Do the measurables reveal enough on whether or not a player has what it takes to play at the major league level?
MLB certified player agent Josh Kusnick has created a career going beyond the lines and traditional scouting reports to fully evaluate talent. By doing so, he is able to put his clients in the best spot to realize their dream of playing where the lights are brighter and the balls are whiter as evidenced by the many success stories of his clients.
Kusnick signed a left-handed pitcher at high A ball as his first client in 2002 that went on to make it to the big leagues. This was the starting line of what has been a 13 year stretch of players having Kusnick’s advocacy on their pro baseball journey.
Whether it is on or off the field, the right personality and make up is needed to survive the climb. The baseball grind isn’t just reserved for players. Kusnick works as many as 19 hour days at the peak during baseball’s annual Winter Meetings. Kusnick explained, “You have to know that this is what you want and not let distractions get in the way.”
Kusnick developed habits within baseball at a young age that would mold him into what it takes to be the successful agent he is today. He hung around the game as a teenager going to an upwards of 15 MLB games each year despite living well over an hour away from the closest stadium.
Joe Butler, a scout with the Chicago White Sox, was the first person who allowed Kusnick to see what the game looked like from the inside out. Kusnick always knew he wanted to work in baseball but didn’t have clarity to which part of the game to pursue until he had a conversation with Butler about the process of signing players as a scout. Instead of following in Butler’s steps, Kusnick realized he wanted to be the voice for players to the teams.
One of Kusnick’s favorite stories dates back to a pre draft workout at Tallahassee Community College sitting behind home plate to watch a specific player from the University of Miami. His seat selection put him next to a high schooler’s mom. As they talked, she explained her son wasn’t sure he would be drafted high enough to justify forgoing college. She also shared that his father played in the big leagues.
After the workout ended, Kusnick was asked if he wanted to meet her son. He accepted the offer which eventually turned into a working relationship together. Because of this, Kusnick has had a front row seat to watching the young Michael Brantley mature from a high school baseball player with big league aspirations into one of the top players in the game for the Cleveland Indians.
Out of all the places in the country his schedule takes him, Kusnick was in Tampa on July 8, 2010 and able to watch Brantley hit leadoff that night. On the third pitch of the game, Brantley drove a 1-1 pitch over the right field fence for his first MLB home run. Kusnick immediately tracked down the fan who ended up with the ball to make sure Brantley would be able to treasure the memorable moment.
Brantley was drafted in the seventh round by the Milwaukee Brewers before being traded as part of the package that sent C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee from Cleveland in 2008. A few years later the Brewers once again pulled the trigger to acquire an ace via trade in Zack Greinke. Jeremy Jeffress, another one of Kusnick’s clients and the Brewers 2006 first round pick, was sent to Kansas City prior to the 2011 season.
Jeffress bounced between the big leagues and the minors with the Royals before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. Unknown behind the scenes were seizures that Jeffress had been dealing with for most of his adult life. It wasn’t until a diagnosis midway through the 2013 season that he received an answer being diagnosed with adult epilepsy.
Jeffress and Kusnick share not only a passion for baseball but the ability to understand battling health challenges. Kusnick himself has fought through life long illness that recently had him undergo his 43rd surgery. This unique bond between player and agent allowed Kusnick to understand the battle Jeremy was facing not only on the field against hitters, but off the field against his own health.
After Jeffress was designated for assignment in April 2014 with Toronto, Kusnick discussed the possibility of declining the assignment to instead become a free agent where he believed a better opportunity to make it back to the big leagues would exist. As they discussed potential teams, Kusnick painted a picture of reuniting with the Brewers and one day pitching in front of 40,000 fans cheering him on down the stretch. Three days later after Toronto’s decision, Jeffress signed a minor league contract with Milwaukee reporting to AAA Nashville.
By July, Jeffress earned the call up to help the bullpen of a first place team in Milwaukee. Not even two weeks later, Jeffress was brought into a 4-3 game in the middle of the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants in front of a sold out crowd in Milwaukee. With two on, two outs, a 3-2 count, and Buster Posey at the plate, Jeffress threw a breaking ball instead of the fastball Posey was expecting in which Posey swung through it. The crowded roared as Jeffress walked off the mound en route to the Brewers holding the 4-3 lead to win. Kusnick’s vision had a become a reality.
Jeremy Jeffress hugs Josh Kusnick one week after getting called up to Milwaukee (Photo Credit: Tyler Badamo)
Being able to evaluate the entire makeup of a player extending outside the lines has often led Kusnick to uncovering potential big league talent that is overlooked or undervalued by many. All of Kusnick’s MLB clients, outside of Jeffress, have been drafted in the fifth round or later. The question Kusnick asks himself is, “Why can I like this guy?” If he can’t like the player for both baseball skills and as a person, he doesn’t see himself being convicted enough to sell a team on signing his client.
One of the best examples of Kusnick’s approach is Boston Red Sox prospect Carlos Asuaje. Listed at 5’9” and 165 pounds, Asuaje is used to having to overcome the doubters. An 11th round pick out of Division 2 Nova Southeastern, Asuaje had a breakout year in 2014 playing at both levels of A ball combining to slug 15 home runs and 101 runs batted in while hitting .310.
Carlos Asuaje before his first MLB spring training game with Josh Kusnick (Photo Credit: Melissa Kusnick)
In addition, Kusnick found 41st rounder Bryton Trepagnier last year in Bradenton, FL. Trepagnier, who was recently traded to the Atlanta Braves, is now a top 20 prospect for Atlanta.
Kusnick credits the great team of people around him for being able to serve the clients in the capacity that he does. Whether it has been the Major League Baseball Players Association, players, vendors or his family, all of them have been an integral support piece that has helped Kusnick live out his dream.
Today is different from when Kusnick grew up watching the game where social media did not exist. He suggests that anyone who knows at a young age they want to get into the business side of baseball, enjoy the game for what it is, go to college, and earn a degree specific enough to build the necessary skills to bring to the table.
Baseball is more than just an occupation for Kusnick. His appreciation for the history of the game has never waned. While in the hospital after his most recent surgery, he wrote letters to retired players from the 1930s through 1950s. In his personal memorabilia collection, some of his favorite pieces are hand written notes from Ty Cobb, Alexander Cartwright, and Connie Mack.
When he isn’t taking a game in or doing the behind the scenes work for his clients, Kusnick enjoys writing his columns for Baseball Prospectus and interacting with fans on Twitter.
Josh Kusnick is an ambassador for the game of baseball. As another season approaches, there are sure to be surprises that unfold over the months ahead. Who knows who could be the 2015 version of the Kansas City Royals or the next breakout player?
What won’t be a surprise though is if you see Josh Kusnick at a stadium this summer. He’ll be busy as usual, traveling across the country living out his passion for his clients so they can stay focused on excelling on the field.