A long time ago I learned a very valuable thing about scouting. Never turn your back on an 80 tool. Some people prefer statistics over tools but not me. I have always been a tools guy. You have to be careful sometimes that you don’t get too enamored with a prospects tools but nine times out of ten I am the kind of guy that chooses naturally ability ahead of anything else. I don’t believe it’s a question of right and wrong and so far it has worked for me in my career but I wanted to talk about a situation in which I was rewarded for my steadfast belief in a players tools.
Back in 2007 I was watching a high school show case called the Diamond Club. It’s an event in Florida where scouts invite top prospects to compete against each other over the course of a few days. While at the showcase I found a kid who was arguably the most insanely athletic player I have ever seen play baseball. This kid had comic book like tools. It wasn’t like I was watching Steve Nebraska that day, but I’m telling you, I may never see a kid this athletically gifted again the rest of my career. He was 6’4 and ran like the wind, he had a strong arm and showed really good hitting instincts. This was a guy.
It’s always exciting discovering a new prospect. I feel one of the advantages I have in this field is my ability to independently evaluate talent. Some agents rely on scouts and some even hire scouts to find players for them because they lack the ability to determine a players ultimate value. I am beyond fortunate that I don’t have to rely on anyone other than myself to scout players. The fact that I can scout does not mean I don’t talk to other people in the game to get their input on certain players and it doesn’t mean that I’m right far more than I’m wrong but what it does do for me is provide a slight edge on some of the competition. When you represent a player you have to know what you’re selling. You have to know your product better than anyone else because you’re making a long term commitment that will cost you ample time and money, so you better be damn sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and lucky for me, I usually do.
So, in 2007, I found Jiwan James at the Florida Diamond Club. I was able to see him at several more showcases that season. I believe I saw him in Fort Myers and Jupiter at perfect game events in addition to seeing him play one final time in the state all star game held in Sebring Florida. We spoke with Jiwans family during the year and mailed him information about our company in hopes of being retained as the families advisor. One of the things I learned that year about Jiwan was that he wasn’t just an outfielder, he wasn’t just a pitcher either. Jiwan was a wide receiver, safety and point guard. This was a multi sport and multi talented athlete. There was a general sense that no matter what baseball offered Jiwan was headed to the University of Florida to play football with Tim Tebow and the rest of gator nation. That’s the rub with two sport athletes, you never know if you’re wasting your time because until they sign on the dotted line you don’t know which sport they’re headed to long term. I was told by a very dear friend of mine that you should never sign a two sport athlete to a baseball contract unless they LOVE baseball ahead of all the other sports. If a multi sport athlete doesn’t love playing baseball he will never make in spite of whatever tools that player may have. If a two sport athlete struggles in professional baseball he’s more likely than a one sport athlete to quit because he has other options to fall back on. So again, it was widely assumed Jiwan was head to UF to go play football and that was that.
The phillies selected Jiwan in the 22nd round that June. I had ignored my own advice that year and totally missed that he signed a pro contract that summer for well above slot money. The only reason I even found out Jiwan signed is because I ran into the scout who signed him and overhead him talking about it. I was disappointed that I totally misread that situation because I really felt Jiwan was headed to UF. You can never assume anything in this game, you absolutely have to go with your gut sometimes and just stay on top of things no matter what people are telling you. I very rarely make that mistake and I certainly haven’t made that mistake since the Jiwan situation. Jiwan got his start in the GCL as a pitcher. Jiwan had one of the most fluid deliveries I have ever seen for a kid his age. It shouldn’t have been a surprise given his athletic gifts but I again assumed he was going to be a position player in professional baseball. He did have 9 AB’s in 2007 before going on the mound full time but his natural abilities on the mound were just too tempting to pass up.
I tried to get in contact with Jiwan while he was playing in GCL but I had no such luck. We called his family a few more times until we finally got a hold of him after the season. At that point we were informed that Jiwan and his family appreciated our interest in his career but they already selected another agent to work with. He told me if his relationship ever soured with his agent I would be the first person he'd call. That's why it's important to never burn any bridges if you dont get hired. Baseball is a strange game and you honestly can never tell whats going to happen in the future. Disappointment is something you cannot dwell on in this job. Much like the game itself you fail far more than you succeed and its how well you deal with failure that determines what kind of agent one will be.
The following season I had three clients report to Clearwater for spring training. One client, Michael Durant, got randomly assigned a roommate for his living assignment that spring, Jiwan James. One day while talking to Michael online he mentioned to me that his roommate was looking for an agent. I asked who it was and was promptly told “Jiwan James”. Very rarely does an agent get a chance at redemption and despite the fact that signing Jiwan after he was a professional would be a huge expense and commitment, I jumped at the opportunity to speak with him again. Jiwan had told me that the agent he originally hired had quit the industry. Jiwan called him up one day and tried to order some gear for spring training and met with a reluctant admission. His agent told him he was done, which was totally disrespectful to Jiwan, because had he not called his agent that day he never would have been informed that his agent was quitting. Jiwan and I spoke for a few weeks after our initial consultation and after some major assistance from Micahel Durant Jiwan had finally hired us to be his agent. Jiwan was hurt at the time but I really believed in this kids mental make up and talent so much so that it didn’t even bother me that he would be on the shelf the rest of the season.
Even though Jiwan was rehabbing during the initial stages of our representation we still spoke regularly online. I work a great deal from my cell phone and my lap top so the more clients I can talk to online the better I feel about things. One thing Jiwan has done for me which isnt really appreciated is that he put to death any ideas I may have had that I was still a kid. Jiwan is not only a freak athlete, the man absolutely dominates video games. I have literally zero down time to play any kind of video games these days but I still wastefully purchase them in the unlikely event that Ill get to the play them like when I was a kid. I talk, a lot. Sometimes it gets me into trouble and sometimes its an asset. I told Jiwan 100’s of times that I would absolutely dominate him in Madden this year. So one night I couldn’t sleep and I saw that Jiwan was online. Finally I had the chance to play him on xbox live and dominate him once and for all. We set up the game, picked teams, and were talking over the headsets the whole time thus ensuring that no woman will ever talk to me again for doing all this. Long story short, I was down 56-0 at half time, shut the game off and didn’t talk to Jiwan for an hour. The only reason I am telling this story is because I told Jiwan I would publicly admit my Madden failure and retire from video games for good after that defeat.
Back in the real world Jiwan continued to work hard off the field in hopes of getting back on the mound again. This sadly was not to be. The stress from pitching on his arm was too great and now the Phillies decided to put Jiwan back in the outfield. This was a pretty scary proposition. Because of his signing bonus, there was an expectation that Jiwan was going to be a big time pitching prospect and now he was facing an uncertain path as a position player. Jiwan was confident this move would be for the best and jumped right back into hitting despite the two year lay off. Jiwan so far has proven to be right. After a very exciting instructional league season Jiwan is coming into 2010 as the best athlete in the Phillies organization and as a preseason top 10 prospect according to several publications including BP. Rankings are all well and good but it’s what you do on the field that counts. The future is brighter than ever for Jiwan and I am happy as hell to be not only his agent, but his friend too. I never gave up on Jiwan while he was injured because I always believed he would get himself back to where he needed to be. You have to trust you gut with these kind of things and if you are lucky enough to represent a kid with great character and makeup sometimes that’s just as important as the physical gifts one may have. And although the big leagues are years away right now, I have little doubt that’s where the end of the rainbow is for Jiwan James. And that’s the lesson. You never give up on an 80 tool. Jiwan James is physically gifted beyond belief but when it comes to makeup and character Jiwan James is that rare 80 tool human being.