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NY Post
New York Post
24 Feb 2024

NextImg:Yankees’ Alex Verdugo ‘very driven’ for a career year with third historic franchise

New Yankees outfielder Alex Verdugo, acquired in a rare trade with the Red Sox in December, fields some spring training questions from Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What kind of damage do you see Aaron Judge and Juan Soto doing together?

A: I just see line drives everywhere, man. I see Judge hitting home runs like he did. It’s inevitable, how big he is and how much power, you already know he’s gonna do his thing. And then same thing with Soto, man, the way he hits the ball, the way he goes about his business. … The way he can hit a ball to left field is probably the biggest thing that surprises me. Everybody’s got the pull-side power, but the way he’s able to go pull-side, center and really hit the ball left like that, he hits it like a right-handed hitter. … So I see pitchers losing sleep over it, man. I see pitchers really having to go against like the actual scouting reports and trying to do some stuff that’s different to really throw these guys off. Top to bottom, man, we got a very lethal lineup.

Q: What have you learned about Judge?

A: He’s a very big person (laugh). … You don’t get the captain easily, especially here. … You want to work with him, you want to do better, you want to challenge yourself to be at that level. I see a lot of guys that have success like him and become the guy of the league, and they let it get to their head, they change a little bit, the demeanors change, they kind of get a little bit into themselves. But he’s just so selfless and cares about all the guys, and it doesn’t matter if you’re on the big leagues or you’re in the minor leagues, man, he treats everybody accordingly, like just as a person and as a friend. I’m a big fan, big advocate on Judge, and what I hear from people telling me is that it’s likewise, he felt the same about me and wanted me to be here for years. Just that I’m finally here, it makes me want to work and push myself that much more to prove that what he’s been saying to the front office for years was right.

Q: Judge has called you a tough out. How are you a tough out?

A: I make pitchers work. I’m a very big bat-to-ball guy. I don’t like to swing-and-miss a lot, there’s not a lot of swing-and-miss in my game. I’m a guy that I can hit the ball from left-field line to the right-field line and anywhere in between.

Q: How driven are you with this change of scenery?

A: I feel very driven, I feel very motivated, I feel like I’m in a much better place physically, emotionally, spiritually. I love the teammates here, the staff has been amazing to me, … Judge, Riz [Anthony Rizzo], Giancarlo [Stanton], DJ [LeMahieu], there’s so many amazing players. … It feels like they’re kind of taking me under their wing, and I’m able to work with them and really push myself with them.

Q: Do you sense a hunger on this team from guys who are dying to win a World Series?

A: Absolutely. Spring training’s that time where pretty much every organization I feel like would probably feel that, right? But being real with ourselves and looking at our lineup, looking at our pitching staff it’s like we ***** really ***** feel that. We got Cash [GM Brian Cashman] that’s going out there making moves, and that’s the good thing about this organization is that you know they’re not scared to make a move to better the team. We’re all super-excited, and I think that’s kind of why we have that calm, quiet, but like also loud work ethic right now. We’re not over here just going through the motions ’cause we’re Day 2, Day 3 in spring. It’s a calm but like loose focus, and also very locked in. We understand that the season doesn’t start until late March and that’s when it really is time to flip a switch, but that switch has already been flipped and getting the wheel turning.

Alex Verdugo at bat during a simulated game at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees Spring training complex in Tampa Florida. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Q: What is your mentality on the field or in the batter’s box?

A: I think on the field, bro, I’m more of like a dog. I have that mindset of “Let’s get it. We’re better than the other guy, we’re better than the opposing guy,” and I take that everywhere. I take that on the defense to where, “Anything hit this way, it’s not dropping.” Same thing in the batter’s box, like, “This pitcher’s got nothing.” Even if it’s the best pitcher out there, Cy Young Gerrit Cole, it’s the same mindset of, “Hey, this guy’s got nothing.” You don’t want to give him too much credit. So for me, it’s more of like that calm assassin feel.

Q: Why will New York like watching Alex Verdugo play baseball?

A: I play hard. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’m the hardest person on myself, so that’s why I can handle the noise, man. I can handle the crowd. I’m not scared of that. I’m not scared of the opportunity, and I’m not scared of the big spot. I’m not scared of the failure, man. This game, we’re built on failure. Fail seven out of 10 times and you’re an All-Star, you’re a Hall of Famer. So it’s like for me, pitchers are expected to get us out. I don’t feel that pressure like that. It’s about how you calm down, how you control your breathing, your heart rate, your everything. For me I feel like in the big moments and whatever moment it is, I’m able to take a step back, to slow it all down and to kind of get back to the fundamentals.

Q: Sounds like you’re expecting a career year.

A: Absolutely, man. That’s what we try to do every year, right? I think some things happened last year that opened my eyes and needed to be addressed. And I think we’re all on the same page, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we keep climbing through the year instead of kind of hitting that roller coaster where it’s halfway through the year we’re at the peak and then we’re kind of descending down to the end. You gotta find a way to slowly kinda keep building, building each and every day, and then we get to the playoffs and it’s go time.

Q: Is one of your goals a Gold Glove this year?

A: Yes. It’s my goal every year. We came up just short last year. I’m a little bit hurt by it still. I’m gonna make sure there’s no doubts this year.

Alex Verdugo participates in spring training workouts for the Yankees. Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Q: Will last year’s All-Star snub drive you this year?

A: Yes, yes, but it’s hard to kind of say it was a snub for me, right? At the time yeah, I thought it was a snub. I think that last 2-3 weeks right before that All-Star was final, I was scuffing a little bit, and I was just trying to get in with what I had already done, which yeah, I thought it was good enough to sneak in, especially compared to some people, but I wasn’t happy with the way I was performing in those last 2-3 weeks that I didn’t feel it was a snub anymore. I was so angry and focused in on myself that bro, if I wanted to do it, all I had to do was ball out for 2-3 weeks more, and I would have forced that hand. So it’s my fault for not forcing it.

Q: You struggled in the second half of the season.

A: We figured everything out that I was going through and what I was kind of grinding with. We’re in a good spot, we’re gonna do some things to make sure that I don’t feel the way I felt during that second half.

Q: How would you describe the way you felt?

A: I was dealing with stomach issues. I had some GI [gastrointestinal] things we couldn’t figure out. We were thinking it was muscular, thinking it was certain things, but it ended up being something else, and I didn’t get it addressed till the offseason. I kind of compared it to like when you have a stomach ache and your stomach really, really hurts to like it kind of shuts down your whole body, it makes you a little bit more sluggish, it makes running worse, it makes throwing worse, it makes hitting worse. That’s still not a reason, that’s not my reason that I’m giving you, that’s just the truth of why it was at that time for me.

Q: Are you more excited about the prospect of being an outfielder with the Yankees, as opposed to an outfielder for the Red Sox playing against them?

A: I think I’m very honored to have played on three of the most historic franchises, going from the Dodgers, the Red Sox to the Yankees.

Q: As a Yankees outfielder, you won’t have to wear a helmet on your head at the Stadium.

A: (Laugh). In the heat of the moment, I was very upset [after a fan threw a baseball at him while with the Red Sox]. But then as you go home, you unwind, you relax and you think about it. I was like, “Man, I handled it wrong. I shoulda wore it like a champ, it really didn’t hurt.” Even with the way they talk and the way they ride players, like visiting guys, I’ve kind of said it and everybody around the league says it, it’s like they’re not gonna repeat your name or try to talk smack to you if you’re not a good player. If you’re not good and you don’t kind of hurt their organization or do damage against their teams, they’re not gonna sit there and chant, “F Ver-dugo” or “Verdugo sucks.” That whole getting hit by the ball, man, I was pretty much over that right away. I just kind of was like I shouldn’t have reacted as aggressively.

Q: How so?

A: Yelling at the fan, turning around, wanting to kind of go into the stands and have the guy come to me. I had to walk to the dugout, cool off real quick and then go back out. The inning before I think I struck out on a ball that was like four inches off the plate, so I was already kind of angry and then I got hit. So it was kind of like that perfect storm. Now that I have kids and a family, I don’t know, man, I think I’m softer in that regard (chuckle).

Q: How much do you miss pitching?

A: I do miss it. I do miss it a lot. I would really like to try again, and potentially (chuckle) at least have an inning or so here and there. But with that being said, having not pitched in so long, man, it would take me a little while to kind of get back into pitching shape and to get that velo that I’m accustomed to.

Q: You would prefer bullpen, right?

A: Oh, hundred percent yeah, absolutely. Kind of like what they do in college where it’s like you play [in the field] and then if you want to close it out or pitch like the eighth inning or something, you can be that guy. I’ve always thought about that. I kind of wish that [Shohei] Ohtani came in a little sooner. That way when I had gotten drafted maybe it would have been more of a discussion than what it was back in the day.

Q: What is the criticism that bothers you most?

A: For me, it’s more of like the outside criticism that they don’t know me as a person but they try to judge my character. That’s one thing that really hurts me, because I’ve always been a believer and I was always taught as a kid from my parents and from any adult figure that kind of had my back and took me under their wing was you treat people how you want to be treated. You always treat people with respect. And the same thing goes with if I’m at a mall and I’m eating at the food court, you push in your chairs, you clean your table, you throw away your trash. Yeah, there’s a janitor, there’s somebody there that that’s their job and they’re getting paid for it, but it doesn’t mean you leave it a mess and just let them do it. I think the biggest thing that bothers me is people telling me, or you hear comments, “Oh he’s a bad teammate,” “He’s a selfish guy,” he’s this, he’s that. But realistically, when I’m around the guys and the teammates that I’ve had and I’ve been able to like really sit down and get to know, they all understand the kind of fire, the passion I bring, and the genuineness that I actually bring to the table as well. … I’m a real person, man. I have a real feeling, a real heart. Yeah, we make mistakes at times, but mine are … I’m always trying to be the right guy, and just do the right thing, but I feel like there’s been some character issues that have kind of stumped me in the past. That’s part of the reason why I’m super-excited to be here, man — just great organization, great group and I’m able to kind of start fresh with them. They’re able to see the work ethic, the camaraderie, the attitude, the talking to each other, whatever you want to say, I’m able to build better relationships.

Alex Verdugo admits he misses pitching and that he would prefer bullpen if he was ever able to pitch an inning here or there again. Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Q: Do you regret some of the things — not hustling once, late to ballpark — that happened with Red Sox manager Alex Cora?

A: There’s no personal like grudge against him, there’s no nothing. I think both sides could have been better. I could have been a little bit better, he could have been a little bit better. … His family loved my family, my family loved his family, our kids hung out. Off the field there was nothing personal ever. On the field, when you’re not playing they good, the team’s losing, there’s things going on, there’s a lot of different variables that go on, and pressures and outside noise that can kind of affect some people on a day-to-day basis. And he really wanted to push me, man. He really wanted me to be the best version of myself. And I think in doing so, some of the things didn’t translate as well in my mind. If I see him, man, I’m gonna dap him up, I’m still gonna say, “Wassup?” and being very appreciative of him managing me and giving me an opportunity in the big leagues.

Q: Quick thoughts: Gerrit Cole.

A: Stud.

Q: Marcus Stroman.

A: Stro’ Show.

Q: Carlos Rodon.

A: Horse … workhorse.

Q: Nestor Cortes.

A: Crafty.

Q: Clarke Schmidt.

A: He said he could take on a small bear. I’ve just been busting his chops about it. So I’m gonna say naive (laugh). He’s got that young mind, and he’s just ready to kind of get after it. So it’s like you got like kind of the world in front of you. It’s just that youthfulness.

Q: What are your impressions of Anthony Volpe?

A: A.V., man, I love him. He’s young, he’s hungry, he works hard, he’s just a genuine good guy when you talk to him. It’s like he cares about you and he gives you the time. I’m excited about him, man. That’s a guy I really think’s gonna click and put it together.

Trent Grisham #12, Aaron Judge #99, Giancarlo Stanton #27, Juan Soto #22 and Alex Verdugo #24, celebrating after Soto threw a ball to a fan who caught it, during practice at Steinbrenner Field. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Q: When Giancarlo turns sideways, can you see him?

A: ’Cause he got skinny?

Q: Yeah that’s what I mean.

A: He looks great. He’s moving better. I’m trying to get on that program.

Q: Aaron Boone.

A: Oh, love him. Love him. The level of communication, the way he goes about it, the way he has his players’ backs, the way he lays out things. … The way he also handles media as well with his responses and answers, he’s first class.

Q: If you could face any pitcher in MLB history to test your skills, who would it be?

A: Nolan Ryan. … He was a dog, man, he freaking threw gas. He was lights out. I remember growing up there was a a bar/batting cage right by my house, and like the fastest cage possible was labeled “Nolan Ryan.” As a kid I remember getting in that cage, and it was supposed to be 90-plus, and it was like pitches were unbelievable, and then as I got a little older I started raking off of it. … Or Randy Johnson, but that lefty-lefty coming in at 100-and-something would have been a little bit tougher.

Q: What do you want to say about your father, Joe?

A: I look up to my dad a lot. Thank you for everything and showing me the ways of how to be a man and for always having my back.

Alex Verdugo pictured for a holiday photo with partner Yamille Alcala and their two sons A.J. and Efrain. Instagram @dugie24

Q: What’s fatherhood like for you?

A: Amazing. I say I got softer, but in reality, man, I just got wiser. I got my priorities switched, it was always just about me, how to get myself to the big leagues, get myself up through the minors, and get there and then solidify yourself. And then I had my kids [A.J., Efrain]. It’s the best thing that I’ve ever done. It beats any home run, it beats any big play I’ve ever done. The biggest play I’ve ever done was holding my son after he was born. They help me so much and they help me with the ups and the downs of the year now where I can go 0-for-3 with two punchies, and I go home and my kids, man, they don’t care. It’s, “Daddy, Daddy,” and it’s a big hug, a kiss. They’ve humbled me a lot, they’ve kind of grounded me a lot as well, and just really helped me just kind of turn into like a kid, and become a man. My kids are my world, man.

Q: Will you have the same walk-up song?

A:. Yeah, so I’m gonna definitely do “Volner Volner” by Vicente Fernandez, and then we’re working on a second song. … I kind of want a little bit more of a rap song or something on the second half.

Q: Any interest in growing a mustache?

A: Nah, I can’t do it, brother, it’s not the right look. … I look a little suspect.

Q: You’re OK with being clean-shaven?

A: I actually like it. It rejuvenated me a little bit. It made me feel a little bit younger.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Babe Ruth, Snoop Dogg, Michael Jackson.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Ace Ventura” or “Nacho Libre.”

    Q: Favorite actor?

    A: Jim Carrey … Adam Sandler … Will Ferrell.

    Q: Favorite actress?

    A: Melissa McCarthy.

    Q: Favorite singer/rapper/entertainer?

    A: Vicente Fernandez in my Mexican genre … Michael Jackson … Whitney Houston … Lil Baby … Lil Wayne, Mase … NBA YoungBoy.

    Q: Favorite meal?

    A: Tacos.

    Q : Do you believe the best is yet to come for you?

    A: I really do believe that this year’s gonna be a big year for me, but I do believe like my ceiling’s gonna come this year, next year, next few years. I do believe my prime is coming.

    Q: Personal goals?

    A: I want to hit. 300. You obviously want to hit 20 home runs. I think I got a better chance being in New York now to do it, but for me it’s just .300, get on base. … I think my biggest ones that I need to prioritize is I need to skip out the home runs, skip on that, I need to focus on getting a Gold Glove, keeping my batting average high and scoring as many runs as I possibly can.

    Q: What is your message to Yankees fans?

    A: When I’m doing good, and it’s flying high, we’re balling, we’re hitting, we’re performing, I know they’re gonna have my back. They’re gonna love it. The passion that I have. It’s the slumps, right? You’re struggling, this that, you’re not coming through in key situations, I know I’m gonna get booed. I mean, Derek Jeter’s gotten booed. I understand in that regard what’s gonna happen. We’re out here really trying to win a World Series, we’re gonna try to bring home No. 28, man. I want to win a ring just as bad as any other fan … probably even more. Hopefully they got our back, try to eliminate as many of the boos as we can, ’cause at the end of the day, you always want your fans to have your back and have that little bit of home-field advantage in that regard. But I’m all-in for it, man, I get it. You’re not performing, they got a right to their opinion, they pay their money and take their time out of their day to come watch the games, and I understand it. And as a fan, I do the same thing too when I watch different sports and you watch your team lose, you get pissed, you’re like, ***** “How could this guy do this?!” ***** … I’m not gonna take that away from anybody. Just know at the end of the day, man, we’re competing. We’re firing on all cylinders 24/7, and all you guys catch is in like a three-hour window. … I think just have our backs, man, we’re gonna do everything we can to bring home No. 28.