The A's drafted Judge out of Northern California high school in 31st round in 2010 as a giant, athletic two-way guy that scouts weren't sure what to make of. Since then, Judge became a fulltime hitter, filled out his frame and gained some body control while developing his swing. Scouts are asked to come up with body comps for prospects and the four I've heard most applied to Judge are names you don't hear often as answers to this question: Matt Kemp, Mike Stanton, Blake Griffin and LeBron James.
Judge hit .270/.360/.450 on the Cape with 5 HR and 6 SB in 100 AB, flashing big time tools and game ability but not without some questions. Over the Stanford weekend, Judge went 6-for-13 with 4 strikeouts, 1 walk, 5 singles and a homerun. More importantly for scouts, Judge went 1-for-8 with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk against Friday and Saturday pitching and swung and missed 11 times in 9 plate appearances.
Basically everything about Judge is above average or better, including his hitting tools, but there are some things left to be desired about his game hitting ability. As evidence by his performance this weekend, high-end breaking stuff has given him problems. He isn't some no-feel-for-hitting slugger that flails at any breaking ball, but above average breaking stuff had him off balance all weekend. You could tell by his timing (front foot getting down) that varied a lot on different pitches that he has trouble recognizing and squaring up these pitches.
Of the 11 swings and misses in the first two games, 8 were on breaking pitches. That's normally something you can't improve much, just try to work around as a hitter. His head moves more than you'd like, given that he starts somewhat upright and strides into a wide base, his head has to drop while he's swinging, which may be contributing to his trouble seeing and identifying pitches.
Judge's mechanics are solid for the risk to make contact created by his length. His hands get high and deep as you'd expect and his high finish doesn't help the contact ability in his bath path, but longer arms mean steep in and out of the zone are still in the zone for a while. He loads his hips very well and doesn't bar out or create unnecessary length like most big power hitters. Some scouts have mentioned that he has a grooved swing and lacks bat control but that's not what I've seen. While Judge isn't the loosest hitter in the world, he shows above average bat speed and an ability to hit different pitches to different parts of the field and one of my favorite indicators of hitting at upper levels is hitting with power to all fields in games and Judge has that ability despite his disadvantages.
Judge also will have the name Frank Thomas mentioned at times because he can get passive and this also bugs some scouts. Judge can wait for the right pitch too long, get into bad counts and be forced to swing at the wrong pitches to protect the zone. Much like his largely good swing mechanics, Judge's selectivity could be an asset down the road but will need some coaching to fine tune.
Judge also will shorten up in games like he did often in Sunday's game with four singles and try to hit the groundball or line drive up the middle. As you might guess again, this infuriates scouts. One scout detailed a 2010 pre-draft workout where Judge was repeatedly told to let loose and hit the ball as far as he could to left field in addition to trying a couple different things with his swing that the scouts felt he didn't do. It's a one-sided story but shows the level of frustration the area scouts can get with a hugely talented guy that they see struggle with the same things for so long that they start to forget about the tools and focus on the little stuff.
This is the carrying tool and it's a real treat to watch in BP, even getting oohs and aahs from scouts and opposing players. The surprising thing about his power is that Judge's natural power is to right center field and he almost hits it there to a fault in BP and games. Judge's length, strength and leverage create plenty of power on their own, but he's also a surprisingly good athlete that syncs his body well, driven by hips that are coiled until they explode late and a front side that stays anchored into the dirt. His long limbs allow him to load his hands high and deep and his high finish helps create backspin and loft in his bat path.
I didn't get a great run time this weekend as it was either walk, strikeout, home run or line drive single, but you can tell he moves very well for his size and is at least an average runner when you factor in his slower first step. Scouts that have seen him extensively shared 55 and 60 run times to first in the past and Judge looks like a 55 runner underway going first to third and will likely lose a step as he matures.
Judge is playing center field for Fresno and has the long speed to even do it as a pro right now, but the first step is a little slow due to his size. His hands and instincts are good enough so that when he loses a half step and moves to right field, he could be above average for that position. He bobbled one grounder to center that cost the Bulldogs a base on Saturday but that isn't a concern.
Judge has a smooth arm action and release with easy plus arm strength that he doesn't always let loose and online carry. He wasn't a bad pitching prospect in high school and the elements are here to possibly give it a try if he doesn't work out as a hitting prospect.
Judge's value as a player hinges on his game hitability and that hinges on his ability to be coached and make adjustments to his mechanics and approach. He has some unique issues to deal with and baseball typically doesn't do well with projecting unique players (see teams that passed on Tim Lincecum, all nine of them). It's not surprising that one scout told me he doesn't think Judge gets out of A-ball and that Fresno State's senior sign catcher Austin Wynns has a chance to be a big league backup and the scout prefers Wynns as a prospect. It wouldn't surprise me if Judge is a little in his own head right now and a fresh approach and new situation could unlock his enormous upside.
All that said, much like Mark Appel, the upside here is rare, the positives are almost impossible the find in one package and in a weak draft, big upside is sometimes all that one team needs to pick him. One club in the top 10 picks had their GM and scouting director in the house Friday and Saturday and clearly wanted a good look at both Appel and Judge early on. They obviously didn't like what they saw of Judge but he was in their thinking and a couple solid weekends could turn the tide on some negative momentum in the scouting community. Right now, Judge fits in the back third of the first round but that could change a lot before June and I'm inclined to take that risk in the 20's.