|Jeff Kingston ’99 (in striped shirt) watches outfielder Will Venable take batting practice with Padres bench coach and former all-star catcher Ted Simmons. Kingston scouted Venable at Princeton before he was drafted in 2005. Photo by Chris Hardy.
Jeff Kingston ’99 began a recent day evaluating major- and minor-league baseball players. But he wasn’t dreaming about his favorite team or his fantasy baseball squad. Kingston was on the job as director of baseball operations for the San Diego Padres.
That morning, like many others, he was compiling information on minor leaguers the Padres might acquire in trades.
When he evaluates minor-league players, Kingston helps to determine when they should be promoted, demoted, released or traded. Every season he watches six of the Padres’ minor league teams for four to five days each. The data he collects goes straight to Padres general manager Kevin Towers.
“The most important aspect of my job,” says Kingston, “is helping our general manager make good baseball decisions. I provide opinions on our players. But I also advise on players we might acquire in trade or sign as free agents. And I evaluate high-school and college players we might draft.”
“In the office, [Jeff is] kind of my go-to guy,” says Towers. “I use him a lot, and he’s somebody I trust. He does a great job of taking all the information our scouts provide, employing statistical analysis and jelling the two together.
“He’s not afraid to speak his mind,” Towers adds. “He’s got a lot of conviction about what he believes, and you’re not going to back him down. Even though he had no formal baseball experience when he arrived here, he’s studied the game and learned a lot.”
On a recent morning Kingston left his viewless office at the Padres’ PETCO Park to travel 75 miles north to evaluate players for the Padres Class-A minor-league team. He spent the afternoon at the Lake Elsinore Storm’s jewel-like, 6,000-seat stadium beneath imposing hay-colored hills watching the players take batting practice and discussing their strengths and weaknesses with team coaches.
After a quick visit to a fast-food outlet, he returned to the stadium. Wearing a blue pullover shirt with casual pants, the slender executive normally would sit with scouts from other teams behind home plate and watch the evening game. He’d chart the speed of pitches with a radar gun and use a stopwatch to time players running to first base. He’d also clock pitchers throwing to home plate with a runner on base and catchers throwing to a base when a runner tried to steal. He’d make personal notes on each athlete and chat with the scouts about players on other teams.
But on this night he plunked himself in a folding seat about 15 rows behind home plate to discuss his job with a reporter.
Much of Kingston’s research involves Sabermetrics, a scientific statistical analysis of players and teams designed to project future performance.
Says Kingston, “The industry … was just beginning to value people with that skill set [when he was hired full time in 2001 by another Sabermetrics expert, Theo Epstein, now executive vice president/general manager of the Boston Red Sox].
Perhaps Kingston’s most important advice to Towers supported a proposed trade with Texas in 2006. The Padres traded pitcher Adam Eaton and two other players no longer in baseball and received Adrian Gonzalez, who has become an all-star-caliber first baseman, and Chris Young, a reliable starting pitcher. Kingston was particularly helpful in providing information on Young’s character and statistical projections on his future.
“It’s the best trade we’ve made since I’ve been with Kevin,” Kingston says.
Besides advising Towers, Kingston handles many salary negotiations with players and coordinates all salary arbitration cases.
He has sat across a bargaining table from superagent Scott Boras, known for winning record-setting contracts. “I wouldn’t say it’s intimidating,” says the former economics major. “But it certainly keeps you on your toes. Negotiations are all about being prepared. As long as you’re prepared, you should never be intimidated.”
Although he’s assumed major responsibilities with the Padres, Kingston hadn’t considered a baseball career until his last months at Dickinson. He had interviewed for investment-banking jobs in New York, when his father suggested that he apply for the Padres’ internship program. “Perhaps he realized that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Kingston says, “and he knew my love and passion for sports.”
Kingston was awarded a 1999 summer internship with the Padres. He worked as a sports producer for an Internet company in 2000 then returned to the baseball team in 2001 as assistant to the director of player development. He was promoted to his current job in November 2002.
Although Kingston had not played organized baseball since middle school, his new career meshed with his interests. He played two years of tennis and four years of soccer at Dickinson, captaining the latter.
“Sports were always my first love,” he says. “Growing up, I played every day and was an avid fan of all sports, especially baseball. I was a fanatic about reading box scores and statistics. I liked statistics and analyzing them.”
His love of statistics continued at Dickinson. “That was my strong point academically,” he says. “The economics, math and statistics courses I took there laid the foundation for the statistical analysis I do now.”
The work is demanding, requiring many 15-hour days. It also allows only occasional days off during the six-month baseball season. And, according to Kingston, “The financial upside of the job is limited unless you’re in a premium position at the executive level such as president, vice president or general manager.”
Despite those negatives, Kingston’s sticking around. He wants to be a general manager.
He realizes that he lives in a city with a terrific climate, that his job fits his interests, that he’s in frequent contact with major-league players and that thousands of people covet his job.
“I wake up every day and don’t feel like I’m going to work,” he says. “I know how fortunate I am.”
Gary Libman, a freelance writer based near Los Angeles, wrote this story. The Seattle Mariners announced at magazine press time that Jeff Kingston was hired as the club’s assistant general manager.