Behind the scenes of Team Israel WBC, there are many people laboring ahead of the tournament. One of them is Alex Jacobs, a pro scout at the Houston Astros, who has taken on the task of the scouting work that resulted in both the Team Israel roster for the qualifiers in Brooklyn in September 2016, and the roster for the upcoming WBC tournament in Seoul. Alex took time out to talk to us.
Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in a suburb north of Philadelphia as an unhealthy Phillies fan. I went to University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I played baseball as long as I could, but I realized that playing professionally was not realistic when the first pitch I threw during tryouts was hit 408 feet off the center field fence. So, I focused my efforts on trying to work in the game instead. I chose UMass, which has a very rich history of churning out baseball executives.
How did you forge baseball a career?
I never had a “real” job. My first job, at age 15, was Game Day staff at the Trenton Thunder AA Yankees Affiliate. I took tickets, ushered people to their seats, anything really. In my senior year in high school, I did an internship at the Trenton Thunder. One day, the home clubhouse needed some extra help so I volunteered. That time in the clubhouse really molded the way I looked at the game. Being around the athletes, coaches, staff, I soaked it all in. Later I had internships with the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, and Rays in baseball operations, video, player development and more. Two days after the 2012 Winter Meetings in 2012 in Nashville, Kevin Goldstein and the Houston Astros hired me.
How did you get involved with Team Israel for the 2012 WBC Qualifiers?
I had worked with Chris Haydock at the Dodgers in 2010 and in August 2012, I emailed him to ask about getting involved with Team Israel. He told me to email Peter Kurz, the Team Israel general manager. So, I did. The next thing I knew, Adam Gladstone, Team Israel’s Assistant General Manager called me and I was invited on board to handle logistics.
Since 2012, what has your professional journey been?
Wild! That fall was a big one for me. I left the Qualifiers a day early because the Rays sponsored me for scout school. A few months later, I was offered an entry level pro scouting job with the Astros, which I took. I am now going into my fifth season with the Astros as a pro scout.
As a Team Israel scout for the 2016 qualifiers, what were your main tasks?
Firstly, we had the best scouting and analytics staff in our bracket. One of my closest buddies in and out of the game Jonah Rosenthal, an amateur scout with LA Dodgers, Guy Stevens, a baseball analyst with the Kansas City Royals, Jason Lefkowitz, a Major League scout with the Seattle Mariners with Division 1 NCAA coaching experience, and baseball nomad Ty Eriksen’s help from the European championships - we were as well prepared as anybody.
Our main task was giving our staff and players the best possible information on our opponents to make them as prepared as possible.
One of the fun parts of the early preparation was trying to figure out who the Jewish baseball players were. Scott Barancik’s Jewish Baseball News website is an excellent resource, but even he misses a guy or two! When we found someone eligible who we hadn’t known about, it was really great.
Did what you did for the qualifiers affect the outcome?
We did our absolute best to prepare our players and staff for what to expect from the opposition in every aspect of the game. We provided them with strategies and the most efficient ways to get hitters out all while giving our players insights into how they’d be attacked by the opposition. In the end, the players deserve all the credit as they are the ones who competed and executed the game plans.
What was the highlight of the qualifiers for you?
Being in that atmosphere, being around so many great people and meeting new lifelong friends - the experience we shared will last forever. Living and dying on every pitch was a tremendous. Back in 2008, I was lucky enough to witness the Phillies winning a world series as a fan. Then, as a scout for them, the Astros made the playoffs in 2015. Advancing to the WBC tournament ranks up there with both these highs.
What have you been doing since September to help prepare Team Israel for the WBC?
With the help of our entire team, we’ve been trying to find more eligible players and put together a roster that will give us the best chance to win. With their help and with the addition of one best minds in Advance Scouting, Ben Werthan of the Orioles, we will once again be the best prepared team in our pool.
From a roster construction standpoint, we’ve had to make some extremely difficult decisions that have kept us up at night, but in the end, we feel we made the best decisions for Team Israel that put us in the best position to go very far in this tournament.
What do you regard as the team’s main strengths?
Experience all around: We have a bunch of players who have reached the top level of baseball in the Major Leagues. We also have up and coming prospects. Our offense, in particular, can put up several lopsided numbers on the scoreboard. We are confident our pitching can put up consistent zeroes against the competition. These guys are pros and have played in big time scenarios. We also have great clubhouse chemistry, which may be a little underrated.
What are the challenges Team Israel faces from the other three teams in the pool – Netherlands, South Korea and Chinese Taipei?
In the end, it’s baseball. The three teams in our pool are very good. I think the unknowns and overall different style of the game could be challenging, but there’s no doubt that our guys are going to adapt quickly. I believe our team will be extremely competitive and we could surprise people.
What has stood out for you in this entire process?
This group of players, playing for their or their families’ heritage, is one of the more special groups I’ve ever been around. From the players to the staff, to all the support, it’s unbelievable. Just think, 28 guys, most who have never met each other or have competed against each other in the past, all come together in the same clubhouse and within minutes, are family.