Brotherly love of the game: Jud and Deric Fabian look to launch pro careers in MLB Draft

John Patton
Special to the Star-Banner
Brothers Jud, right, a third year player for the Florida Gators, and Deric, left, an incoming freshman on the Gator baseball team, Fabian look to be selected in the 2021 MLB Draft.

When Deric Fabian was born 19 summers ago, his mother, Jenny Fabian, was smitten. Just like she had been when older brother Jud joined the family nearly two years earlier.

But, they were two boys, and she had her fears about that dynamic.

“Would they get along?” Jenny silently wondered. “I was worried there could be fist fights.”

Jenny’s concerns were only temporary, as Jud took an immediate liking to his younger brother, and, as he grew, Deric began to look up to his older sibling.

And soon after, their father, Eric, introduced the second love of his life (after Jenny) to the boys.

“From the time they could stand — especially Jud — they ate up baseball,” Jenny said. “They wanted to play with Eric all of the time. From the time Jud could walk, he wanted to hit or field.

“And Deric wanted to do it because his big brother did.”

Older bro shines:Florida clinches fifth straight SEC series with Jud Fabian's historic homers

Little bro rakes:North Marion's Deric Fabian named Mr. Baseball for Florida

All-county:North Marion's Deric Fabian, Wyatt Campbell lead county as player and pitcher of the year

As the years passed, there would be arguments (they are brothers), but those were rare and never long-lasting. What did stick was baseball, and with it brought a bond and, yes, definitely internal competition.

And tonight, with the first of the 3-day, 20-round 2021 Major League Baseball Draft taking place, the possibility exists that both of Ocala’s Fabian brothers could be selected with UF centerfielder Jud a likely first-rounder. 

“That would be something else, wouldn’t it?” Eric Fabian said.

Two identities

As a baseball player, it can’t be easy at times growing up as Jud Fabian’s younger brother.

But Deric had some ideas to separate himself from the start.

First, Jud, after flirting early with first base, could have the outfield. Deric wanted to be different, so he played some as a catcher before becoming a full-time shortstop.

And there are some things he did the same. Because, why not? When you have a talented and successful brother, you study his work habits, take parts and make them your own.

“Personally, I know his shadow is there,” Deric said. “Jud is a great player.

“But I tried to be a trailblazer, setting my own path. I wanted to be known as myself, not Jud’s little brother.”

And once he got big enough, Deric found that he and Jud got to be their best when trying to measure up to one another. And it also was fun for each to loudly claim small victories.

Brothers Jud, left, and Deric Fabian played Gatorball together growing up and now look to be selected in 2021 MLB Draft.

When Deric turned 12, he grew taller than Jud and hasn’t looked up at his brother (or kept quiet about it) since. When each ran a 60-yard dash for scouts, Jud was clocked at 6.4 to Deric’s 6.5 and reminds his sibling of that often.

When Jud came home following Deric’s recently completed senior season at North Marion, younger brother put three baseballs on a table and asked Jud if he knew what they were.

Jud shrugged his shoulders before Deric said “these are home run balls 11, 12 and 13 I hit this year” with a knowing smile. Jud, whose highest total in high school was 11 in his final year at Trinity Catholic, could only laugh at the gotcha.

“One year we were at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, in 2014 I think, for Deric,” said Brandon Love, who coached each with Gatorball beginning when Jud was 14 and Deric 12. “Jud couldn’t play, but he was in the dugout with us.

“The first day ends, and we go back to the house we are staying at and we have the guys on the team run to get out the lactic acid. To Jud and Deric, that was a race. They competed at that. Neither gave the other a break.”

While they are each other’s biggest rivals, they double as one another’s biggest fans.

Deric said no one cheers louder when Jud makes a diving catch or drives in a run. And Jud, the ultimate competitor, made a surprising concession.

“I think Deric’s ceiling is higher than mine,” said Jud, named the Star-Banner’s Player of the Year in 2018, three years before his brother. “He’s already very good. And after three years in the Orange and Blue, I can only imagine the type of player he will be.”

The Future

When speaking to MLB scouts, a word that consistently comes up when describing each brother is “athlete.” That comes in part genetically, as Eric was a standout baseball player at Forest who also played briefly for CF, and Jenny (then Jenny Hovendon) was a combination guard for numerous standout FHS basketball teams in the mid-1990s.

“Very little is from me,” said Eric, who has spent thousands of hours helping his sons develop and hone their skills, including building a batting cage in the family attic four years ago. “They get the majority of their athletic ability from their Mom.”

At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Jud is a legitimate 5-tool prospect. And while the eye immediately goes to his power numbers (20 home runs and 46 RBIs in 2021), the highlight reels generally focus on his defense, which included numerous “wow” moments.

“In travel ball, generally five or six kids in each class really stand out each season,” said Orlando Scorpions owner Bob Rikeman, who has known Jud and Deric about six years. “With Jud, I’ve never seen anybody with his closing speed in the outfield. I think he can be a Gold Glove winner in the Majors.

“A Major League scout told me Jud is like (the Los Angeles Dodgers’) Mookie Betts, who is about as elite defensively as they come. And I trust this scout very much. So, Jud is a freak out there. He can do things most can’t.”

If there is one concern about Jud, it was his high strikeout total last season. In two full and the abbreviated 2020 season, Jud has struck out 142 times as a Gator with 79 of those coming in 225 at-bats last season.

He said a lot of that had to do with him accepting a different role.

“Something the coaches wanted this year was more power from me,” said Fabian, named first-team All-SEC and third-team All-American in 2021. “They said they can take the strikeouts as a trade because of the power numbers.

Brothers Jud, left, a third year player for the Florida Gators, and Deric, right, an incoming freshman on the Gator baseball team, Fabian look to be selected in the 2021 MLB Draft.

“But, I’d like to get back to hitting the ball to right-center, regardless of where I am (in the minors or back at UF). That’s when I’ve had the most success. If I can take the same approach I took (in 2020, when he hit .294 with five home runs in the 17-game pandemic-shortened season), it will be a dangerous year.”

For his part, Deric rebounded from what Rikeman called a “rough end of summer” in 2020 travel ball to refocus and hit .494 with Marion-County-bests in RBIs (50) and home runs (13) en route to leading North Marion to the FHSAA Class 4A state title game and becoming the county’s first-ever Florida Dairy Farmers’ Mr. Baseball winner.

“He’s a 6-4 shortstop, and one of your first thoughts when seeing that on paper is whether he ends up on one of the corners (third or first base),” an American League scout said. “But then you watch him, and he’s smooth and instinctive and he can really move. He’s a shortstop. That’s how we see him.”

When he might be seen is to be determined.

A Gator signee, Deric already is enrolled in classes. Three scouts spoken to said they all consider him to be one of the top 150 prospects available this year. North Marion baseball coach Dale Hall said he has never tutored anyone with a higher baseball IQ than Deric.

However, when talking to Jud, Deric and their parents, the indications are that while Jud will have a decision to make whether to sign or return to UF, the likelihood is Deric plays at least the next three years in Gainesville.

Eric and Jenny both said their family advisor has put out a large monetary figure for what it would take to sign Deric. So, essentially three things could happen.

A team could be enamored with Deric, is willing to meet the financial demand and picks him around where they have him rated. He also could slide based on the price tag, and a team, picking late, could decide to take a shot with less to lose if he says no. Or he could go unselected.

“Signing is always a possibility,” Deric said while sitting in the third base dugout at Florida Ballpark on Thursday. “If that option is there, it’s going to be hard to turn down a lot of money. But me coming (to UF) has always been a dream.”

Because COVID-19 allowed for college athletes to receive an extra year of eligibility, Jud doesn’t lose leverage by returning to Florida next season. Having just finished what is being called his second sophomore season, he could be drafted again in 2022 and 2023 (though leverage is gone then).

In addition to his skillset and athleticism, Jud’s age (20) also is in his favor.

He skipped his senior season with Trinity Catholic after Gator coach Kevin O’Sullivan lost projected starting centerfielder Connor Scott, who signed with the Marlins after being selected 13th overall in 2018. Fabian said O’Sullivan asked if Jud, who bats right handed and throws left handed, would consider arriving on campus a season early.

The family discussed it, and it more went into that decision than one might initially think. In addition to missing out on his final year of high school with a loaded Celtics’ team, Fabian, listed on numerous early mock drafts as a possible 2019 first-round pick, gave up his draft eligibility for that season and the next two (once you suit up for a Division I college, you must be out of high school for three years or transfer to a junior college to be draft-eligible sooner).

Looking back, Jud said he has “absolutely no regrets” about that choice and has loved his time as a Gator.

“This is a business thing now, but I’m having fun with it and am excited about it,” said Jud, whose name has been linked the most in mock drafts with the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers and Twins. “Wherever it takes me, I’m looking forward to it.

“When I was a freshman, I was a 17-year-old kid facing SEC pitching, and not many people can ever say they did that. And now, whoever takes me, if they take me, I’ll be glad.

“But, if that doesn’t work out and I don’t sign, I can come back. And is there a better fallback than playing centerfield with my brother in front of me at shortstop for the team we grew up rooting for?”