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.
The draft is behind us, and short-season ball has begun. Some draftees remain unsigned, but many more have signed early and started their pro careers. As I wrote recently, I generally avoid representing potential draftees, simply because it’s not the most efficient use of my time. Last season, I made my first foray in three years into representing amateurs in the draft. This year, though, I went back to skipping the draft process—with one slight exception.
Tyler Badamo, a right-handed pitcher from Dowling College on Long Island, had a friend contact me via email to ask for assistance three weeks before the draft. I was reluctant because of my distaste for the entire process, but Tyler was a small-school senior who desperately needed help. He was wronged by an unqualified agent in 2013, and I felt obligated to help him out (for free, since charging a senior $50 just seems wrong). I got to know him over the three-week period, and I really grew to like him, so I had no regrets about jumping back into an activity I had sworn I wouldn’t do again sans some outlandish circumstance.
To jump back in time for a moment: In 2007, I had received a similar email from a father who asked if I would help his son from a small college get drafted. I agreed to do it then as well, but was livid that I was not compensated once the deal was signed. In essence the father wanted me to be his son’s agent only after his deal was signed so as to avoid paying the standard agent fee on the contract. The father had every right to do that, but it doesn’t make it any less wrong. Using an advisor and then not paying for that help is low any way you slice it. My job is hard work, and while I’m honored to work for the clients I have and it's a privilege to work in baseball, it's not so great a privilege that I should be doing it for free. Had I not been so inexperienced back then, it wouldn’t have been as big an issue, not that the end result would have been altered. I rejected the client, and now he’s a workhorse in the big leagues. Ever since that gaffe, I’ve vowed that the next time an email such as the one I got from Tyler Badamo wouldn’t fall on deaf ears.
Tyler attended multiple pre-draft workouts with major-league clubs at major-league stadiums, and I knew he could get selected essentially anywhere between rounds 10 and 40. He’d had a dominant Division II season in which he went 9-3 with a 0.83 ERA with two shutouts and a 129:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He held opposing hitters to a .197 batting average and did not allow a home run in 108 innings. He was a first-team All-American and went 72 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run, which was nearly a D-II record.
Tyler went in the 24th round to the New York Mets, who incidentally have their training facility one mile from my house, enabling me to spend more time with my new client. The draft is a painful process for anyone who isn’t selected early: name after name gets called, leading to letdown after letdown until you’re finally put out of your misery. It turns what should be a milestone event in a young man’s life into an arduous process. Just before Tyler was selected, the Mets called him to ask if he was interested in signing. Of course he said yes, and about 30 seconds later the pick was announced. I was certain that a couple other clubs were in on him, but in the end it didn’t matter. New York took him, and now he’s a Met. Welcome to baseball.
Here’s the part that fans never get to see. After Tyler was selected, several days went by with only phone calls and text messages from his scout and no word on the contract, a physical, where he was headed, or anything else. Finally he was told by his scout that he would be going down to St. Lucie for his physical, and that from there a determination would be made as to whether he would head to Kingsport, Brooklyn or, worst of all, the GCL. The Gulf Coast League—also known as the Gulf Roast League because its games are played at noon in 100-degree Florida heat with no fans present—is the worst place to start a career. Because Tyler was a senior, I saw the GCL as a very remote possibility given his advanced age and skill set. The guy is a workhorse and throws 93-95 with a devastating breaking ball. Like other D-II prospects before him—J.D. Martinez, Tommy Kahnle, Miles Mikolas, Mike Fiers, and Carlos Asuaje—he fell in the draft because he wasn’t scouted extensively, or because it’s tough to gauge D-II talents against the inferior competition they face.
Most players, regardless of draft round, have the honor of attending a mini-signing ceremony with their family where they put on their club’s cap and sign the paperwork. This time around, it didn’t happen, and Tyler just signed his paperwork at the field after his physical, which was disappointing. He was flown down to Florida five days after being picked, and much to my surprise the club did not have a general idea of which club to assign him to, perhaps because the Mets didn’t anticipate that Tyler would be available so late. Much to our chagrin, Tyler was sent to the GCL, but hey, at least he was drafted ahead of Johnny Manziel.
(As an aside, I think it’s a disgrace that Manziel was selected before the 40th round. Kids work their entire lives to be selected. Manziel, who has zero interest in playing, was taken in the 28th round, which sends the message to the 12 kids subsequently taken by the Padres that they have almost no chance of making it because San Diego felt that a publicity stunt was more valuable than taking or rewarding a talented baseball player. If they’d done it in round 40, I wouldn’t have had any qualms about it. Nor do I mind that the Rangers took Russell Wilson in the rule 5 draft last December. Bringing in a champion and a quality person, if for no reason other than to build relationships and help kids develop off the field, is the kind of thing winning clubs do. Johnny Manziel is not Russell Wilson, and the Padres are not the Rangers. End of rant.)
GCL life can be hell for a player, particularly a senior sign. Each morning the player wakes up at 5 AM to catch a shuttle to the field, since almost no players have cars. Every player has a roommate at a hotel (definitely not a five-star) and is usually at the field until 5 PM. Minor-league salaries in the GCL are $1100 a month, which nets around $400 per check. The first $200 of that check goes to the team hotel, which leaves players with $200 a month to live on. Clubbie fees are $35 a month, which leaves $165. Imagine being a senior sign with no agent. Then what would you do?
I have no idea how players are able to live off of that meager amount. Nutrition is a big issue for players, since out of the $400 they get around $10 per day for food. When I hear from some players that they don’t need an agent until A-ball, I laugh. An agent can certainly assist a player with basic expenses when he’s netting $165 a month in the GCL. Even a $500 endorsement of any kind helps immensely, as does getting free gear or having your agent nearby so you can meet him for dinner or come to his house (which is rare). It’s a difficult life.
Competition-wise, the GCL is difficult to read. St. Lucie plays only two other teams, Jupiter and Palm Beach. When a team faces another two clubs 60-odd times, it’s hard to get a read on how good a prospect is, because eventually hitters time the pitchers and pitchers exploit weaknesses. It’s also hard to finding the motivation day after day to play for $400 a month if you’re a senior sign, and to make matters worse, there are no extracurricular activities in St. Lucie. We have a movie theater and a Wal-Mart—that’s about it. I let Tyler borrow a bike from me so he could get to Wal-Mart should I not be available to give him a ride. Luckily for Tyler his agent is close, and I’m able to help keep him sane while he deals with the boredom, another thing that eats away at players. After 4 PM they’re all on their own—16-year-olds mixed with 22-year-olds from all over the world, with no transportation and nothing to do. It’s a very bizarre mix, and the hotel is a sight to see. You see some kids bragging about what cars they’re buying or what equipment they’re getting, and other kids who are just happy to be there and are sending money home when they can. The Latin players tend to be the best hope for their family making money, and I can’t imagine the pressure they must face on a daily basis.
On the bright side, the coaching is superb, and players generally improve as a result. The better they do, the quicker they escape the GCL, which is the goal of all players. Tyler has an innings cap, so despite going as late as he did in the draft, the organization still considers him a prospect. He has a great deal of work to do, but he does have a chance. His first pitch in pro ball came three weeks after he was drafted. He threw multiple bullpens, rested, threw more pens, and did arm strength drills and pitcher fielding practices, and then came game day. His first pitch turned into a home run that hasn’t landed yet. Then he got three outs, and six scoreless outs in his next appearance, topping out at 94 miles per hour. I hope he’ll finish strong and rise through the minors. It has to be tough for him to see guys who got taken later than he did playing at higher levels, but that’s life.
Thanks to my connections, Tyler is about to get a lot of endorsement deals that most 24th-round picks wouldn’t get. Endorsement deals are godsends, because the team provides no equipment, and without another source of income kids wouldn’t even be able to afford to play the game. The scout who drafted Tyler actually asked him to bring black cleats with him when he reported, because the club wouldn’t provide him with anything like that. It’s a real puzzle that the only time clubs pay for personalized bats for position players is when they reach the-40 man roster. When a kid needs help, he usually doesn’t get it, and when he likely does not need help, he gets more than he’ll ever need. It’s a backward system, but I do want to stress, because I’m talking specifically about one player and one club, that the Mets are a first-class organization and by no means am I singling them out. They run a great program, and Tyler is fortunate to be taken by a hometown team.
I’m glad I took Tyler’s email, and I’m happy to be working for a prospect with his kind of upside even though he was a late-round pick I normally would not have taken a second look at, having never seen him play (normally a prerequisite for my representation of a player, so this is a rare exception). The player I ignored the last time this situation arose—Dillon Gee—ended up being a pretty good pitcher, and I can only hope that Tyler turns in to that kind of arm.