The 2020 MLB draft is in the books, but this year it was much shorter than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of around 1,200 players being drafted over 40 rounds, there were only five rounds featuring 160 picks. That means there are a lot of amateurs left over who would normally have heard their names called in any other summer, and teams can now begin signing them for up to $20,000 each.
Sunday marked the beginning of the undrafted free agent market, and the Oakland A’s got to work right away by signing catchers William Simoneit and Cooper Uhl, from Wake Forest and Loyola Marymount, respectively. Now they’ve added a pair of pitchers as well, first reported by Bill Moriarity of Athletics Farm on Monday. There could still be more in the coming days, so keep up to date on all the signings around the league with MLB’s tracker. For now, the newest A’s:
- Garrett Acton, RHP, Illinois
- Grant Judkins, RHP, Iowa
Neither player was on any of the major pre-draft boards, not even cracking the Top 500 on Baseball America, so there aren’t any detailed scouting reports on them. But here’s some quick info.
Acton spent most of his college career in the bullpen, but thrived there. He played his freshman year at Saint Louis in the relatively weak Atlantic 10 conference, then his sophomore season at Parkland JC in Illinois. As a junior he transferred to University of Illionis in the Big 10, one of the better conferences in the sport, and he continued to produce against the tougher competition. His career stats:
- 2017: 6.12 ERA, 32⅓ ip, 31 Ks, 23 BB, 3 HR, 36 hits
- 2018: 2.25 ERA, 32 ip, 44 Ks, 25 BB, 0 HR, 13 hits, 4 saves
- 2019: 2.18 ERA, 33 ip, 34 Ks, 18 BB, 2 HR, 13 hits, 19 saves
- 2020: 0.00 ERA, 6⅔ ip, 8 Ks, 4 BB, 0 HR, 2 hits, 6 saves
His 19 saves (in 22 attempts) in 2019 set the single-season record for not only his school, but the entire conference, earning him some All-American attention from various major sources. He later broke the school’s career saves record, as well, despite playing less than two full seasons (he was 6-for-6 this year). In junior college in 2018, his Parkland team finished as national runners-up in the NJCAA Division II World Series.
In terms of stuff, the 6’2, 215-pound Acton appears to have a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the low-90s but has been reported as high as 95 mph by Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball, and entering this season it was rated the best fastball in the conference by Baseball America. His “nice late-biting slider” operates around 79-81, and he also throws a cutter around 85 mph. Here’s a look in the video below, or you can also see a slo-mo of his delivery.
@IlliniBaseball closer Garrett Acton earns his 10th save with a scoreless 9th. ERA of 0.00 this spring. Worked with a 90 92 FB 85 cutter and 79 SL. Illini 4, @CoastalBaseball 2 pic.twitter.com/4DVxE9LQSG— David Seifert (@DSeifertD1PBR) April 3, 2019
Acton’s appeal extends beyond just the field, though, as various sources give examples of his high character and makeup. He put his education before his baseball career, forgoing the 2019 draft — during which he’d received interest from the A’s and other teams on Day 3 — to return to school for his senior season and finish his degree. Along the way he earned Academic All-American 1st-team honors, just the third Illinois player ever to do so.
In addition to finishing his degree, Acton also took a leadership role for his team, which he cited as another reason for staying in school. He was a senior on a young Illini squad, giving him a chance to show off his maturity and poise. Via Scott Richey of the News-Gazette:
“I knew I would have to step into a bigger leadership role,” Acton said. “That was a responsibility that I really wanted to take. I knew that we’d need leaders, and I wanted to be a part of the change that was going to happen with this program and help lead the young guys. Hopefully I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve done the best I can. Being able to see their development — see where the program was going — was something that was really important to me. The culture and camaraderie around this team was a big driving factor in me deciding to come back this past year.”
On his closer mindset, he said the following to Gavin Good of 247Sports:
“I’m a guy who’s a hard worker and definitely a go-getter,” Acton said. “I thrive off being in these leverage situations, a lot of that is the mental preparation and being exposed to that kind of situation, you kind of adapt to it. It’s something you learn to do, like you do everything. I’m a guy who goes out and attacks hitters with my best stuff.”
The 22-year-old (happy birthday yesterday!) has also been through his share of adversity. His father passed away in 2015 at age 51, when Garrett was still in high school. When he got to college he struggled as a freshman, leading to his transfer to JC, but he overcame that and earned his way to a major conference school. Then, after delaying his pro career to stick around as a senior, he saw his final college season cut short by coronavirus. He put that shortened season into perspective, via Jeff Dahn of Perfect Game Baseball:
“I’ve already dealt with some uncertainty and adversity in my career,” Acton said. “It kind of puts everything in perspective. … We go into every day thinking that we’re student-athletes, we’re invincible, this stuff won’t happen to us.
“It’s one thing to deal with stuff in baseball,” he added, “but there are also plenty of issues that people deal with in life, and at the end of the day baseball’s a game, and we love it.”
“With the stuff that I’ve been through in my own baseball career and personal life already kind of puts (the end of the 2020 season) in perspective,” he concluded. “For me, maybe it’s a little bit easier to grasp the gravity of this situation and to be able to cope with it and to understand what I need to do to keep moving forward.”
If he’d gone pro last year then Acton would have gone in the late-teen rounds, and presumably he would have placed at least that high again in a normal draft this summer. On the field he’s an intriguing prospect, as an experienced late-inning reliever with quality stuff. Off the field, he’s a fascinating person who seems to possess some helpful intangibles.
Judkins played four seasons for University of Iowa, which is also in the Big 10 conference. It took him a couple years to warm up, serving in the bullpen as a freshman and sophomore, but he put up a solid junior season as a starter. He was looking even better this year as a senior, before the pandemic cut things short.
- 2017: 7.59 ERA, 21⅓ ip, 23 Ks, 10 BB, 4 HR, 28 hits
- 2018: 4.12 ERA, 39⅓ ip, 37 Ks, 11 BB, 1 HR, 40 hits
- 2019: 2.72 ERA, 82⅔ ip, 65 Ks, 31 BB, 8 HR, 70 hits
- 2020: 3.00 ERA, 21 ip, 24 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR, 16 hits
The 6’3, 220-pound righty throws four pitches — a fastball that gets up around 91 mph, a changeup and slider both around 80 mph, and a curve in the low-70s. One report from Perfect Game Baseball had him throwing all of them for strikes and inducing weak contact. Here’s a thorough video showcasing all four offerings:
Grant Judkins @UIBaseball's Saturday starter sits low-90s with his fastball, mixing in a curveball, slider, and changeup. @gjudkins7 has been a staple in Iowa's rotation the last two seasons, holding a 2.78 ERA during that time span.— Iowa Baseball Managers (@UIBASEManagers) May 27, 2020
: @stat_machine pic.twitter.com/mIamRXBbz8
Judkins also had his moments as a hitter in college, though his overall numbers weren’t great. In a doubleheader in 2019, he hit the walk-off double in the opener, and then pitched eight innings of one-run ball in the second game.
Off the field, Judkins was a good student as well, earning Academic All-Conference honors in 2018. This past April, he was interviewed by Andrew Schneider of local Iowa news station KNIA-KRLS, and you can listen to it here.
Judkins turns 23 in August, and he doesn’t bring flashy velocity, but he appears to have a starter’s arsenal with his wide variety of pitches. His ceiling might not be high, but it’s easy to see why the A’s want to take a look at him in the pros.
We’ll surely learn more about Acton and Judkins as the A’s front office weighs in on their new prospects, and when the scouts and experts offer their first-hand reports. For now, they’re a couple of interesting names to add to the organization’s pitching ranks.