Yankees Saw Stardom In Aaron Judge From The Beginning
Aaron Judge already established himself as a star before this season, but what he achieved in 2022 stretched the boundaries of what most could have reasonably expected.
That is, most people aside from Troy Afenir.
Afenir, a former catcher who played parts of four seasons in the majors, became the Yankees’ area scout for Northern California in 2013. Scouting the 6-foot-7 Judge at Fresno State, Afenir’s mind kept going back to one of the greatest players of all time.
“The guys who I played against or had seen playing, there were a couple of guys who were comparable and Dave Winfield really stuck out,” said Afenir, who now scouts Southern California and Arizona for the Yankees.
“(Winfield) was very similar to Aaron in the way that he went about it. (Aaron) was a good defender, really good arm, hit the ball on a line and just consistently squared the ball up, and that was the type of guy that I felt that he was.”
The Yankees had already targeted Judge before Afenir joined the organization. The previous summer, New England area scout Matt Hyde, special assistant Jim Hendry, national crosschecker Brian Barber and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer all scouted Judge playing for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod League and graded him as one of the top players in the 2013 draft class.
Judge solidified that belief as a junior. In a Fresno State lineup that featured four future major leaguers, Judge led the team with 12 home runs, 15 doubles and 36 RBIs while manning center field every day despite his large frame.
Afenir, in his first year as a scout, didn’t take long to decide he agreed with the previous assessments others in the organization had made, and took it a step further by comparing him to a Hall of Famer in Winfield.
“He was a guy who obviously has a physical presence—and everything stands out to you,” Afenir said. “And you just watch him, because at the time there were other good players in the area, but you go through and you watch a guy like Aaron play and you just enjoy watching his natural abilities and what he can do on a baseball field, and know that he's just a really good player.”
Judge solidified his standing for Afenir with a 5-for-5 performance early in the season against Stanford. Later in the year, he had a two-homer game with Oppenheimer in attendance.
The Yankees drafted Judge with the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, and the rest is history. Judge never hit more than 20 homers in a minor league season but made swing adjustments to unlock his immense power potential in the majors.
He set a rookie record for home runs in a season with 52 in 2017—Pete Alonso broke it two years later—and now holds the American League record for home runs in a season.
Judge was the first player Afenir ever signed as a scout. In time, he made Afenir’s lofty comparison look prescient.
“You knew that he had a chance to be a special player, but putting together a year like this is phenomenal,” Afenir said. “ I can't say it enough: It's been through the hard work that he's done and the time and effort that he's put in to be the person that he is. It's a credit to him and his family and his upbringing of what he's achieved.”