By Dennis Manoloff
Cleveland Plain Dealer
January 14, 2010, 11:10PM
CLEVELAND -- In less than three years, pitcher Josh Judy has gone from being a 34th-round pick to ranking among the top 25 prospects in the Indians' system.
The latest stop on Judy's get-to-know-me tour was the Arizona Fall League. In 11 relief appearances for the Peoria Saguaros, he went 2-2 with a 1.59 and 20 strikeouts. He gave up 13 hits in 17 innings.
The Arizona Fall League is stocked with players drafted much higher than the 34th round. This year's batch included Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals' No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
"I wanted to prove I could compete with that group," Judy said. "It was motivation. To have success against the cream of the crop is exciting."
The 6-4 right-hander was coming off a season in which he went 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 36 games, including one start, for Class AA Akron.
He allowed 35 hits and struck out 63 in 49-1/3 innings. Judy also pitched five times for advanced-Class A Kinston, N.C. (4 innings, four hits, seven strikeouts).
The previous year, he went 12-1 and struck out 80 in 74-1/3 innings in 35 appearances for Class A Lake County. He also pitched seven games for Kinston (14 innings, 17 strikeouts).
"As the competition gets better, he gets better," Indians farm director Ross Atkins said.
Judy relies on a mid-90s fastball with late life and a plus-slider. He has continued to improve his command to the four corners of the strike zone.
"He gets strikeouts and puts the ball on the ground," Atkins said.
"Those are good attributes for a guy coming out of the bullpen."
Atkins and Judy spoke Thursday from the visitors clubhouse at Progressive Field as part of media day for the Indians' annual winter development program. The 2010 edition lasts two weeks and features 13 prospects.
The program is at Progressive Field this week, and then heads west to Goodyear, Ariz., next week The program focuses on fundamentals, classroom sessions with members of the Tribe coaching staff, physical conditioning, and listening to guest speakers such as Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons and St. Ignatius head football coach Chuck Kyle.
Tribe General Manager Mark Shapiro created the program in 1996.
"It's an honor to be invited to take part in this," Judy said. "A lot of guys involved in the winter development program have reached the big leagues."
Judy rates as a big surprise not only based on the round in which he was drafted, but on the school from which he came. Judy pitched for the Indiana Institute of Technology, which is not to be confused with the University of North Carolina or Louisiana State University.
"I really wanted to play baseball and it was pretty much the only place [that expressed interest]," he said.
Judy began to refine his talent under coach Randy Stegall, who has moved on to another school.
"Coach Stegall was the one who made me realize I can make my dreams come true," Judy said. "He felt I was capable of pitching at the next level."
Stegall, Judy and scout Derrick Ross were in the evidently small number of believers in June 2007.
"I watched the first 32 rounds go by," Judy said. "Nothing. I ended up leaving to get something to eat and got a call from Derrick Ross. He said, 'Cleveland just drafted you in the 34th round.' I jumped for joy."
That the Indians were interested at all shocked Judy. He had received a questionnaire from most clubs but not Cleveland.
Judy was a starter in college. He moved to the bullpen at the outset of his pro career.
"It's a different mentality, but I really enjoy being a reliever," he said. "I'll do whatever they want me to do."
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