This past week my friend Bruce Seid, the Milwaukee Brewers scouting director, passed away. This is not the first time I lost a friend who was a scout. Rolando Casanova of the Detorit Tigers passed away earlier this year, as well. Bruce and Caz were both under 60 and passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. We work in show business, and death rarely creeps into our thoughts, but when it comes it hits like a sledgehammer. I want to use this column to talk about my friend and give the world a behind-the-scenes look at what a failed draft situation looks like.
I first met Bruce in 2006 while scouting the draft at CCSN in Nevada, the school Bryce Harper would later make famous. We were watching an amateur player named Devin Shepherd, the former Aflac MVP turned reality show contestant. Devin was the top-ranked junior college player in the country at the time and I was his advisor. The two things that dogged Devin were questions about his makeup and his inability to show in-game power. Both of these things were soon to be exposed further.
Bruce introduced himself to me during batting practice and we both soon realized I represented a player he had drafted, Taylor Green. From then on we had a great friendship. Bruce was so excited about Green’s prospects; he was adamant that the 25th round pick had the ability to play in the major leagues. I learned so much from Bruce on the scouting side of things. Bruce taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever received in my career: Makeup, more than anything, can make or break a prospect.
Devin Shepherd had one of the strangest college careers I have ever seen. He was drafted in the fifth round out of Oxnard High in California. I had met him almost randomly when he was 14 years old, at a Perfect Game showcase at Tropicana Field. I literally was just sitting next to him and gave him my card. I had no idea he was 14. Three years later I ran into his mother at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, where we hit it off, but he already had an advisor. In June of that year Devin was drafted by the Twins, falling further than he had anticipated. His mother called me on draft day and asked me to handle the negotiations. It was my first “high profile” negotiation and in the end I think the slot was 150k and I got the Twins up to 275k. Devin declined, against my advice. He then went to Oklahoma, where he eventually left the school in a pretty high-profile story that ended up on the front page of Baseball America.
That year I had suggested he attend Chipola (Russell Martin, Adam Loewen, Tyler Flowers, Mat Gamel, Steve Clevenger, Jaye Chapman, Rene Tosoni, Darren Ford, etc.) but he decided to ignore my advice and attend CCSN, which was a wood bat junior college, so that he could be closer to Oxnard. This was, in my opinion, a horrible decision, exposing his flaws and essentially killing his projection. This is where Bruce comes in. Bruce tried his best to fall in love with the kid. He always felt something was off and wondered why the production never matched his tools. He warned me that there had to be something in his makeup that didn’t allow him to be the player he could have been. He studied how he interacted with his teammates, talked to coaches, stayed late, got to the games early, and outworked everyone. He knew the kid and the family from the time Devin was in high school, and he did like the kid very much, but he also always had a sense that something was off—especially when he turned down the Twins’ money. When you turn down that kind of money out of high school you run the risk of never seeing it again. It’s mighty hard to improve on being drafted in the top five rounds, and when you turn down that money you send a message that isn’t necessarily good. In some circumstances, not signing is definitely a better option, but this scenario was purely money driven and that very rarely works out.
Bruce suggested I try to dig a little deeper to see what made the kid tick. He told me something he often repeated: “Plus tools+ Plus instinct + Plus makeup = Future Hall of Famer.” At the time I really only looked at the player’s ability. I had no idea at the time (I was 23 or 24) that there was more to making it than ability. In retrospect that seems incredibly stupid, but these are things that are learned.
Bruce spent all week subtly teaching me how to look for things on and off the field. He always did little things like that throughout my career. We were on opposite sides of the negotiating fence but we were still friends. After the first game of the year I met with Devin to talk about the season. The only question he had asked me were about Nike, baseball card deals, commercials. Not one question about baseball. That should have been the ultimate red flag. A week later I met up with him at Chipola in Florida. Devin hit his only HR of the season there, as a visiting player, and then a week later fired me for talking to another family in the stands while he was playing. Honestly, that happened. I then had to call all the area scouts I met to tell them I was no longer advising Devin. When I finally got to call Bruce he was very upset and felt bad for me. He told me Devin was going to be in for a shock at draft time, thanks to his wood bat struggles and emerging makeup concerns. Lo and behold, a few months later Devin fell to the 14th round, and two years later he was out of baseball due to poor production and off-the-field issues. Bruce was spot on.
The second story, which is much more light-hearted, occurred in the spring of 2009. I was living next to a D-2 school in South Florida called Nova. The school had never produced an MLB player, but in 2009 the club had J.D. Martinez, Mike Fiers, and Miles Mikolas. I attended every game that season and was absolutely enamored of Mikolas. Every scout there basically ignored Fiers and Martinez, grading them as organizational players. There were only two exceptions: Greg Brown, now the coach of Nova, was working for the Astros as a scout and loved Martinez. I mean, he absolutely believed Martinez was going to be the player he is now, and he was the only one. Bruce, on the other hand, loved Fiers. So did the area scout Charlie Sullivan, but ultimately this was Bruce’s call. During the first week of the season I saw Bruce at a game Fiers was pitching in. He was 85-88 mph with great command and on top of that he was an old draft, at 24 years old. I had very minimal interest in him. In front of everyone Bruce told me I should take a look at Fiers and I laughed at him. What I was going to do with a guy who at best wouldn’t hit arbitration until he was 30? Bruce asked me if I’d take this kid in the 15th to 20th round, to which I said “of course not.” A few months later Bruce took Fiers in the 22nd round. Fiers went on to win the Brewers’ minor-league player-of-the-year award in 2012 and had a historic start to his career in his debut season.
When the 2012 season was over I saw Bruce in Nashville for the winter meetings. I told him I owed him an apology on Fiers and, in typical Bruce fashion, he said “if I knew he’d be this good I wouldn’t have waited so long to draft him.” He was gracious and funny, as he always was toward me, and as he always was toward everyone he interacted with. Despite being a behind-the-scenes baseball man he touched so many lives that he was trending on Twitter on the day he passed. I can’t envision that for the majority of people who work in baseball, much less a scouting director, and I believe that speaks to the influence Bruce had.
My last negotiation with him was in 2013 when he drafted Brandon Diaz. He actually called me during the draft and apologized to me for waiting so long to take Diaz. Then, after Diaz signed, he thanked me for helping the signing go so smoothly. He was always honest and fair with me professionally and supportive personally. The last time I spoke with him I told him I had signed the Brewers’ sixth round pick from the 2014 draft. He congratulated me and said as long as the kid keeps hitting he’s going to play in the big leagues. He always believed everyone he drafted was going to play in the show. He always had his scouts’ and his players’ backs. I can only send my heartfelt condolences to his family and to the Brewers organization. Bruce was a Hall of Fame scout if there ever was one, and baseball will not be the same without him.