Astros Urban Youth tryouts a success
Seventy-seven area youths show up for instruction at Academy
HOUSTON -- A future Major Leaguer could have been on the field on Friday at the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Baseball Academy.
At least, 77 players hope so.
That was the number of players -- some talented, and many yet undeveloped with room and time to grow -- who were on hand for the tryout conducted by Craig Smajstrla and Rusty Pendergrass.
Smajstrla is the South Texas area supervisor for the Major League Scouting Bureau, which is run by the Commissioner's Office. Pendergrass is the Texas area scout for the Astros.
"Certainly, there were some young kids that grabbed our attention," said Smajstrla. "Some could run, some swung the bat well. They showed enough tools that, hey, we know who they are, we got their name, we have their information.
"We'll find out where they are playing summer ball, and we'll go take a look at them this summer. Then where they play high school, and of course, we'll follow them the next two years or so in their high school programs."
Smajstrla is in his 20th year as a scout. A strong recommendation from Smajstrla could get a player headed to a Major League organization.
Most of the players at Friday's tryout were inner-city Houston-area high school players trying to showcase their talent, or attempting to get noticed by a Major League scout for the first time.
But there were college players in attendance. University of Houston first baseman M.P. Cokinos was the hitting star on Friday, showcasing his power with several home runs.
Among the drills the players went through were outfield throws, while infielders threw from third base to first base. Each player had turns hitting. And when the position players went through four hours of tryouts, it was time for the pitchers to show their stuff.
Pendergrass was looking to see which players he would keep an eye on for the Astros. He's done tryout camps for 12 years and has signed players he's had in for tryouts.
"You never know," said Pendergrass. "You show up, you grade them out, look at the cards.
"We had some kids that had some real good tools today. A few guys had some arm strength, some quick bats in BP and good hands defensively, especially some of the young kids. They'll go on my follow list and we'll watch them play for the next couple years."
One of the most talented players on the field was Jackson State outfielder Charles Epperson, a 20-year-old who will be a redshirt junior next season. Epperson ran the fastest time in the 60-yard dash, and only Cokinos hit the ball farther.
"Show the tools, that's all you can do out here," said Epperson, who is playing in the Karl Young League. "It's finally coming around at 20. It takes a long time. There's no quick fixes in baseball."
Epperson was pleased with how he performed, as well as how the tryout was conducted.
"It went real smooth, it was fast paced," said Epperson. "I really liked it. It's a great opportunity for high school kids to get out here and be seen by some scouts."
Among the younger high school players trying to impress was 15-year-old infielder Edgar Briseno, who was flawless in his fielding and throwing.
"I didn't make a mistake," said Briseno, who will be an incoming freshman at Aldine MacArthur. "I was trying not to.
"I wanted to show everybody what I got, to get to know some people. I want to get a scholarship or something in baseball. Every time they have these, I'll come."
The Major League Scouting Bureau doesn't sign or draft players, but it does provide scouting information to all 30 Major League clubs.
"There's a couple of young kids that I'd want to take a look at and see how they develop sometime," Smajstrla said. "Some 2013 kids that looked OK, and some of the older guys showed some things with the bat, and maybe will get a chance to sign as a non-drafted free agent. Some showed some power to open up some eyes."
Smajstrla said he was pleasantly surprised with the turnout of 77. The last time he held an inner-city tryout camp in Houston a couple of years ago, only about 25 players attended.
"The turnout was good, the facilities here are outstanding," Smajstrla said. "This is definitely going to turn into something that we're going to do on an annual basis.
"Hopefully, it will only grow from here as we get more of the inner-city kids and coaches involved in what's going on at the Urban Youth Academy, and it will help those kids."
Located at Sylvester Turner Park in North Houston, the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy celebrated its one-year anniversary in April. Its main mission is to bring interest in baseball back to the inner-city youth in Houston.
The city of Houston, the Astros and Major League Baseball contributed to the funding of the facilities, with the Astros in charge of operations. To be a member, one just needs to fill out an application at the academy. Basically everything is free for those between ages 7-17.
"The facility is kind of unknown," said the academy's director, Daryl Wade. "A lot of them came out for the first time today. At the academy, they can use the facilities and work with our instructors, so hopefully today we gained 77 more people.
"We feel we have a lot of kids in the inner-city Houston area that can play baseball, but we need to give them more training. We'll have our indoor training facility open in a couple of weeks. There's a lot of young kids out there that scouts are impressed with. When they come out and work with us, we feel like on Draft day a few years from now, they may be ready to go."
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.