Eric Kubota Ruminates on Two-Plus Many years because the A’s Scouting Director


Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports activities

Eric Kubota is the longest tenured scouting director in MLB, having been promoted to his present place by the Oakland Athletics in 2002. The College of California, Berkeley alum has been with the group even longer than that; Kubota started working with the A’s in 1984 whereas nonetheless a pupil. He went on to affix the baseball operations division in 1989, serving as assistant scouting director, Pacific Rim coordinator, after which supervisor of worldwide scouting previous to taking the lead position in draft choices.

His first draft is his most well-known — maybe you’ve heard of Moneyball — however it’s under no circumstances Kubota’s solely memorable draft, nor his most impactful. Furthermore, he has seen rather a lot change over his time within the trade. That comes with the territory when your scouting expertise runs over three many years deep.


David Laurila: Wanting again, one thing that stands out from the interview we did in 2009 was you saying, “The extra about scouting, the extra in regards to the draft, and the extra about prospects, the extra you discover out that there’s extra to be taught.” All these years later, is there nonetheless extra to be taught?

Eric Kubota: “There may be, and I really feel even stronger about that now. The extra I’ve gone by this, the extra I understand how arduous it’s to attempt to predict the longer term on these youngsters, and the extra I understand the necessity for as a lot info we will get to make knowledgeable choices.”

Laurila: There may be actually much more knowledge out there now than there was then.

Kubota: “For positive. Once I began out as scouting director, we had simply began utilizing computer systems within the scouting division. Once I first began with the A’s, there was one laptop in the entire workplace. Cell telephones weren’t round. We had voicemail. Issues have modified. I believe that understanding what of that info is absolutely vital is the problem these days. I’m lucky that I work with a number of sensible individuals who assist distill all that info.”

Laurila: It’s mentioned that the extra issues change, the extra they keep the identical. As impactful as technological developments have been, I assume that lots of scouting’s core tenets are nonetheless there?

Kubota: “They’re. I imply, I’m uncommon in that I used to be the brand new, non-baseball man 30-plus years in the past, and now I’m the old fashioned baseball dinosaur. I do assume the basics of scouting itself received’t ever be replaceable. Good scouts, good evaluators, the worth of expertise… these issues are all undeniably vital. Mixing them with no matter measurables, and no matter different info we will put collectively, will hopefully assist us make one, two, or three % higher choices. It’s such a tough factor, what we’re making an attempt to do. That’s the place we’re at as an trade proper now.”

Laurila: To various levels, groups have trended away from in-person seems to be and towards video scouting and metrics. Whereas the latter strategy actually isn’t going away, is an appreciation for conventional scouting coming again into vogue?

Kubota: “I believe it’s. I imply, in case you have a look at a few of the organizations which have been actually profitable just lately, just like the Dodgers, they’ve invested fairly closely on, for lack of a greater time period, old skool scouting infrastructure. Having the ability to see a participant and… I imply, it sounds loopy coming from me, working for the A’s — the previous Moneyball group — however there’s something to be mentioned for intestine really feel. One of the best scouts have an innate really feel for gamers who’re going to get higher.”

Laurila: One other factor that stands out from our 2009 interview was you saying that there are 30 completely different golf equipment and 30 completely different philosophies. Do you continue to imagine that?

Kubota: “There are in all probability 30 completely different nuanced approaches. I believe there’s a sure commonality, however there may be nonetheless nuance in how individuals interpret issues.”

Laurila: What in regards to the Oakland A’s strategy? Has that modified?

Kubota: “Effectively, the humorous factor in regards to the A’s is that we have been type of hated in baseball within the Moneyball days. We have been the ‘anti-scout individuals’ — which I by no means actually believed. I’ve all the time mentioned that Billy [Beane] is certainly not anti-scout; he’s anti-bad scout.

“There have been intervals of time early within the Moneyball days the place we swung in all probability too far to statistics. If something, we’ve swung again in direction of the normal facet, which once more appears odd that the Oakland A’s can be like that. When you requested round baseball, they’d have a look at our scouting employees and the best way we do issues, and say we’re extra conventional than not.”

Laurila: Which of your drafts stands out probably the most?

Kubota: “There are a few them. In 2012, we took Addison Russell, Matt Olson, Daniel Robertson. We acquired Boog Powell within the twentieth spherical. Clearly, what has occurred with Addison over the previous couple of years has occurred. However there was a time when he was thought-about probably the greatest younger gamers in baseball. If you concentrate on it, Addison was additionally actually outdoors of the field for the A’s, being a highschool child from the panhandle of Florida.”

Laurila: Olson, who you took forty seventh general in 2012, is a primary baseman, and Tyler Soderstrom, who you drafted as a catcher twenty sixth general in 2020, would possibly find yourself a primary baseman because of questions on his protection. What are your ideas on taking first baseman in early rounds?

Kubota: “That’s a great query, and it’s going to be notably pertinent on this yr’s draft due to who a few of the prime faculty gamers are. First basemen have all the time been a little bit of a scouting pink flag, as a result of there may be a lot onus on them actually performing extremely within the massive leagues to have worth.

“With Olson, we simply thought he was the very best hitter out there, and we took the very best hitter. We type of didn’t fear about the truth that he was a primary baseman. In fact, it seems that he ended up being a top-flight defensive first baseman along with having a number of energy.”

Laurila: In 2007, certainly one of your first spherical picks was a primary baseman out of the College of Virginia named Sean Doolittle

Kubota: “He was a great prospect as a hitter. He was additionally a pitcher — Sean was certainly one of their weekend starters — and we’d seen him rather a lot through the years. We really thought that Sean was extra hit than energy, however after we took him, he ended up having much more energy than we anticipated. To be sincere, we in all probability thought as extremely of him as Olson as an offensive participant. His knee simply wouldn’t let him do it. Pitching, at that time, was type of a final resort. And he was so good in that position, actually proper out of the chute. That’s a testomony to Sean.”

Laurila: Leaping to final yr’s draft, you took a shortstop along with your prime decide. What are you able to inform me about Jacob Wilson?

Kubota: “Only a actually good baseball participant. He’s extra bodily than we anticipated in a number of methods. When you have a look at him on the sector — no less than this was my first impression — you assume, ‘He’s type of skinny.’ There may be a tremendous expertise for placing the bat on the baseball. He can flip the bat round and make good contact on the barrel. He’s simply acquired an innate really feel for contact.”

Laurila: How do he and Max Muncy evaluate?

Kubota: “Muncy is extra bodily, and doubtless not as pure a hitter as Wilson. I don’t need Max to get mad at me, however Jacob is a very good pure shortstop, too. I believe Max goes to have the power to play shortstop, but in addition play third, second, or wherever we have to play him. They’re each actually good athletes, and so they have been really highschool teammates.”

Laurila: Muncy’s strikeout numbers have been lower than very best. To what extent are you able to venture contact price, and to what extent can it’s improved?

Kubota: “These are the sorts of conversations we’ve got with participant growth on a regular basis. When you ask them, a very powerful factor from their standpoint is the power to make contact. From our standpoint, we’re hoping that there’s some upside to that contact. That’s the tremendous line we stroll.

“One of many causes we perhaps walked previous an Aaron Judge… I imply, our evaluations have been actually robust, however the truth that he struck out a lot in faculty was a little bit of a pink flag. I believe we realized a bit of bit from that. On the identical time, guys who strike out usually strike out… I assume I’m perhaps speaking out of either side of my mouth.”

Laurila: Choose went a handful of picks after you took Billy McKinney in 2013. Does he rank as your largest miss?

Kubota: “No, and I’m in all probability not the one one that will inform you a narrative like this on Mike Trout. Usually, once we’re within the draft room and the primary spherical goes alongside, we’re settled on what we’re going to do. We’ve got the board arrange, and we take them in that order. With Trout, we principally had conversations as much as the final second — however then we type of simply went again to what we’ve all the time carried out. At that time, we took the safer faculty man, which was Grant Green. He performed within the massive leagues, however he’s clearly not Mike Trout.

“So, Trout was our largest miss, and I hate saying that due to how shut we have been to taking him. I’m positive a number of different drafts rooms will say the identical factor, however I understand how a lot dialogue we had.”

Laurila: Leaping again to Muncy, there are clearly two gamers with that title. As a matter of reality, you drafted each Max Muncys.

Kubota: “We did, and the loopy factor is that they have the identical birthdays. I believe the Dodgers’ Max Muncy was a part of the 2012 draft the place we took Addison Russell and Matt Olson. Once more, it was a great draft.”

Laurila: Your 2018 first rounder opted to play soccer as an alternative {of professional} baseball. Is there something you possibly can say about Kyler Murray that you simply haven’t mentioned quite a few instances beforehand?

Kubota: “Not likely. What I’ll all the time say is that we’re simply unhealthy soccer scouts. I imply, in case you’d have heard what number of instances his peak was introduced up, together with ‘You don’t see guys like that enjoying within the NFL,’ blah, blah, blah. And I did say to Kyler previous to the draft — [Oakland GM] David Forst can attest to this — ‘What are you going to do if you win the Heisman Trophy?’ It was type of tongue in cheek, however it turned out to be prophetic. I want he wouldn’t have received the Heisman.”

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