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Diamonds in the rough: The five best defensive plays of 2023

In a year with more than enough low-lights, let’s look at some of the defensive gems.

Los Angeles Angels v New York Yankees Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images

2023 was not exactly a season to remember for the Yankees, on defense or otherwise. But it wasn’t all bad. Over the course of 162 regular season games, there’s bound to be some magic with the glove. When healthy, New York had two of the better defensive outfielders in Harrison Bader and Aaron Judge patrolling things on the green, along with a few skilled counterparts in the infield.

Since my colleague Noah has already gone through the worst of the worst, let’s take a look at when and where some Yankee leather flashed the brightest in 2023.

5. Harrison Bader, May 16th at Blue Jays

No matter how many games he plays, it would be nearly impossible to keep Harrison Bader off of a list like this. Despite his offensive downturn, the speedy center fielder is never short on defensive gems. In this case, a near-100 mph liner from George Springer that seemed destined for turf was picked clean by Bader. The ball had an expected batting average of .480, but given Bader’s positioning and how difficult it can be to read liners in the outfield, this is undoubtedly an impressive play.

Despite the rough season at the plate, Bader’s regularly-scheduled acrobatic plays in center will be missed in the Bronx.

4. Aaron Judge, May 29th at Mariners

Judge’s excellence with the glove is now properly rated, and will be reflected in this list as well. As much as he makes jaws drop with his bat, he’s almost as capable of doing it with his glove in right (or center) field. This is the perfect Aaron Judge play, in a way. It doesn’t look all that spectacular, but that’s why it’s so great. He tracked the ball and timed his jump so perfectly, that an absolute robbery came across as nearly effortless. Oh, he also hit a pair of homers of his own on this night.

3. Jake Bauers, April 29th at Rangers

This is one way to make your Yankee debut, in his first inning no less. Jake Bauers had yet to make a plate appearance in pinstripes, and is seen here sacrificing his body to take a hit away from eventual ALCS MVP Adolis García. The 28-year-old headed full-speed for the right field wall, crashing into it seemingly knee-first in the name of keeping the game scoreless. He was taken out of the game, but was back in action just a few days later. Sadly, sacrificial plays will be a recurring theme in this list.

2. Aaron Judge, June 3rd at Dodgers

It’s not often you’ll get the same play featured on this list as well as Casey’s worst moments list, but here we are. In the rare trip to Dodger Stadium, Aaron Judge not only wowed with this play, but also eventually landed himself a lengthy stay on the injured list. But, the bad side-effects aside, this is a fantastic play. Much like Bauers above, Judge ran full speed to catch the ball no more than a couple of feet from the fence. And rather than bouncing off, the big fella just went right through.

1. Aaron Judge, April 19th vs. Angels

You may be saying Aaron Judge is on this list too much, but I raise you this: he is good. This is perfect baseball drama to cap off the list. Fellow superstar Shohei Ohtani hit a ball seemingly guaranteed to produce (.970 xBA, a homer in 19/30 parks), only for Judge to make a timely intervention. The captain timed the leap perfectly, and after stopping the ball with his glove, saved the out by recovering it with his barehand. The guy is pretty special, he hit a massive homer in this game as well, a game they won by a single run.