I’ve gotten to know Josh Kusnick, who is a player agent, currently representing about twenty professional baseball players. Josh was the youngest agent ever certified by Major League Baseball – admittedly learning as he went, and learning from mistakes along the way, Josh now has more than ten years in the business.
Josh is an approachable, engaging man who doesn’t hesitate to stir up baseball conversation, or to tell you how he feels. I spoke with him by phone yesterday, here’s what he had to say…
BitB: Josh, thanks for doing this, are you ready to go?
BitB: You started as an agent so young, in your early twenties – that just doesn’t happen – tell me how you did it?
Josh: “I was younger, I didn’t know better, and I just did things. I love the fans, I love baseball and the history of the game, and I just did things. I used to post on message boards all the time, to talk up my guys, you never see agents do things like that, but I did. I started posting on Brewerfan.net when I was 24, and I loved it. I’m the only agent who does things like that, I’m accessible, I’m on Twitter, my email address is easy to find, and I write for Baseball Prospectus. It’s just a different approach, and it came from starting young, and just trying things.”
BitB: To get into the game so young, and get players and teams to take you seriously, you had to have a way in, how did you do that?
Josh: “When I was 14, my dad and I started going to minor league games in the Florida State League, and I saw a lot of great players come through there. Roy Halladay, Scott Rolen, Adrian Beltre, Vladimir Guerrero, a lot of great players. I noticed that you can get close to minor league players, you can’t get near the major league guys, but minor league players are much more accessible, and they appreciate the attention, so I decided instead of getting a real job in high school, I’d start a business selling player autographs. I was an autograph hound, and I’d sell the autographs, so of course, I wanted to get things signed by the best players. That led me to gravitate towards the guys who had been higher draft picks, and the more talanted players.
I noticed that the scouts always sat behind the plate, so I started to sit over there, and I would talk to them. One of the guys I got to know was Joe Butler, who’s with the White Sox. Joe’s been in the game a long time, and he’s done a great job. One day he gave me his card, I wound up doing low-level intern work for him – bird dogging. I was doing fact checking, real basic stuff, but I started to learn. I got to know a lot of great people, guys like Jack Zduriencik, who was a fantastic Scouting Director, and Reid Nichols, guys I formed good relationships with, they all helped me, and I was able to learn.”
BitB: How did you take that and turn it into a career as an agent?
Josh: “I started hanging around, talking to players, trying to get them to make me their agent, and one day I was at a Jupiter Hammerheads game, and a player finally said, ‘If you buy me a glove, you’re my agent.'”
BitB: No way, that did not happen…
Josh: (laughs), “That’s exactly how it happened. This 26-year-old player who still lived with his parents told me I had to meet his parents and talk to them, but if it was ok with them, I could be his agent. He hired me, and I caught some dumb luck – he made it to the big leagues, which was how I became certified so quickly.”
BitB: Who was that player?
Josh: “Carmen Cali. He was a left-handed reliever, he didn’t have a long big league career, but he got there, he pitched for St Louis and Minnesota.”
“I’ll never forget it, I met Carmen and his parents at a Cracker Barrel in the middle of nowhere and after we talked, he hired me as his agent. I was only 21, and I said the dumbest thing ever, looking back on it, I can’t believe he hired me after I said what I did, I’ve never said anything like it again, and I can’t believe I did it. I said, ‘I love hockey, baseball’s not really my thing.’ Oh well, live and learn, I was young, and it just sort of came out, I look back and laugh now.”
BitB: Josh, that’s why I wanted to tell this story…you’re a kid, you decide to start an autograph business because you can get close to minor league players, then you notice where the scouts sit, so you go over there, then you do some entry-level work, and you wind up as an agent because you bought a guy a glove, and his parents said it was ok. I don’t think people realize things like that really can happen, if you just go for what you want. I just love the story.
You’ve come a long way since Cracker Barrel, Josh, I know you represent Michael Brantley, he’s your first guy who really broke through…
Josh: “Michael is a great guy, he was a groomsman in my wedding. I met Michael at a workout in Tallahassee, and I met his mom. Michael hired me when he was in AA.”
BitB: Michael was in the Brewers organization then, and he wound up as the Player to be Named Later in the CC Sabathia trade, tell me about that…
Josh: “The deal was, if the Brewers missed the playoffs, the Player to be Named would be Taylor Green, who is another one of my guys, and if the Brewers made the playoffs, it was Michael Brantley. The Brewers made it, and Michael has really blossomed in Cleveland. The Brewers got what they wanted at the time, but I’m sure they wish they had Michael back.”
“At the time, I represented Michael, Lorenzo Cain and Darren Ford, who were all excellent center field prospects. The Brewers traded all three, Cain went in the deal for Zack Greinke, and Darren Ford went to the Giants for Ray Durham. All three of them played in the big leagues for their new teams, and the Brewers wound up having to trade for Carlos Gomez to fill center field. If Gomez hadn’t fallen out of the sky, that would have been an interesting situation.”
“Michael made it, and got paid, Darren got a World Series ring with the 2010 Giants, and Lorenzo is in the big leagues with Kansas City.”
BitB: Josh, the last time we talked, you told me about one of your clients, who has made huge strides this year, in the Toronto Blue Jays system…
Josh: “Yes, that’s right, Dalton Pompey. Dalton was Toronto’s 16th-round-pick in 2010. He won the Minor League Gold Glove last year for center fielders, but this year, he’s really grabbing attention. Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus called him the best prospect in baseball, and Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports called him the best prospect in A-Ball. He’s a kid other teams were in on, the Brewers were one, but he lasted until the 16th round, and it all worked out for him; he’s from Toronto, so going to the Blue Jays is a great story. He’s got a great makeup, and a great support system, he’s from a great family, so he’s got every chance to make it. This is a big year for Dalton, it’s his 40-Man-Year, he should be added to Toronto’s 40-man, and he’ll probably play in the Futures Game.”
BitB: That’s a great example of how inexact the baseball draft is, there you have a 16th-round pick outplaying guys who were drafted much higher than he was.
BitB: See, that makes no sense to me, not only that a kid like that went so high, but how did the Mets even find him.
Josh: “Travel ball. You just never know.”
BitB: One thing about Fernandez, its been reported that he told teams he would only sign with the Marlins, otherwise he’d go play college ball at Miami.
Josh: “I didn’t know that, I know Jason Heyward did that when he came out, he’s from Atlanta and he told teams he wanted to sign with the Braves.”
“I don’t work the draft anymore, unless there are special circumstances – I just don’t like the process.”
BitB: You don’t like the draft process – why not?
Josh: “Everyone lies.”
Josh: “It’s like playing poker, people will say anything. I prefer veteran scouts, there are a lot of young scouts now who will go to a kid’s house and tell him the team is going to take him in a specific round, but they don’t have any authority. Then the kid slides, and even though he gets drafted, he’s crushed. I just don’t like the process, so I only work on the draft if it’s a referral, or some special circumstance.”
“I used to work with a lot more players, but I downsized, I once had 17 players in the Brewers system alone, now I’m working with a total of about 20 players. I can focus more this way on getting endorsement deals for my guys, which is something I’m really good at – I say that with no hyperbole.”
BitB: The last time I talked to you, you told me about one of those Brewers farmhands from that era, tell me what’s going on with Zach Braddock.
Josh: “Braddock cruised through the minor leagues, a left-hander who threw 95-97, but he had a medical issue, (narcolepsy), and things didn’t work out for him. I’m trying to get him signed, he’s back throwing 91-93, and he’s still only 26 – lefties like that don’t grow on trees. He’s healthy now, so you’d think someone would want to give him a chance, but so far that hasn’t happened. He may have to sign in “indy ball”, I had hoped he could avoid that, but he may have to go that route, to get back. There’s no doubt he’s healthy now, and ready to go.”
BitB: Do you have any of the younger guys in the Brewers system right now?
Josh: “Brandon Diaz. Diaz is a player Brewers fans should be excited about, he can really play. He played second base in high school, and I wish he could play there in pro ball, but right now he’s playing center field. That’s a kid who’s got a great chance to make it. He’s got the skills, he comes from a great place, and he works out in the off-season with guys like Deven Marrero, and Eric Hosmer. The Brewers really have something in Brandon.”
BitB: I know you have to go, you told me you’re headed out to a minor league game, who are you going to see?
Josh: “The Brevard County Manatees, and the St Lucie Mets. I’ve got the starting pitcher for St Lucie, I try to get out and see my guys whenever I can, I think it’s very important to have a physical presence with the young guys. When a player is in A-Ball, he’s not making any money yet, and it’s not easy, I think it’s important to be there physically for the guys.”
BitB: OK, Josh, I’ll let you go, let’s talk again soon.