The Future: Jared Kubin
Jared Kubin scampered into his first varsity baseball practice as a freshman — and a late freshman at that.
He had a valid excuse (basketball practice had run late), and Oakton High baseball coach Scott Rowland knew exactly who this tardy frosh was. More concerned with seeing what he had in this gifted but somewhat nervous youngster than waiting for a late slip, Rowland told Kubin to lace up the spikes and jump right into the batter's box.
Pitching coach Dan Kildoo was conducting an intra-squad scrimmage. The first pitch Kubin ever saw as a Cougar was a fastball, and he turned on it like it was sitting on a tee. By the time that helpless baseball fell into the grass behind Oakton's outfield fence, Kubin had shown his new teammates that nothing — not age, inexperience nor hoops practice — was going to stop him from charging full speed ahead toward the dream he's harbored since he was old enough to say "hit and run."
"[Kildoo] looked at me and said, ‘That's the stuff legends are made of,'" recalls Rowland, who watched Kubin go on to hit .300 with two homers as a freshman.
Three years later, Kubin hasn't stopped mashing. Fueled by his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer, Kubin has taken his natural athletic gifts (he's also the school's all-time leading basketball scorer, but we'll get into that later) and honed them relentlessly in the batting cage and in the weight room.
As a result, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior outfielder has developed into one of the most highly touted players in America, rated the nation's No. 17 prep prospect in the Class of 2004 by SchoolSports.com. Kubin has signed with the University of Florida, but he's also expected to be a high pick in June's Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
"He's a hard worker, and he's focused. He knows what he wants," says Rowland. "He's got a tremendous physique and tremendous power. But each year he's developed into a better hitter. His knowledge has improved each year. He understands how important balance is, and he knows the strike zone."
After a breakout sophomore season in which he hit .446 with 26 RBI and seven home runs, Kubin followed up by batting .508 with 25 RBI and seven more homers last year to lead Oakton to a 22-5 record and the AAA Concorde District title. For his efforts, Kubin earned All-State first team and Washington Post All-Met honors as a junior.
This season, in just 18 at-bats through Oakton's 6-1 start as of April 14 (he draws intentional walks like his idol, Barry Bonds), Kubin had nine hits — four of which were home runs — with 15 RBI and 12 runs scored.
Of course, Kubin is known almost as much for his exploits on the hardwood as on the diamond after recently finishing his hoops career as perhaps the best player in school history. He shattered the previous school record for career points (1,056) by finishing with 1,615 points, and he was named an honorable mention All-Met basketball selection this winter — no small feat in one of the nation's most fertile regions for hoop talent.
But Kubin's heart has always been between the foul lines. Or, more specifically, between the chalk of the batter's box. To him, nothing beats staring down a hurler trying to blow one past him.
Plus, there's not exactly a high demand for 6-foot-3 centers in the SEC.
"It's me versus the pitcher. It's the one-on-one thing I love so much," says Kubin, 17, a SchoolSports All-American in baseball. "Basketball is a five-on-five game, whereas baseball is both an individual and a team game."
Kubin's natural athletic gifts are the result of fortunate bloodlines. His father, Lawrence, was a star athlete at Union High in New Jersey who gave up baseball after high school to focus on football. It was a move that paid off, as the elder Kubin went on to star as a linebacker at Penn State and with the Washington Redskins.
Jared exhibited superior athletic ability as a youngster, and his burning passion to play baseball was evident by Little League. Lawrence, who now jokes with Jared that "baseball is a lot more fun than putting on the pads in 95-degree weather," encouraged his son's development by setting up a makeshift batting cage with nothing more than a hole in the mesh for Lawrence to throw through.
Little did Jared's father know just how hard his son could pound the ball, even at such a young age. By the time Lawrence ponied up for a cage with a batting screen, Jared had broken his father's foot and one of his fingers and left enough red (and often black and blue) marks on his dad's body that his mother, Mary, had just about had enough.
"I hit him in the stomach once, and it was the worst bruise I've ever seen," says Jared. "He'd be like ‘Good hit!' and then scream ‘God!'"
Having mastered Concorde District pitching early in his career, Kubin set himself up for consideration to compete in events reserved for the nation's top young players. He played in the AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic in August of 2003 and in the Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat Association Championships in October of 2002 with future first-round draft picks such as Delmon Young, Lastings Milledge and Jeff Allison.
Kubin found out that playing with the nation's best can be a great confidence boost — once you prove you belong.
"You're facing a guy throwing 90 to 92 miles per hour with a good curveball who can locate his changeup," says Kubin. "It makes you step your game up. I was a little leery going in, but once I got a couple hits, I knew I could hang with them."
These days, he's doing a lot more than just hanging with them. Kubin is the only out-of-state player in Florida's incoming recruiting class, but there's a good chance he'll never set foot in a Gators uniform. He's a lock to be drafted high — possibly in the first two rounds — and if he signs a pro contract, he will have achieved a dream he has nurtured since those days whacking baseballs at his dad in their budget batting cage.
But two questions remain unanswered: Who is Kubin going to play for, and what position will he play once he gets there?
Kubin knows that despite the uncertainty — scouts are split on whether he projects as an outfielder or first baseman — his bat will go a long way in answering both of those questions better than he can.
"Whether I go pro out of high school or after two or three years of college, it's out of my hands," says Kubin, who sees himself as a corner guy on defense — right field, left field, first base or third base. "I can't worry about the scouts. I just have to play and let the chips fall where they may."