First to draft Judge was ... the A's?

31st-round pick didn't sign, went to Fresno State

September 23rd, 2022

This story was originally published in 2018.

OAKLAND -- was once theirs, sort of. The A's can at least say they tried to court baseball's burgeoning basher.

Judge was selected by the A's as a high schooler in the 31st round of the 2010 Draft but opted to continue his development at the collegiate level through Fresno State. Three years later, he was a Yankee.

Now? An absolute sensation.

"As scouts, in a lot of cases, what we do is dream," A's scouting director Eric Kubota said. "And when we dreamed about Judge, this is probably what we thought about."

Long before he descended on the Big Apple, Judge roamed the tiny town of Linden, Calif. He was a three-sport athlete at Linden High School -- also starring in football and basketball -- and a two-way player on the diamond, pitching when he wasn't on first.

But he wasn't always the home run-smashing behemoth.

"He was like lots of high school guys," Kubota said. "He was a little raw with the bat, probably a little raw overall. I mean, he came from a smaller town from Northern Cal, so he hadn't played against the top competition. So you're kind of trying to piece everything together and you're looking at the upside physically and athletically, and then the risk comes with any high school guy who maybe is playing a level down in competition."

The A's were very much intrigued, however, and invited the 6-foot-7 Judge to take part in a workout at the Coliseum for local Draft hopefuls in 2010.

"We always have a big workout at the stadium for all the big local kids, so he definitely came, and he definitely stood out like a sore thumb," Kubota said, laughing. "He's not just big, though. He's really athletic, especially for his size."

That much hasn't changed.

Kubota and Co., despite recognizing Judge's intentions of taking his talents to college, took a flyer on him anyway. Judge was at least intrigued.

"The thought creeps into your mind any time you get drafted," Judge said. "That's your dream, to play professional baseball. When you get the opportunity like that, getting drafted -- especially by Oakland, a California team, pretty close to home -- it was tempting. At the time, I just didn't think I was ready or mature enough mentally or physically to start pro ball."

Inconceivable as it may sound, Judge hardly possessed much power in high school. Even in college, his power projections leaned on the conservative side. The raw power was there, but would it translate to a big league stage?

The A's, among many other clubs, had to sort through these matters during Judge's sophomore and junior seasons at Fresno State. Ultimately, they went with another outfielder in the 2013 Draft, taking Texas high schooler Billy McKinney at No. 24.

Judge went at No. 32 to the Yankees.

"It's hard, what we do," Kubota said. "If you look back at his college stats, he didn't hit a ton of home runs through his career at Fresno State, which is traditionally a good place to hit home runs, so sometimes it's hard to pound your fists on the table and say, 'I think this guy is going to hit 30 or 40 home runs in the big leagues,' when he hasn't even done it at college.

"Kudos to the Yankees for liking him better than anybody else."

Simply put, the Draft is a gamble, and Kubota has overseen more than a dozen of them in his role with the A's, who missed on Mike Trout in 2009. It's well-documented that a bunch of other teams did, too. Trout didn't go to the Angels until the 25th pick.

Teams miss all the time. The Trouts and the Judges of the baseball world perhaps bring about some regrets among the decision-makers, but trying to predict the future is impossible.

Judge, of course, slammed 52 homers in his 2017 rookie season with New York and was the unanimous choice for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

"When you go to college the first couple years and you kind of get beat around, you kind of think about, 'Maybe if I went to pro ball, it would be a little bit better,'" Judge said. "Now that I look back on it, I made the right choice."

"I'm sure a lot of teams liked him like we liked him in high school, and I'm sure every team liked him to a certain degree in college, and the Draft is a tough thing sometimes," Kubota said. "That's exactly the same thing we say when talking about Mike Trout. More than 20 teams passed on the best player in baseball."