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May 23, 2014

An Agent's Take

Why I Avoid the Draft

by Joshua Kusnick

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Joshua Kusnick is an MLBPA-certified agent who periodically writes about his experiences representing professional players. You can reach him via email at JoshuaKusnick@aol.com and on Twitter @JoshuaKusnick.

At one time, I regularly represented players in the amateur draft. I learned the nuances of the process, and I did some special deals, getting J.C. Sulbaran $500k in the 30th round, negotiating a seven-figure deal for Rangers first-round pick Kellen Deglan in 2010, and cracking $100k with a senior sign in Mets prospect Stephen Clyne. I’m proud of those accomplishments, but the stories share a common thread: work, and lots of it.

The draft is a totally different animal than normal recruiting for a number of reasons. First contact with a high-school prospect could occur as soon as his freshman year. Then comes the interview process, during which you and every other agency on earth competes for the prospect to retain you. The same goes for college kids, except that in their case, the NCAA and athletic directors are involved. The NCAA, in my estimation, is beyond unnecessary, and in the case of the baseball draft, more punitive than helpful.

When you get hired by a draft prospect—let’s say a 10th-rounder—you’re going to make $5k, give or take, so long as it’s not a senior sign kid with no leverage. Imagine spending an entire year—maybe even three or four—working for an amateur player and making that small an amount of money. Even if the player beats the odds in pro ball, you have to hold on to him for at least 3-4 years until he hits the Show , and then another three until he reaches arbitration. It literally could take a decade to get paid, and that’s if all goes well: the player pans out and doesn’t decide to switch representation. If it doesn’t go well, you could end up spending more than you make, between travel, food, lodging, and phone bills. I much prefer client referrals and scouting because they cut down on my travel, and even though I lose out on signing bonus dollars, I get to add a known commodity right out of the chute.

So because the cost of representing amateur plays is prohibitive for a one-man agency, I made the decision after 2010 to opt out of the draft. I believe I’m the only MLB-certified agent to stay away from the draft almost entirely. This is a strategy. I’m grateful for the men I work for, and I feel that they deserve my complete attention. The only way I can offer that is by cutting something like the draft out of my routine. Almost all of my clients, especially the newer ones, have come as a result of my personal scouting efforts or client referrals. I have to work incredibly hard to keep that pipeline flowing, or my source of income evaporates.

The only way I would jump back into the draft is as a favor or if there’s a referral that makes sense, which does happen occasionally. In 2013 I had two draft picks fall in my lap three weeks before the draft in Carlos Asuaje of the Red Sox and Brandon Diaz of the Brewers. In Asuaje’s case, I had a friend playing for Nova Southeastern University tell me that they had a prospect who had an advisor whom he felt wasn’t helping him at all. Carlos was a Cape Cod League All-Star and a projected high pick. When his advisor at the time realized that he wouldn’t be cashing in instantly on Carlos, he essentially left him hanging. I didn’t intend to poach a draft guy, particularly with only three weeks to work, but as a favor for our mutual friend, I spoke to Carlos on the phone and was horrified to hear what he was telling me. He was ill prepared for the draft, and I felt an obligation to help.

We met the next day, and I was blown away by his makeup, which is probably among the top five I’ve encountered in my career. I decided that I could help him, and that he could be someone special. I was named his advisor that day, condensed a year’s worth of information into three weeks, and promised to be with him on draft day. I explained the draft process and figured out his value was and what workouts to attend and not attend. I also explained what pro ball would be like for him with every phone call.

Five days before the draft, another friend called me with a prospect named Brandon Diaz, who went to my high school (American Heritage). I met with the family, was retained that day, and this time had to take care of everything Brandon needed in less than a week, which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The one condition with Brandon was that I had to be with him draft day as well. I don’t break promises, and Asuaje had retained me first, so I took my wife’s suggestion to invite both kids to be with me at an intermediate site.

Diaz was deemed unsignable by scouts because of the lack of communication by the family with the teams. Here’s where things get a bit messy. Every team in baseball contacted me once they were informed that Diaz had hired me. By NCAA rules, had he not signed this could have been a disaster. Only after I was told that Brandon was signing regardless of draft round did I speak with teams; otherwise, thanks to the NCAA, he’d have been ineligible to return to school because of having had an agent. I think the NCAA hurts a lot of kids by forcing them to lie about their representation during the draft process, and I’m grateful that I never have to deal with them. Every time the NCAA has called me, I’ve hung up on them. They don’t govern me, and I have no use for them.

On day five of my relationship with Brandon, he became the first player drafted in Broward County. I had helped turn an unsignable kid into a professional. (See? Agents aren’t always the enemy.) Diaz had teams calling starting in the fifth round. There’s nothing worse than agreeing to a deal at a certain pick and then hearing someone else’s name called, which finally ended when the Brewers called in the eighth round. Brandon signed that night and had a great pro debut in Arizona.

In Asuaje’s case, something very bizarre happened. I helped him choose which workouts to attend, and I was certain that he’d be picked in the first 10 rounds. Draft day two rolls around, and in the ninth round, teams start lowballing him because the ones that liked him the most had blown their draft budgets and thought they’d get a Division II sign cheaply. On day three, his dream came true, and he was selected by his favorite team from childhood, the Boston Red Sox. The negotiations were tense in person, since we were dealing with a rookie scout who had never had drafted anyone before, but eight hours later, the deal was done.

With the budgetary restraints loosened after round 10, Carlos got more than quadruple the bonus he would have had he accepted the many ninth-round offers he received. Had I not been there in person to guide him through the process, who knows what would have happened? I do know that Boston’s 10th pick got $10k as a junior—a club-friendly deal that I never would have advised.

I believed it would benefit both Asuaje and Diaz to sign quickly so that we could get a head start on their careers and their endorsements. Lo and behold, both kids got every deal under the sun due in large part to signing so fast, combined with my connections. And even though neither player went in the top five rounds, both ended up with increasingly elusive baseball card deals. As I’ve noted before, the card deal is my favorite endorsement, because the look on a player’s face when he hears he has a card is matched only on draft day and MLB debut day. Cards immortalize players, and now Carlos and Brandon both have them.

And to think, both clients were referrals, a happy accident to say the least. Brandon is headed to Helena, while Carlos is tearing up the South Atlantic League. As for 2014, I’ve done no draft scouting and have no clients in this year’s draft class, another promise I made to my pro clients this spring.

For me, the more common component of player acquisition is good old-fashioned scouting. I’m fortunate to live next to a Florida State League stadium. In May of 2013 I went to an extended spring game and found a righty-handed pitcher who sat 93 to 97 at 6’5”, 200 lbs. I fell in love with the arm. I spoke to him postgame and discovered that he was a 30-something-round pick and had no agent. My wife and I had him over for dinner, and he hired me on the spot. His name is Seth Lugo, and he’s one of my favorite prospects in the FSL, especially since he overcame a back injury that cost him all of 2012. The Mets and the scout who signed him, Tommy Jackson, did well to unearth a gem like him and stick with him to the point that they’re now reaping some of the rewards. It’s his 40-man roster year, and he’s a great candidate to be added to the roster or selected in the rule 5 draft. Had I not gone to the field one day, I’d never have found him. Obviously, luck plays a large role in my job, but you can make your own luck by working hard. The backbone of an agent is being able to scout and then monetizing the scouted players once they’re signed.

I have my eye on a few FSL players this year. Some I’ll land and some I won’t, but I’ll keep grinding, hoping to make more discoveries and add to my agency’s foundation. I’m proud to say that every MLB player I have was drafted in the fifth round or later, except for Jeremy Jeffress—when I scout and sign players before the accolades, as I did with Dalton Pompey (whom I scouted in 2010 and signed in 2013), it helps my retention rate, since I can say I was there when nobody else was. If you have a uniform, you have a chance, and someone is always watching—either scouts, team officials, or even an agent like me.

Joshua Kusnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joshua's other articles. You can contact Joshua by clicking here

Related Content:  Scouting,  Amateur Draft,  Agent,  Agency,  Recruiting

38 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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poorlittlefool
(426)

When you're scouting, how do you know which players have an agent and which don't? Also, are there a large number of players in the lower minors who do NOT have an agent? Very much enjoyed this one, Joshua - thanks!

May 23, 2014 03:44 AM
rating: 2
 
PeterCollery

And further to that question, what's the protocol if somebody is represented? Are they "fair game" as a legal matter? Is there an understanding among agents about poaching one another's clients?

May 23, 2014 07:29 AM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

You just go up to a player and ask if he has a guy if he's not on the roster. The 40 man is a totally different animal I can't explain here.

May 23, 2014 08:36 AM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

You don't and almost everyone has a guy. There are 249 certified mlbpa agents there are around 3000 uncertified agents. It's a crazy landscape

May 23, 2014 08:36 AM
rating: 1
 
David Sullivan

Great stories, keep them coming.

May 23, 2014 07:33 AM
rating: 5
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thank you

May 23, 2014 08:37 AM
rating: 0
 
Nojsztat

I hope there's some way to reform the way the NCAA takes advantage of these student athletes. All they seem to be doing is lining their own pockets.

May 23, 2014 08:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

I enjoy each call I get from the NCAA for reasons mentioned in the story.

May 23, 2014 08:38 AM
rating: 4
 
Stoney18

Thanks for sharing Joshua. Among my favorite reads here.

May 23, 2014 08:18 AM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thank you

May 23, 2014 08:38 AM
rating: 0
 
claybeez

I continue to enjoy your posts. Thank you.

May 23, 2014 08:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

So far so good. Thank you

May 23, 2014 08:39 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

One correction i scouted pompey in 10 signed him in 13

May 23, 2014 13:34 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Anyone have questions? Im trying to take my mind of things ill amswer all of them as soon as theyre posted

May 23, 2014 16:50 PM
rating: 0
 
Peter Benedict

I too continue to enjoy your articles.

How do you build your network of people who make referrals to you?

May 23, 2014 16:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thanks, combination of scouting and trusting my current clients

May 23, 2014 19:22 PM
rating: 0
 
russell

As a ballpark, what share of your clients come as referrals and what share come from scouting? Also, do you generally have a higher hit rate with the referrals or does it matter?

May 23, 2014 17:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

I dont generally think it mattere but for me its been 50/50

May 23, 2014 19:24 PM
rating: 0
 
melotticus

Bravo Joshua. Excellent read and I love getting to hear the "living room" stories if you will.

I certainly don't want you to name names, but have you ever come across a guy that no matter what you do, you just can't seem to reel him in as a client? What is the craziest thing you've done in order to lock down a deal with representing a player?

May 23, 2014 20:35 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Always. In fact ive chased a guy for a decade only to not land him. I never promise anything i cant do nor do i induce anyone so sadly im not the guy with the crazy stories. Though one player did sign his contract with me with a shotgun next to him warning me not to mess anything up. More of a joke.....i think.

May 24, 2014 07:33 AM
rating: 2
 
Joshua Kusnick

Hilariously back in 06 someone bought an a ball kid i had a car only to be fired himself a week later.

May 24, 2014 07:37 AM
rating: 1
 
Johnston

"you can make your own luck by working hard."

Truer words were never written.

May 23, 2014 23:02 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

I really believe this.

May 24, 2014 07:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Johnston

It's the plain truth. Branch Rickey used to say that "Luck is the residue of design." I think it's both design and hard work.

May 24, 2014 22:18 PM
rating: 1
 
chew1109

What factors go into deciding whether a prospect should or shouldn't attend a pre draft workout?

May 24, 2014 07:14 AM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

Schedueling, draft tendencies, org needs at all levels and who you think may actually take the kid vs the team needing a body to fill out a camp etc. You cant have a pitcher throw back to back days you know?

May 24, 2014 07:36 AM
rating: 1
 
chew1109

How much do you value stats for guys in high A? Do you value stats for hitters more so than pitchers?

May 24, 2014 08:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

It depends on the league, park, age, player, pedigree, etc.... lots of variables.

May 24, 2014 16:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Doom Service

One topic I'm curious to learn more about is how you guide a client when his career is nearing the end - through Indy ball, overseas offers, going into coaching, post-baseball career options. When and how does the client/agent end? Just an idea for a future post.

May 25, 2014 08:03 AM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

One of the worst and hardest parts of my job. I touched on it back In 10. Maybe ill write about all that next

May 25, 2014 09:40 AM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

any other topics you think I should cover that would be allowable without disclosing actual trade secrets?

May 25, 2014 13:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Pat Folz

For one, I'd also like to hear about the end-of-career/playing Indy/overseas scenario.

Somewhat related, but what about prospects (and/or Major Leaguers?) who play winter ball in the Caribbean? I think sometimes teams ask certain prospects to play there, and I assume sometimes the player wants to play there, and then I seem to recall some stories about e.g. American prospects who ended up in another country for the winter and had serious adjustment/cultural issues and had to leave... I'd like to hear more about that process, and what factors go in to a player playing/not there?

And it sounds like you might not have firsthand knowledge of this, but I'm curious about players making the jump from say a Dominican academy to American organized ball. I gather that in D.R. they are represented (sometimes, "represented") by buscones, but once they come to the U.S., is there like a line of agents waiting as soon as they get off the plane, or do agents hang around spring training to see who might stick, or generally how do they get Stateside representation and what exactly does that entail?

Apologies if you've already written about these things, I'm afraid I haven't read all of your articles yet... >_>

May 25, 2014 21:55 PM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

These are interesting to me. Especially, the winter leagues (and maybe the WBC too, given all the moaning that goes on every time it rolls round), and the issue of Latin prospects and their prior representation.

May 27, 2014 07:21 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Winter ball contracts are interesting to negotiate and the WBC is pretty much out of my hands, just have to capitalize on the marketing opportunities

thanks

J

May 27, 2014 14:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

I tend not to sign players that early in their careers sans the rare draft pick, especially with my inability to speak spanish

May 27, 2014 14:39 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

I have a few weeks before next story so let me know via email or here or twitter. All ideas will be considered and Ill give credit to whomever has the best idea

May 25, 2014 18:48 PM
rating: 0
 
brucegilsen
(999)

Josh, late to the party but I enjoy your articles. Have you considered learning Spanish? I bet it would help at some point.

Jun 02, 2014 18:23 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

nope, there are enough things on my plate. Learning a new language isn't in the cards right now.

Jun 11, 2014 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
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