Image credit: Jud Fabian (Danny Parker/Four Seam Images)
Jud Fabian’s season with the Gators was a tale of two approaches.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound outfielder has been consistently touted for his tools. He’s a standout defensive center fielder, among the best in this draft class, and on top of that, Fabian hit 20 home runs in 59 games for Florida this season, offering a glimpse into what the power profile might hold. But he started the season with a lot of strikeouts.
As the Ks piled up, Fabian’s confidence wavered, perpetuating the problem further. After a three-game weekend series at South Carolina that saw his team swept and the 20-year-old striking out 11 times in 13 at-bats, Fabian called his dad, also his lifelong hitting coach. They discussed a need for a new two-strike approach, and Fabian’s father encouraged him to seek help from Florida’s staff.
“My dad and I had a bunch of phone calls and it was just talking with each other about my swing, because that’s what we’ve done my whole life, seeing what feels best for me and what looks best to him,” Fabian said. “We had a bunch of talks this year and it was a tremendous help. He was the biggest help for me this year in changing my approach … and he’s definitely a big part of why I am the player I am today.”
Fabian worked to implement his new approach, a simplified load with a removal of his leg kick, but it took time. His mindset had shifted, but his muscle memory needed constant repetitions to catch up before he could feel assured of the process. Things began to click a few weeks after that series against the Gamecocks when the Gators got to Auburn, and Fabian went from a 37.4% K-rate on April 6 to a more palatable 29.3% rate by the end of the season.
“It was difficult at first, but I worked on it a bunch in practice and got more confident in it, and that really translated to the games to where I was confident with two strikes,” Fabian said. “With two strikes, I started to think ‘all right, this pitcher is not going to strike me out. He may get me out but that happens in baseball, and if I put bat on ball, good things can happen.’
“It was more of a confidence thing. I didn’t have confidence in it the first time I did it. Then throughout doing it I gained more and more confidence to where I wasn’t striking out anymore. That helped the strikeout rate a lot because confidence is a big part of hitting. If you’re confident, you’re going to be a great hitter.”
The correlation between confidence and success has been an asset and a detriment for Fabian. But one of the most encouraging pieces of his season was the fact that the center fielder was able to make the midseason adjustments and believe in them, even when they didn’t pay dividends right away, to work himself out of trouble.
“I had one weekend where my confidence was really down,” Fabian said. “And I got back to playing like a kid and not thinking about anything, thinking like I was playing in the backyard with my brother again, and that helped tremendously with just freeing my mind and gave me a bunch of confidence as well.”
With the changes in his rearview mirror, the Gators season behind him, and the first round of the draft set for Sunday, Fabian is certainly a candidate to hear his name called on Day One of the selection process. He believes he’s a surefire contender to help a professional team in the long term, and he broke down each of his five tools to share exactly why and how he can do just that.
“I pride myself on defense and throwing guys out, so my defense and arm would be my top two tools, and then the power, hit, and speed are all tied for second,” he said. “I like to think of myself having all five tools and using them well, and I know I can be a Gold Glove center fielder who hits 25 or more homers a year for a long time.”
“Every day during batting practice I get reps in center field off the bat, helping me get better jumps in the outfield and getting quicker with the first step,” Fabian said. “In batting practice I try to go get everything from the right fielder and left fielder in, so that helps my range a little bit. So going and getting balls in batting practice helps in games, having great jumps and having a bunch of range, and the arm part of that is long-tossing a few days a week and keeping the arm strength up during the season.
“There’s a bunch of athleticism there, and that helps with the first step and being able to go track down a ball, the athletic side of things. But it’s been an instinct of mine ever since I was little, playing the outfield when I was younger, it came naturally. I loved playing outfield then and I love playing outfield now, to go get a ball, run it down, and help save some runs if I can.
“I do football drills to get the first step, open my hips a little bit, and be able to get from Point A to Point B quicker. I do those when I’m home, and work on agility drills and speed drills to have that quick-twitch first step. We run through outfield drills before practice and obviously I do them at home when I’m home in the offseason, working on getting quicker with the first step. And speed is important if you’re playing center field, so I’m always working on that, doing drills to help get a little faster to the ball.”
Though there’s an endless amount of work involved in continuing to hone and maintain his outfield skills, there’s no shortage to the amount of enjoyment Fabian has out there. Among the fun he has in the outfield, though, there’s one thing he loves the most.
“Robbing homers,” Fabian said. “Guys think they have a homer and they’re kind of celebrating, and when you can take that away, it’s fun to do. Obviously you get to see the reactions. I had one this year, we were playing Texas A&M and a kid thought he hit a homer and he was all upset that I caught it, so seeing the reactions like that and robbing homers is at the top of the list.
“I’ve had one taken from me too, two years ago. A kid robbed my homer, and being a center fielder I respected the play and I knew how difficult it is, so I gave him props. It was a good catch and I knew how hard that was so I had to give props with him being a center fielder too.”
“The arm strength has built up over the years of putting in arm care, helping my arm get stronger,” the No. 27-ranked draft prospect said. “And then long toss, pretty much ever since I was young, trying to keep building that arm strength. That helped tremendously. I used to be a pitcher when I was younger too so that had something to do with it … I started focusing on hitting more in my last year of high school, but I threw a few innings and that kept the arm strength up.”
“I always try to hit the ball to right-center, the opposite way, because that’s where I feel I have the most power,” Fabian said. “If I can stay in the right-center gap with my swing and hit balls there, I feel like I can get a little more power that way because the right-center gap is my power alley.
“I’ve always had quick hands, so it’s mostly maturity and adding strength, being able to have the three years of strength training at Florida has been good, I’ve added meat on my bones, and I’ve had elite hand speed and the good muscles in the forearms which lead to the power, so that all added up to me hitting 20 homers this year.
“I didn’t hit a homer in the last three weeks of the season, so having that feeling is a little bitter that I couldn’t get more. But still, 20 homers is impressive for me, so I definitely looked back and thought, dang I hit that many, and I was impressed with myself.”
“I’ve been doing a bunch of speed drills ever since I was in high school, to try and gain a little bit more speed and keep my speed there with the form of running,” Fabian said. “Most of my speed comes from instincts, but the way I run the bases really shows my speed the best because I pride myself on defense, but I also pride myself on scoring runs every time I get on base. So practicing baserunning and cutting corners on the bases and having more of a straight line to the next base helps a lot with getting there faster, and if I use my speed and baserunning instincts, I can get to most bases quicker than other players can.”
“Before the year, my hit tool was probably up there as my top tool coming off my sophomore year and in the fall I had a really good hit tool,” Fabian said. “Then the first part of this year, the hit tool was not where I wanted it to be. I still figured out a way to get some hits and homers there, and then once I made the change my hit tool was back to being one of my top tools. It goes back to confidence. If I’m confident, I’m going up to the plate and thinking ‘all right, this pitcher is not going to get me out, I’m going to hit it hard.’ The confidence started up, then it went down, and then it went back up for me.
“The two-strike approach change was because I was striking out too much and having unproductive outs. It was to work toward putting the bat on the ball and having fewer strikeouts, because when you put the ball in play, good things can happen. And it worked. I started it against Auburn and did it the rest of the year and cut down my strikeout rate a lot, so it was good.”