“It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” - Stephen King
University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian embodies this motto better than anyone in the 2021 class. He’s not the strongest, or the fastest, and he doesn’t have the best arm. But what Fabian does have is a generous helping of every tool. There are almost no holes in his game.
Fabian has always been a cut above the rest of his class. In 2019, the Ocala, Florida native decided to graduate from Trinity Catholic High School early and enroll at the University of Florida nine months earlier than would be expected of a true freshman. Fabian was arguably a first round talent in 2019, but he elected to pull his name from consideration to terrorize the SEC for a few years.
On February 14, just one month removed from high school while his friends were still in Ocala classrooms, Fabian made his first career start for the Gators. He was barely 18 years old. Having not been on campus for more than four weeks, narrowly able to vote in local elections, he would bat leadoff against Marshall. He’d go 2 for 5 with an RBI in his debut. Welcome to college baseball, kid.
Playing against guys three or four years older is no small task. The velo is different, and the breaking balls are far, far superior. Fabian’s freshman year had its peaks and valleys. On March 10, he smacked two dingers against Yale. He’d start 54 games in centerfield slashing .232/.353/.411 with seven dingers. The batting average is what it is, but running a 14.2 percent walk-rate against advanced SEC stuff is pretty unreal.
Fabian would try his luck in the Cape Cod Baseball League to test his abilities against even better arms. Fabian was quite literally the youngest guy in a 500-player pool. You’d never know it.
In 24 starts for Bourne, with a wood bat mind you, Fabian impressed to the tune of a .290/.350/.500 slash with six home runs. He was arguably the best player on his team. The only players in the entire league with a better OPS and 100+ at-bats? Nick Gonzales, Jordan Westburg, Zach DeLoach, and Hayden Cantrelle. That’s one top ten pick, another first round pick, a second round pick and a fifth round pick — all of whom were two years older than Fabian.
He’d return to Gainesville for 2020 with massive expectations on his name. Fabian was now squarely one of the best players in college baseball, not even draft-eligible until 2021.
He’d start all 17 games of the truncated season in centerfield, slashing .294/.407/.603 with five home runs. He was walking at a 16 percent clip and had cut his strikeout rate down from 23 percent in 2019 to 22.2 percent in 2020.
With no Cape Code League this summer, Fabian will enter the 2021 collegiate baseball season as the best position player in the country. Be it not for Kumar Rocker at Vanderbilt, the argument could be made Fabian is the best player in the country, period.
So what makes Fabian so good? What does he bring to the field that makes his profile worthy of a potential top five pick next June? Well, he’s is the sum of his parts, and each part impresses.
TOOLS (Future Value)
Swing and miss fears entering the 2021 season have not only come to life, they have been amplified at levels many couldn’t have predicted. There was always a good amount of whiff in Fabian’s game, but things have really tumbled to concerning levels this season.
The interesting thing is Fabian isn’t expanding the zone. He isn’t swinging through breaking balls. Fabian isn’t even being pitched around. The fabled Gator bat is swinging through fastball after fastball inside the zone. He’s swinging through hanging breaking balls in the zone. It has evaluators perplexed. Some have opined it’s a vision issue. Some have thrown out that he’s a guess hitter. Others have suggested Fabian simply has some enormous holes in his swing that can’t be quantified. The fact of the matter is, it’s problematic. It’s a good swing. He’s reasonably short to the ball with a good angle of attack and sound balance at the plate. But for one reason or another, Fabian simply isn’t hitting the ball.
The K-rate hovered at or above 30 percent for much of the 2021 season and that simply won’t be good enough to hear his name called near the top of the class.
Judging a power tool has become increasingly difficult the last couple years. Home runs are up 18 percent since 2016, so moving the goal posts on dinger production can feel like a guilty, disingenuous task. Ultimately, when we’re talking about Fabian, I think we’re talking about a guy who has plus raw power in the tank, who will tap into above average power, tickling plus in-game. What does that mean? At his peak, likely a 26-30 home run guy.
Fabian’s aforementioned lofty swing isn’t exorbitant. It’s by no means a sellout to lift the ball. The torque produced in his core through his hips is really impressive for a guy his size (6-2, 200). He really loads into his backside well. Fabian gets a lot of scapular load keeping his hands back the way he does and his elbow up. He does a good job of keeping his knees inside his feet at foot strike and the back-foot stays anchored as well. The body can fall forward at times leaning on breaking balls, but given his age, that’s something I think can be cleaned up. That wart is never present against the heater. It’s currently pretty comfortable power to his pull-side, though he has shown the ability to really pummel the ball into the deep right-centerfield gap. Fabian has been generating exit velos around 92 mph at Florida, mind you, with a composite bat. That puts his batted ball profile in the same vein as Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. Even if we tick 4.2 mph off the average (as studies have indicated is the mean difference), 88 mph is still in the same conversation as DD Gregorious and Corey Seager. Fabian’s launch angles float around an average of 17 degrees, an extremely promising figure. That’s Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, Gleyber Torres territory. All these measures are pieces of a puzzle and surely do not tell an entire story, but the point remains, they’re pretty impressive in a vacuum.
When I say this, it comes from a place without proximity bias. The overall offensive package reminds me a lot of (1) Mitch Haniger. The swing, the mechanics, the walks, the power, the periods of swing-and-miss... it’s a potential .270-.280 hitter with above average pop.
Fabian is a good runner. He’s firmly above average, pushing plus at times. He’s got an athletic build with long legs and a high waist that suggests his speed should age fine. He’s a strong kid who takes good care of his body. His legs will be an asset.
As far as crude measurements go, Fabian clocked a 6.54 60-yard dash in 2019, squarely plus. I’ve clocked him home-to-first on four separate occasions at full-bore. Every opportunity Fabian clocked between 4.22 and 4.28. For reference, 4.25 is a 55-grade runner. He runs well in the outfield, but I wouldn’t label it an asset in centerfield. The speed plays better in a corner in terms of range. Fabian is 9 for 14 in base-stealing attempts since arriving at Gainesville. He hasn’t shown a natural feel for stealing bases just yet, but he may flirt with double-digit stolen bags as a pro.
Fabian’s athletic actions in the outfield really jump off the screen. He just looks like a ballplayer out there. His first step is awfully good and he reads the ball off the bat pretty well. The routes he takes on balls in the gap can be inefficient, and he doesn’t glide through tough catches quite as smooth as you’d like to see, but he makes all the routine plays look easy. As previously mentioned, the speed isn’t necessarily an asset in centerfield, but it gets the job done.
Ultimately, I think Fabian probably fits better in a corner, but that’s not to say he can’t play centerfield. He’d be just fine patrolling the “8”. On a championship team with strong defenders up the middle, he’ll shift over to a corner and really be a plus asset. Again, does this sound familiar? The similarities to Haniger are uncanny.
Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t. Fabian is the rare breed of a righty bat who throws left. He’s actually toyed with switch-hitting, but I don’t think it’s in the cards.
Fabian’s arm was clocked at 93 miles per hour in high school; a very impressive number for that age. It’s another above average tool that plays well at any outfield position. It’s a long arm stroke that produces plenty of strength and driving throws with little tail. He’s thrown out three baserunners from the grass in his time on campus.
In centerfield or left field, his ability to throw out would-be runners would absolutely be a coup. In right field, the arm would be more than adequate, if not middle-of-the-road for the position in the league.
The elephant in the room here for the Mariners is the dearth of outfield prospects the team currently has stewing in the minors. Guys like Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Jake Fraley and Kyle Lewis all likely have a part in the team’s future at the position. That being said, you always take the best player on the board. Always. Given his struggles, Fabian will likely be available at pick no. 12, but that doesn’t mean he’s the right pick.
Acquiring a player with four 55-grade tools is rare. Fabian has the potential, by definition, of being a 5-tool player. I think he’s got an outside shot at becoming a all-star too, but more than likely whoever acquires him is getting a guy who’s a pretty good bet of reaching his ‘big league regular’ floor with a chance of going to a handful of all-star games if he can figure out the hit tool.