You be the Judge

It’s been five years since the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, enough time to take a look back and wonder what if … and what the hell?

I’ll get right to it. There were two future superstars selected in the first round that year: Kris Bryant and Aaron Judge. Bryant, I get. The Cubs took him with the second pick overall. Judge is harder to figure out, if only because of all the swings and misses before him. The Yankees took Judge with the 32nd pick. That means a whole lot of teams had their opportunity to take the giant of an outfielder from Fresno State University.

A couple of other names selected in the first round of the 2013 draft are Jon Gray of the Rockies (3rd) and Clint Frazier of the Yankees, acquired from the Indians who took him 5th overall. Other players to make it to the majors without a ton of success yet include Austin Meadows, taken by the Pirates (9th); Hunter Renfroe of the Padres (13th), J.P. Crawford, taken 16th by the Phillies; Tim Anderson of the White Sox (17th); and Marco Gonzales, taken by the Cardinals (19th). Only Gray, Renfroe and Anderson are with their original team.

The first pick in 2013? Mark Appel, by the Astros. Appel played his last minor league game in 2017. He never played a day in the major leagues.

Bryant was considered a can’t-miss prospect and has lived up to expectations, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. Appel was considered a big arm, someone who probably would have gone No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft if not for the concerns that he might not sign. Those concerns proved to be well-founded because Appel, who was picked No. 8 by the Pirates that year, did not sign and re-entered the draft in 2013.

The Astros decided to go with the stud pitcher a year later rather than the stud third baseman, a decision they lived to regret but understandable considering the shortage of top-flight starting pitchers coming out of college.

What is not understandable is the amount of teams who passed on Judge. What’s not to like? His size? He is an absolute physical specimen without peer in professional baseball at 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds. His mental makeup? Anyone who did their homework on this young man had to know they were getting something special within the first five minutes of speaking to him. There’s a reason this guy is compared to Derek Jeter, and it’s not overblown.

It had to be the curveball, I guess, or rather his inability to hit the curve ball. I remember he struck out a lot when he first came up with the Yankees (42 times in his 84 bats in 2016), but I also remember that he went on to hit 52 home runs and drive in 114 runs in 2017, his first full season. Rookie of the Year. Finished second to Jose Altuve in the MVP voting. Yes, he strikes out too much for my tastes, but his ability to get on base — especially for a top-of-the-line slugger — and hit the ball out of the park anytime he gets his bat on the ball covers up a lot of sins.

The Yankees saw the potential in this giant of a man, someone who carries an outstanding mental makeup along with his big bat and rocket of an arm, and took a chance that somewhere along the line Aaron Judge would figure it out.

The Mets picked 11th overall in 2013. Bryant was long gone, but they could have had Judge just by calling out his name. Instead, they went with first baseman Dominic Smith. They must have seen something in Dominic Smith that I have yet to see in his short tenure with the ball club. Physically, Smith has been out of shape for most of his career. Mentally, he showed up late for a team meeting and was benched for the first preseason game of 2018. This came after he lost 35 pounds in the off-season and was given an opportunity to win the starting job in spring training. He didn’t win that job and his standing with the 2019 Mets is shaky at best. But the Mets didn’t know that in 2013, of course. It turns out that there’s a whole lot the Mets haven’t known in recent years, and that’s at least part of the reason they have a new general manager.

And any Yankee fan who likes to brag about his team’s ability to sniff out a great talent like Judge while other teams can only dream of including him in their outfield, I have two words for you: Eric Jagielo.

You see, the Yankees had another first-round pick in 2013. At No. 26, six picks before they drafted Judge, the Yankees selected Jagielo, a corner infielder who has yet to play in the major leagues and is now on his third organization, the Miami Marlins.

Pro sports can analyze data and statistics for nearly everything these days, but when it comes to scouting it still is a crapshoot.

Let me know when they come up with analytics that can measure an athlete’s heart, what drives one player to overcome any and all obstacles to succeed and drives another out of the sport altogether. Then you would really have something.

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