A's general manager David Forst shakes his head.
"I have no excuse," he said.
We are talking about why the Oakland Athletics, like 20 other teams, passed on Michael Trout in the 2009 Draft.
"I saw him," Forst said. "I saw him just incredible. I saw him hit two home runs, and then he came into pitch, and I saw him throw 95 mph to close the game out."
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He shrugs. David Forst went to Harvard. Graduated cum laude with a degree in sociology. He went to work for the A's in 2000, when he was 24, in the heyday of Billy Beane's Moneyball philosophy of staying "objective." Forst has -- between Springsteen shows -- dedicated his life to that philosophy, to making sense of the crazy game.
The Oakland A's had the 13th pick in the 2009 Draft. They took shortstop Grant Green out of the University of Southern California.
"We erred on the side of the objective data," Forst said. "We probably didn't put enough art into that decision."
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Teams miss in the Draft all the time. We all know that. You can look at any year and see it. Pick any year at random -- say, 1998. Matthew Holliday didn't go until the seventh round. Next year, Jose Pujols famously went in the 13th round. In 2004, there were 64 picks before the Red Sox took Dustin Pedroia.
But there's something different about the Mike Trout miss. There is usually something to scare scouts away. Pedroia was small. Holliday was a huge football prospect. There were questions about where Pujols would play defensively.
But Trout -- he was as finished as a prospect could be. He is a once-in-a-generation player with no apparent weaknesses. And Trout was basically that player on the day he was drafted. He immediately went to the Rookie-level Arizona League and hit .360 with power and speed and defense. He was so good, they moved him up to Class A ball for a few games at the end of the year.
The next year, Trout hit .362 in Class A ball, slugged .526, stole 45 bases in 81 games, played unreal defense, and they moved him up to Class A Advanced. The next year, he was so ridiculous in Double-A Arkansas that the Angels moved him to the big leagues when he was just 19 years old.
The next year -- so, basically, 2 1/2 years after he was drafted -- Trout was the best player in baseball. This wasn't a case of someone developing unexpectedly or transforming himself through five or six years of intensive Minor League experience and weight training and everything else. Mike Trout was, essentially, Mike Trout on the day that he was selected with the 25th overall pick by the the Los Angeles Angels.
So how do so many baseball teams -- teams that spend countless hours trying to find just one player like Mike Trout -- miss when Mike Trout actually comes along?
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Begin in New Jersey. Everything about Mike Trout is reflected in Millville, the hardworking small town in South Jersey where he grew up. Millville is so much a part of the Mike Trout story ... and playing there is the first reason why teams missed on him. In 2009, there really hadn't been a great hitting prospect to come out of New Jersey since -- Ducky Medwick?
"If there had been even one great prospect to come out of New Jersey in a while, it would probably have been different," Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. "But there really hadn't been. One thing we look for as scouts, like it or not, are patterns. I can assure you that after Mike Trout, there won't be another New Jersey prospect who gets missed like that."
The Trout thing is personal for Picollo -- he grew up just a few miles away from Millville. He was intrigued. When he was visiting the Royals' Minor League affiliate in Wilmington, Del., Picollo strongly considered making the hour or so drive to Millville to see Trout play.
Someone in the organization who had seen Trout play said: Don't bother. The Royals had the 12th pick in that year's Draft. And Trout, the scout said, was not the No. 12 pick in the country.
"I didn't go," Picollo said. "I still kick myself for that. But I can't blame anyone else. I could have gone, but I'm sure I thought -- 'Oh, the competition isn't that great. Players from New Jersey are behind the rest of the country. And, anyway, the game might get rained out."
Yes, that's another part of the New Jersey thing: bad weather. It's hard to scout players in the Northeast because of it. Players miss a lot of games. Many of the games played are sloppy and difficult to scout. Trout was pretty drastically under-scouted because of this.
And there's this harsh bit, too: Some scouts were simply not in love with Trout. They thought he might be a little bit bulky. His swing could get loopy. There were a few scouts -- ones who might not stick their necks out now -- who absolutely believed Mike Trout would not hit enough in the Major Leagues.
Trout also came on late. Baseball America had him as the 80th-best high school prospect in America when their prospect handbook came out before the 2009 season. Trout moved up the charts after an extraordinary senior year, but even on Draft day, the Baseball America scouting report was unconvincing. "Trout's bat is not a sure thing," they wrote, and they essentially said he might become a player like Aaron Rowand (it also offered the fascinating detail that during the spring before the Draft, he actually tried hitting left-handed).
One year later, Baseball America's scouting report said this: "If there's one thing Trout can't do, Midwestern League observers didn't see it."
Life comes at you fast.
* * *
So these are the compelling reasons for why teams missed on Trout. The New Jersey factor. Weaker competition. Bad weather. But everyone who missed on him concedes that there is something else, something more difficult to accept: There was a lack of imagination when people saw Trout.
"Mike Trout," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, "waited his whole life for this. That's the part we didn't see. He embraced all of it. He loves playing baseball every single day. He loves being in a diverse environment with different teammates from all over the world. He embraces the role of being centerstage, being judged constantly, dealing with struggles, making adjustments, not getting too high or too low.
"Mike Trout was born to be a Major League Baseball player. We knew he had talent. We knew he was a great athlete. The Draft is filled with great athletes. But we didn't see the rest of it, didn't see how much he wanted to be a big league ballplayer and all that goes with that."
The Royals drafted Aaron Crow, a former college pitcher who had not signed the year before.
"He wasn't a traditional baseball body," Forst said. "It was more a linebacker's body. On the flip side, we had a shortstop from Southern California, from a great college program, the numbers all in his favor. We probably were too science heavy."
The A's, as mentioned, took Grant Green.
As for the rest -- the teams that took Donavan Tate and Matt Hobgood and Bobby Borchering and Chad James and Jiovanni Mier and Jared Mitchell and the rest -- there are regrets. But the truth is, trying to predict the future (even the relatively near future) is trying the impossible.
"I'm happy to say we didn't pass on him," said Cubs president Theo Epstein, who was GM of the Red Sox then. "But I'll be honest enough to say that we would have. ... In my mind, he came on late. He wasn't a big part of the showcases. It was hard to see him because the weather's awful. We place educated bets on where to put our resources, and we just weren't on him enough.
"That doesn't explain it though. We should be good enough and smart enough that we don't miss on a player like Mike Trout. But you have to decide. It's like that whole thing with: If I put you on a desert Island for an hour with 60 women and said you have an hour to choose your wife or mate for the rest of your life, are you going to spend one minute with all 60?"
Epstein pauses for an answer. No. In this weird scenario, you would of course not do it that way.
"No," Epstein said. "You will probably choose the three that might appeal to you most and spend 20 minutes with them. That's probably a better way to do things. But, yes, things do fall through the cracks that way."