Congrats, Aaron Judge. You've made it as the new face of Major League Baseball. When Alabama coach Nick Saban, one of the most powerful voices in college football, is talking about you at the 2017 SEC Media Days, you've transcended from simply being a big name in your sport. You're approaching superstar status.
Judge, the New York Yankees outfielder, wowed everyone who tuned into Monday night's Home Run Derby -- which, if you haven't seen his jaw-dropping dingers, you can rectify here. (Even if you have seen them, they're worth another look.) The 6-foot-7, 280-pound freak of nature didn't look like he was trying for much of the competition. In the final round, when Miguel Sano looked gassed and needed a timeout to collect himself, Judge was just starting to break a sweat. Judge has already been likened to a Lebron James type of athlete and personality by former Yankee Alex Rodriguez. And if Judge continues on his upward trajectory, he will be the face of the game.
But things weren't always so easy for Judge. At 25, he's only now breaking into the bigs after spending several years in the minor league and college developing his game. He wasn't an instant stud the moment he began playing professionally.
The point? As Saban noted during his time at the podium in Hoover, Alabama, on Wednesday, Judge got multiple opportunities to improve his game. Only now is that potential starting to show off. College football players that perform in an imperfect but de facto minor league for the NFL don't have that luxury. So when it comes to declaring for the NFL Draft, Saban feels college players need to be careful.
"Aaron Judge is a pretty good player, but the way I understand it he spent a couple of years in the minor leagues, is that right? Before he really came up and now he's a rookie that's pretty much a dominant player," Saban said. "Well, if that guy wasn't ready to play in football when he was 22-years-old, he might not make the team. So what these players have to realize is when they make a decision to go out for the draft it's kind of an all or nothing thing because there is no second developmental chance for them."
It's true. Basketball has a development league. Soccer has youth leagues. College football is a one-way bridge to the NFL.
Of course, even the chance to make the practice squad and earn a salary, even if it's league minimum, is enticing enough to jump at when you're not compensated like that in college. But Saban's larger point is spot-on. He didn't advocate for a football minor league, per se, but he used Judge as an example of how even the best athletes have an adjustment period. Football doesn't have that same level of patience.
Judge, while an incredible story, is also somewhat of a cautionary tale for others.