The Runner Sports

Yankees’ ROY-To-Be Aaron Judge Another Astros 2013 Draft Whiff

The Houston Astros’ 2013 First-Year Player Draft has been dissected and denigrated at length elsewhere, and also in these pages. With the first overall pick, the Astros selected RHP Mark Appel, passing over Kris Bryant, who landed in Chicago as the eventual National League Rookie of the Year and World Champ Cub in 2016.

Related: ‘Stro Wars: Shattered Empire: The Blight of Houston’s ’13 Draft

But, on the advent of the Astros’ four-game series at Yankee Stadium that began Thursday night, the New York Yankees’ massive Aaron Judge has been the American League’s most productive hitter this season. The rookie led the AL in home runs (13) and slugging percentage (.760), entering Thursday’s first series game, while having cut down his strikeouts by 17.8 percent (26.4) from last year (44.2), when he came up for the final two months of 2016.
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All Rise

To call Aaron Judge’s 2017 so far a success would be a massive understatement. Coming into the weekend series against the Astros, he was slashing .317/.413/.760 with 13 home runs and 28 runs scored. He’s cut down on his strikeouts from last season, with only 32 in 121 plate appearances compared to 42 in 95 plate appearances in 2016. Judge has had a better approach at the plate this season, laying off more balls out of the zone when behind by two strikes. He still has vulnerabilities, such as pitches in on his hands or ones that dive down and in.

In 29 games, Judge has a WAR of 2.5, which is not all due to his offense. Judge is surprisingly good in the outfield. While he is no Aaron Hicks or Brett Gardner, Judge has been excellent in right field for the Bronx Bombers. In 28 games in RF, Judge has 6 defensive runs saved. He covers the outfield well for a man of his size and his arm is above average. A Gold Glove will probably not be in his future with the AL stacked with outfielders, but he is still a plus with the glove.

Coming into the Astros/Yankees series, these were the accumulated stats for both teams: New York tops in the majors with a run differential of +56, with the Astros fourth overall with +38. Yankees’ runs per game is 2nd overall (5.8), while Houston comes in 10th, with a 4.9.

Pitching: Houston leads the American League with a 3.42 ERA, while New York is third at 3.58 (again, prior to the series which began Thursday, May 11).

Aaron It Out

Another look at the 2013 draft list reveals that GM Jeff Luhnow and his Astros made another catastrophic boo-boo in passing on the Fresno State star, after bypassing Bryant. Of course, as the sand in the hourglass dribbles downward, other “misses” could be uncovered, and Appel may even end up a star Houston may regret trading. But, it’s hard not to imagine the towering 6’7 1/2″ (he’s added the half-inch in some recent interviews) 282-pound right fielder anchoring the current Houston lineup, and roaming Minute Maid Park’s right field.
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In fact, Judge was taken by the Yankees with the 32nd overall pick in 2013, eight slots prior to the Astros’ 2nd-round pick, which turned out to be pitcher Andrew Thurman, currently on the DL in the Braves’ farm system in Double-A.

Judge (25), whether or not he was actively scouted by Houston prior to the ’13 draft, had a brush with current Astro manager A.J. Hinch. According to the May 11, 2017, Houston Chronicle, Hinch saw Judge in action “four summers ago when, as the San Diego Padres’ assistant general manager, he scouted the then-Fresno State junior in a pre-draft workout at Petco Park.”

“Monstrous,” Hinch recalled this week of Judge’s batting practice. “I mean, it was incredible. At that point, even as a college junior, there wasn’t a ballpark that you would envision that would be able to hold him. He hit some of the longest shots in Petco that you would imagine, especially with a wood bat and coming off the college season where he was tired. He’s impressive.”

Astros catcher Brian McCann, who played with Judge in New York last season (before his November 17, 2016 trade to the Astros), described the young outfielder as “a specimen” with “off the charts” work ethic, and added that the 25-year-old is “one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.” Fellow ex-Yankee Carlos Beltran called Judge “a super humble guy,” as the Chronicle reports.

Although he had been traded from the Yankees to the Texas Rangers by the time Judge debuted Aug. 13 of last year, Beltran spent time with Judge during Spring Training in Tampa. They reportedly discussed hitting and swing mechanics, as Beltran tends to do with young players (the Astros are discovering this season).

“He’s a huge guy, man,” Beltran said. “If you see him in person, he’s huge and he’s got a lot of power. But he works hard also. He takes a lot of pride in playing the game and going to the cage, he really focuses on the little details. That’s what separates him from different younger guys that I have met in baseball.

“He’s very disciplined and he knows what he wants, and I think that attitude and that mentality will continue to push him forward.”

Bringing Up Aaron

That discipline and work ethic comes from a pair of parents who aren’t his biological ones. Indeed, retired teachers Wayne and Patty Judge adopted Aaron when he was one day old, and only told their youngest son when he was around 10 or 11, after he noticed he looked nothing like them. Aaron’s big brother, John (29), was also adopted, and is currently teaching English in South Korea. “I feel they kind of picked me,” Aaron told the New York Post in 2015. “I feel that God was the one that matched us together.” Having come up before, Aaron has never revealed his ethnicity in public, and has never met his biological parents.

Born and raised in Linden, California, Aaron grew up a San Francisco Giants fan, and graduated from Linden High in 2010, 85 miles east of Oakland. He two-sported there, starring as a wide receiver for the Lions. Interestingly, the Oakland A’s drafted Aaron out of Linden in the 30th round of the 2010 draft. Encouraged by his educator parents, and wanting the education, as well, Judge opted to attend Fresno State, about 130 miles southeast of home.

After his three seasons at Fresno State, he garnered three All-Conference first team selections and a 2013 All-America honor In his three years as a Bulldog, Judge hit .346 (581 ABs) with 41 doubles, 17 home runs, and 35 stolen bases. He also played for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League in 2012, earning the team’s Citizenship Award for being a positive team member. Wearing #99, he is only the second Yankee to do so in a regular season game, joining pitcher Brian Bruney, who wore it in 2009.

Aaron Judge, a video game aficionado and nascent piano player, chomps on bubble gum and sunflower seeds, somewhat superstitiously. He’ll hang onto a two-piece gum wad if he gets on base, tossing it if he gets an out.

He doesn’t look to go through many boxes of gum at the rate he’s collecting meaningful hits. And, even though his current teammates wear Yankee pinstripes, and not Astro orange, the jury is in on this imposing Judge: He’s worthy of extending the storied Yankees tradition, and doing his current teammates and fans proud.

“I’m just trying to go out there, and just be the best teammate I can, and I feel like any way I can help my teammates out, bring the best out of them, I feel like we’ll succeed more often than not.”–Aaron Judge, August 14, 2016, The New York Post

Related: ‘Stro Wars: Heir to the Jedi: Carlos Correa vs. Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez

Projecting Judge’s 2017

Looking ahead at the rest of the season, what lies ahead for Aaron Judge? At the current pace, Judge is set to smash more than 60 home runs this year. That will most likely not happen. Pitchers will begin to figure out Judge after studying video and making adjustments. One thing that might be a guarantee is a place for Judge on the AL All-Star team.

Not only has Judge become a fan favorite of the New York fan base, but he has turned into one of the younger faces of baseball. When the Yankees are going to be featured on national television, Judge is the player that is heavily featured in the marketing campaign.

It is easy to see why this is the case: The man is an athletic specimen, standing bigger and taller than most NFL football players. However, it is more than simply his size. His demeanor on and off the field seems to be easily relatable. While I will not personally call him the next Derek Jeter, there are aspects of Judge that remind some of Jeter (whose #2 will be retired by the team, Sunday). Judge is the young kid up-and-coming in the league. There is a huge wealth of potential for his career. He could be the next standout for the Yankees, the first prodigious homegrown talent since Robinson Cano.

Reliable Comp?

It is difficult to draw an MLB comparison to a man who stands 6’7 and 282 lbs. His power reminds many of Giancarlo Stanton, but the current MLB player that I believe Judge compares to the most is Mark Trumbo.

Recently, Trumbo has found a constant power stroke that has helped the Baltimore Orioles. Before last season’s 47, Trumbo hit over 30 home runs twice (2012 and 2013) for the Los Angeles Angels. Before struggling with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners, Trumbo had displayed solid power. Last year, Trumbo maximized that power.

Despite a slow start this season (3 home runs with a .239 batting average), I think that Judge and Trumbo have similar swings and approaches at the plate. While Judge’s average is above .300 right now, I do not think that he will be a high average player. More likely, I see Judge being a 30 home run per year player with an average around .260-.270.

However, there is a Hall of Famer who could be a better comparison for the big righty in New York. His size makes for an easy comparison to Aaron Judge, but this could be the “ceiling” for Judge. Dave Winfield stood in at 6’6 during his playing career. The height is an easy comparison to draw, but I think Judge has the talent to have a career similar to Winfield’s. Winfield consistently batted in the high .290s/low .300s during his prime. He finished his career with a .283 batting average and 465 home runs.

If Judge maximized his potential, he could find himself with similar numbers to Winfield. With a slightly lower batting average, those numbers could be what Judge finds himself at when he eventually retires. If Judge was a year or two younger, I would say he will (if he plays at his best throughout his prime years) pass Winfield and make it to 500 home runs. However, Judge is already 25 in his rookie season, while Winfield was in his fourth full big league season at 25.

Needless to say, the Astros might have missed out on a great talent. The potential that Judge has could have made the Astros a super-team in MLB. Unlike the NBA, it is very difficult to create a super-team the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors. However, if you were to place Judge in the same lineup as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, that lineup might be a new Murderers’ Row.

However, things turned out the way they did, and the Yankees look poised to have a new Core Four in the works. With Judge and Gary Sanchez at the center of that, Luis Severino and Gleyber Torres could round out that group of core guys for the Yankees. While Sanchez looked to be the face of the Yankees’ youth movement last season, Judge has now taken center stage in his official rookie season.

  • Michael Wright

    “In fact, Judge was taken by the Yankees with the 32nd overall pick in 2013, eight slots prior to the Astros’ 2nd-round pick…”. OK, I’ll agree the Astros whiffed on Kris Bryant, but to say they whiffed on Judge is stupid. Did the Cubs whiff on Judge because they took Bryant? There were 30 picks between the Astros and Yankees so I guess every team in the majors whiffed on him.

    • Brad Kyle

      Good to see you again, Michael! I think it all boils down to perspective (and the right to express an opinion without resorting to pejorative terms): From where I sit as a half-century long Astros fan, the ’13 draft sticks out for A) what was it about Appel that knocked ownership over to the point where Bryant wasn’t chosen? B) And, adding to that, what energy did the Astro brass expend in scouting Judge?

      Not knowing the answer to either of those questions, it all, then, simply becomes speculation (and we baseball fans love speculating)! Did the Cubs whiff on Judge? You could find Cubs fans (and brass, as well) that might have that opinion, but their rancor over any proposed whiff is softened by the fact they got Bryant in that draft! The Astros have no other bounty, to speak of, from that draft to soften the blow of missing out on two successive ROYs (assuming Judge keeps raking)!

      And, you guess correctly that every team in the majors whiffed on Judge. Poll the GMs. If they’re honest, they’ll say 2 things: “We wish we could’ve taken Judge, ’cause he looks awesome,” and “We had our internal rationale for picking who we ended up picking.” And, they’re willing to live with it.

      Every team, for example, whiffed on drafting Arian Foster, who turned in several good years at RB for the Houston Texans (after signing him as a FA in ’09), because no NFL team drafted him out of Tennessee. You think there was absolutely no regret (however passive) from some or all of the NFL GMs over how they passed over such a talented back once he had proven himself with the Texans?

      Drafting is A) an inexact science B) fun as hell to speculate about before one occurs, and fun as hell to write about when all is said and done!

      • Michael Wright

        Brad – Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I apologize for using the word “stupid” when something like Fuzzy Logic would have been much more appropriate. My point is the Yankee scouts obviously had Judge rated higher than every other team in baseball. If the Astros had passed on him in the 2nd round, you could justifiably say they whiffed twice. However, as you correctly stated, drafting (and scouting) is an inexact science.

        • Brad Kyle

          Thanks, Michael! Your detection of possible “Fuzzy Logic” may have been borne out of confusion (which I hope I cleared up in my first reply, and may not have been clearly stated in the article) that my “whiff” notion was based on a second chance at Judge, which clearly, the Astros didn’t have.
          With the 1st pick, how could the ‘Stros not pick EITHER Bryant or Judge? And, again, what exactly, made them fall so madly in love with Appel to overlook both of them with that 1st pick? Even if it was a desperate need for drafting a pitcher, nothing the Astros scouts saw in Bryant or Judge made them reconsider?

          • Michael Wright

            They were smart enough to pass on Appel to take Correa, but I guess it was too much to ask of them to pass on him again and take Bryant. As Cam Newton once said, “Hindsight is 50/50”, lol.