LEADOFF: Who did Braves draft one pick ahead of Aaron Judge?

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LEADOFF: Who did Braves draft one pick ahead of Aaron Judge?

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The New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge leads the major leagues with 21 home runs this season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Good morning. This is LEADOFF, the early buzz in Atlanta sports.

Major League Baseball’s draft begins tonight, and it’s an understatement to call the annual picking of players an inexact science.

Take, for example, New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, who leads the major leagues with 21 home runs this season, including two yesterday, one of which traveled 495 feet.

Judge was the 32nd overall pick of the 2013 draft, meaning that 31 times an MLB team decided to take someone else ahead of the 6-foot-7 Fresno State slugger.

The last team with a chance to draft Judge before the Yankees took him was … the Braves, whose top pick in the 2013 draft was No. 31.

Rather than taking Judge, the Braves selected a right-handed pitcher from Oklahoma State, Jason Hursh.

With the very next pick, the Yankees pounced on Judge.

Four years later, Judge, 25, is a rookie sensation, the talk of baseball. He leads the American League in all of the Triple Crown categories: batting average (.344), RBIs (47) and home runs.

Hursh, also 25, has spent most of this season as a minor-league relief pitcher, toiling for the Braves’ farm teams at both Gwinnett and Mississippi. He has been called up to Atlanta three times this season, but has gotten into only one big-league game. On Saturday, he was sent back down to Gwinnett to make room for Sean Newcomb on Atlanta’s roster. On Sunday, he was called back up when Eric O’Flaherty was placed on the disabled list.

Jason Hursh has played sparingly for the Atlanta Braves since drafted in 2013. ccompton@ajc.com

The 30th pick of the 2013 draft – the player selected one spot before the Braves took Hursh and two spots before the Yankees took Judge – also is in the Braves’ organization now: infielder Travis Demeritte, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers out of Winder-Barrow High School. The Rangers traded him to the Braves last year; he’s hitting .252 with 10 homers for AA Mississippi.

Give the Yankees tons of credit for recognizing Judge’s power potential better than anyone else. But also note that the Yankees passed on him once in the 2013 draft, too: With the No. 26 pick, they selected Eric Jagielo, a third baseman from Notre Dame. He was traded by the Yankees to Cincinnati last year; he’s hitting .233 for the Reds’ Class AA farm team.

Historically, the baseball draft is famous for miscalculations. The Mets used the No. 1 pick in 1966 on Steve Chilcott over Reggie Jackson. Mike Piazza lasted until the 62nd round in 1988. The Reds chose Chad Mottola one pick ahead of Derek Jeter in 1992. And Mike Trout wasn’t drafted until the 25th pick in 2009.

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DON’T MISS …

Evander Holyfield was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday. See Jeff Schultz’s column here.

Atlanta United dropped below .500 (5-6-3) with Saturday’s loss to Chicago. See Doug Roberson’s report here.

Preparations have resumed for demolishing the Georgia Dome. And a date has been set for implosion. See details here.

A college football game — yes, football — will be played at SunTrust Park next year. See details here.

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