MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re now going to bring you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Dodgers executive De Jon Watson.
Twenty five years ago, De Jon Watson appeared to have a future as a Major League first baseman. The former third rounder’s professional playing career ended long ago, but Watson has become a different kind of prospect – an MLB general manager candidate.
Watson, 45, is responsible for the Dodgers’ player development as an assistant GM to Ned Colletti. He got into scouting with the Marlins once his five-year minor league playing career ended. After the Marlins won the 1997 World Series, Watson went to Cincinnati, where he was the Reds’ scouting director for three seasons. The California native joined Ohio’s other team in 2004 as their pro scouting director before arriving in Los Angeles.
Watson’s current role includes hiring minor league coaches, overseeing Latin American player development and providing input on Major League transactions. The Diamondbacks interviewed him for their general manager opening last fall and his peers say he could soon become a GM.
I spoke with him yesterday about scouting, drafting and stats. Here are some highlights:
On transitioning from playing to scouting:
Players are already scouts, because you’re already scouting your competition – who you’re playing against, the pitcher you’re facing, what he brings to the table. A lot of [minor league playing experience] helped when it came to the scouting side. I played with some really good players along the way who went on to the big leagues and you looked at their skill-sets. That helped formulate my thoughts and ideas on the scouting side.
It was really a challenge in itself to come into a new organization, not really knowing everyone there and trying to get the guys on board with what you’re trying to do from and organizational standpoint and be aggressive with the kind of player we were trying to procure at that time. It was fun.
You look at Kearns, you look at Dunn, you look at B.J. Ryan, you look at some of the athletes that we were able to acquire in ’99 and 2000, there were some bodies and some athletes. We were looking for some power arms and power bats at that time.
On mentors in the game:
[Scout and executive] Gary Hughes on the scouting side, [Tigers president and GM] Dave Dombrowski, [Braves GM] Frank Wren and [Indians president] Mark Shapiro from the front office and executive side. Bill Lajoie [a longtime MLB scout and executive] before he passed away was unbelievable as far as going back and picking his brain and getting some thoughts on how to put together an overall program from a player development standpoint.
I’ve worked with guys here [in Los Angeles] – [longtime manager] Tommy Lasorda, [former player] Tommy Davis, [former player] Don Newcombe, [veteran scout and executive] Ralph Avila, getting to pick Sandy Koufax’s brain. When you’re putting together actual programs and you’re talking about the ‘Dodger Way’ and how it was done, my resources are limitless.
On when to use stats and when to ignore them:
Everyone uses them. We all use them to a certain degree. When you’re talking about the amateur side, I’m not sure you can find a lot of balanced stats when you’re talking about a high school kid in a small town. Austin Kearns, for example, from Lexington, KY, who’s he’s matching up against, really? I think it’s a little harder on the amateur side, but there are stats on the pro side that you can use to help you. They show how guys are trending, if they’re going up or down.
On the possibility of becoming a GM:
It’s an honor to have your name considered. The opportunity to speak with the Diamondbacks last year was really cool. I’ve been very fortunate and I’m comfortable doing what I’m doing right now. If an opportunity arises for me to sit down and talk to someone about being a general manager, that’d be great. But I don’t feel like it’s my life goal or calling by any stretch of the imagination. I just enjoy working in the game and working as a team to try to build something that’s really strong.