Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Draft, Player of Interest: Aaron Judge, of

Aaron Judge
Fresno State University
6-7, 255 lbs, B/T: R/R

Aaron Judge is tall. Aaron Judge is intriguing. Aaron Judge is tall and intriguing.

Courtesy: John Walker/Fresno Bee
Whenever you see a tall hitter, the immediate question that leaps to mind is "how absurd is the strikeout rate going to be?" Tall hitters have two disadvantages working against them in the strikeout department: (1) their height gives them a much larger strike-zone to control, and (2) they have longer arms that can make consistent contact that much more difficult.

On the plus side, the longer arms can help generate leverage and power. On the negative side, they also make it easier to get tied up on inside pitches. So, taller hitters usually excel in the power department, struggle in the contact department. What's interesting about Judge is that he seems to be (somewhat) the opposite.

Most of the current scouting reports are more concerned with whether Judge will unlock his power potential in the professional rank rather than whether he'll make enough consistent contact to reach that power. Instead of needing to cut down on his swing to improve his contact rate, Judge almost needs to lengthen his swing to bring his power from batting practice into live game action.

As a junior for Fresno State, Judge hit to the tune of .369/.461/.655 with 12 homers and a 53/35 K/BB ratio in 206 ABs. The power was much improved over his freshman (2 HRs and .465 SLG%) and sophomore (4 HRs and .458 SLG%) campaigns. He also managed to steal 11 bases in 13 attempts, though that won't likely be a big part of his game in the professional ranks.

Another reason to be optimistic on Judge, despite his height, is his plus athleticism. He was a three sport star in high school and had multiple offers to play tight end at the collegiate level, but his love of baseball took him in a different direction. (Personally, I give bonus points to a player who is smart enough and passionate enough about the sport to choose baseball over football.) Judge runs well for a such a tall player and has a very good arm, which will play well in rightfield. His game just isn't the typical plodding game you see in most taller players, he's much more than that. But, quite obviously, his bat will be his calling card.

Here's a nice look at Judge in action, courtesy of rkyosh007 on YouTube:

Judge stands tall and holds his hands even higher in his pre-pitch stance. To load his hands, he draws them down and back, but they remain fairly high. Even so, his swing is fairly compact, as he has a short path to the pitch, which is uncommon for a taller hitter. He does a nice job of immediately driving his right elbow in close to his back hip, syncing his arms with his hip rotation and ensuring good power generation. His hip rotation is strong, generating enough force to drive up onto the toe of his back foot. Overall, it's a solid and surprisingly compact set of swing mechanics. Will his combination of height and compact swing allow him to cover the entire the zone? Will he struggle on pitches either up or down in the zone? Those are questions he'll need to answer, but I like where he's at with his swing.

Judge doesn't have elite bat speed, but does have legitimately massive power. His power will obviously be a big value-driver for Judge, but it's the compact swing and good athleticism that really catch my eye. I don't doubt that the power will be there and the fact that he's starting from compact with an eye towards maybe lengthening his swing rather than trying to shorten up his swing is reassuring. He's not a guy who has to cut down on his swing in order to "reach" his power. So, he's somewhat the reverse of what I would expect and there's something comforting in that.

Judge's athleticism and compact swing land him on the short list of players I'd like to see the Reds draft. There's some risk there, but he may have the type of diversified tools and skills that effectively minimize that risk.

Judge is definitely on my draft board.

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