New director, player development Gil Kim comes to the Toronto Blue Jays after spending seven years with the Texas Rangers, but it’s the switch-hitting second baseman’s experience playing professionally in the Netherlands, China, Australia, Spain and Venezuela that set the stage for his executive career.
"Most of these were strategic spots that I aimed for, it wasn’t 100 per cent that I wanted to continue playing," he says. "In 2007 China was viewed as an up-and-coming country in Major League Baseball’s eyes and I was interested to see what that was all about. I desperately wanted to learn to speak Spanish, and that’s one of the main reasons behind playing in Spain. And then I desperately wanted to learn what a pro style regimen was like and play with some professional players and understand what Latin American baseball was like, that’s what led me to Venezuela. While I could have maybe spent those three years maybe doing an internship or looking into another job with a major-league organization, I was out travelling the world and that was an internship in a major-league graduate school for me."
Kim’s previous connections to the Blue Jays are limited, having brief crossover with Joe Sheehan during internships with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and meeting Tony LaCava while both were scouting Roberto Osuna in Mexico. Kim got to know Osuna’s family fairly well during that time.
Here’s part of our conversation with Kim.
SN: Your background is in scouting but you’re moving over to player development. What do you expect the transition to be like?
KIM: "The thought process was some of the experiences that I’ve had in international scouting and some of the skills I’ve accrued while scouting could be transferred to this department. It’s definitely a very big responsibility and a huge challenge – one that I welcome – but at the core, the passion someone has for international scouting should be about that grassroots level of finding and developing talent. Player development is all about building from the ground up as well."
SN: What are your first steps in the position?
KIM: "I’m trying to learn from (Charlie Wilson and Doug Davis) as quickly as possible all the ins and outs of the farm system, the players, processes, and learn what sort of systems have been in place. This is a minor-league system that has had a lot of success, on an ALCS team there were eight homegrown members, and the development of some key prospects led to trades that helped the major-league club as well. In the immediate term I’m going to learn from them, see where we’re at and continue to collaborate with the player-development staff, the front office and the other departments in baseball operations and hit up spring training ready to go."
SN: Philosophically do you believe a team can develop a type of player in its farm system?
KIM: "It’s important for an organization to have an identity, to have a culture in place. I know Doug and Charlie and the staff here in place have done a good job to instil some of that and to instil values and principles. We believe the Blue Jays way is a successful culture with winning, team-oriented people. That’s not just the players, it’s also the coaches, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, scouting departments, the analytics department, everybody. If you develop winning, team-oriented people, they all can strive and get along to try and accomplish one singular goal. That’s vital to establishing a culture or an identity in an organization."
SN: Where do you fit on the spectrum of pushing prospects through the system aggressively to taking things very slow and methodically?
KIM: "It should be an individualized approach because I do think there are certain traits or certain characteristics that you may be able to move a little quicker, and there are certain indicators that I’d say, no. That all depends on the individual and where our group is comfortable in sending him or maybe not sending him. It needs to be a collaborative effort between our player-development staff, especially with our high-level co-ordinators, obviously Doug and Charlie, also relying on the pro scouts who come in and evaluate those players, and obviously the analytics department, Joe Sheehan and all the great work he does. We can take all that along with Angus Mugford and the new high performance department, collaborate on our findings, our analysis and present that to the front office and make our case."
SN: What do you know about the prospects in the Blue Jays system and given your international scouting background, how would you describe Vladimir Guerrero Jr.?
KIM: "I’ve always observed the Blue Jays scouting department from afar, always respected their work. Tony LaCava, Andrew Tinnish, Brian Parker, Perry Minasian, Sandy Rosario and Luis Marquez, they’ve done a very good job and just looking at the farm system right now, although they’ve traded some players away, it’s really an intriguing mix of athletic, up-the-middle players, young power arms, players with a chance to impact with the bat. Obviously the scouting department has done a good job.
"With Vladdy Jr., big power, big contact skills, he’s a polished hitter and one thing people might not know is he truly loves the game of baseball, he has a true passion to play. I’d say he’s one of the players I’m definitely excited to see come spring training."