The Yankees can’t take credit for finding rightfielder Aaron Judge. He was way too big to be hidden.
“The word ‘discovered’ is inappropriate. He was out there for everybody to see,’’ Yankees director of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer said recently. “Everybody knew him as a first-round pick [in 2013]. The industry knew about Aaron.’’
After the first week of his major-league career, everyone else does, too. The 6-7, 275-pound Judge is hitting .389 with two home runs after Wednesday’s 7-4 loss to Toronto.
He’s been a bit overshadowed by catcher Gary Sanchez, who was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre a few days before Judge and is hitting .391 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in 12 games since his promotion.
But Judge has hit the longest homer. It came in his first major-league at-bat when he smacked a ball to centerfield that hit a restaurant window above Monument Park and landed in the netting below.
That shot came as no surprise to Ryan Overland, one of Judge’s college coaches at Fresno State, where he played for three seasons starting in 2011. He batted .346 with 18 home runs and 93 RBIs. Overland said prodigious home runs were frequent, but he remember one in particular.
“Late in the season his junior year, the light stanchion in leftfield is [way] up there and the ball just about cleared that,’’ Overland said. “It had to have been close to 500 feet. It was the kind of ball that’s still going up as it’s going out. Just daily, throwing batting practice, balls that most guys hit that didn’t come close to the wall, all of the sudden you hear this line drive thud off the wall. I’ve never seen anybody hit balls like that and probably never will again.’’
The Yankees first noticed Judge at Linden (California) High School in 2010, when the A’s made him a 31st-round pick. “We had scouted him then,’’ Oppenheimer said, “and thought it was pretty much a raw athlete who needed a lot of baseball development, and he got it with his years at Fresno State . . . We were interested in him, [but] at the time we did not think that he was really skilled enough to go out and get it done in professional baseball. We kind of thought that the college route was the right route for him.
“We really paid attention after his sophomore year when he was up in Cape Cod,’’ Oppenheimer said of the prestigious summer league. “We could tell that he made some pretty strong strides. He had the tools and the skills. He really made an impression up there with the distance he was hitting balls and the velocity they were coming off his bat and his overall athleticism. . . . I think he’s hit some balls a long way since I started seeing him on a regular basis.’’
The 2013 draft featured Kris Bryant, now a star for the Cubs. Judge was selected 32nd overall by the Yankees.
Oppenheimer and his staff are pleased that Judge has made an immediate impact. “It’s just the nature of the job,’’ he said. “You’re going to have a lot of guys that fail and you’re going to have a lot of draft picks that don’t make it. It’s just what the numbers say. It makes you feel great as a staff when something like this does happen; you feel it from the big-league coaches down.’’