament to their talent and their ability to not let a negative result knock them down.

“They’re good hitters and they’re still learning,” Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. “They’ve got a good approach and they’re having fun. It’s good to see young guys who are that good and have fun but are mature. It’s great for the game.”

Indeed, Judge’s and Bellinger’s development has been great for the game. Both New York and Los Angeles have been electrified, as has the sport as a whole, by their exploits.

And with the respect they have for each other after their matchup in Miami, they will have every opportunity to rise side-by-side as faces of baseball’s future.

“He’s extremely humble, he’s a great dude and he’s a great talent,” Bellinger said. “I’m looking forward to competing with him for hopefully a lot of years.”

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