Talent on horizon in upcoming Breakthrough Series
Tournament designed to showcase top high school players from urban areas
The search for baseball's future stars is relentless. Major League Baseball and USA Baseball next week will present the Breakthrough Series, a five-day showcase in North Carolina for some of the nation's top inner-city players to make a name for themselves on the field.
This will be the fifth edition of the Breakthrough Series, which has been enough for the event to begin to gather momentum. More than 70 participants have been drafted over the four years, and last year's Breakthrough Series yielded three first-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft.
It's all another avenue -- along with RBI and the Urban Youth Academies -- to increase the yield of urban players in the game, and Darrell Miller, MLB's vice president of youth and facilities development, thinks that the Breakthrough Series can only get bigger.
"Some of these kids have been to regional showcases, but most of them haven't," said Miller. "There aren't that many showcases for kids that are underserved. And that's the reason we created this. There are showcase opportunities out there for kids, but most of them are pay-to-play."
The Breakthrough Series, by contrast, is by invitation only, and the participants are selected collectively by the Major League Scouting Bureau, the MLB Urban Youth Academies, USA Baseball, the Chicago White Sox and an Atlanta-based organization dubbed MVP (Mentoring Viable Prospects).
The series -- which begins on Sunday with a symposium and ends on Thursday, when the players depart for their respective hometowns -- will feature 80 of the nation's top prospects from urban backgrounds, and most of them will be prep juniors in search of a college scholarship.
Two facilities -- the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., and Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C. -- will serve as hosts of the showcase, which has seen around 35 percent of its participants selected at some point in the First-Year Player Draft over the past four years.
Frank Robinson, one of the game's all-time great players who now serves as executive vice president of baseball development for MLB, said the Breakthrough Series is an important element in finding new talent and making sure that baseball is diverse at every level of the Minors.
"Major League Baseball is proud to support the annual Breakthrough Series with USA Baseball," said Robinson, the only player to ever win a Most Valuable Player Award in both the American and National Leagues. "This event is a great opportunity to showcase the country's best amateur ballplayers from urban communities, and it's terrific exposure to professional scouts, proven by the fact that 35 percent of participants from 2008 to 2011 have been selected in the First-Year Player Draft."
That statistic may even be underselling the efficacy of the Breakthrough Series. Some players from last year's class haven't yet been exposed to the Draft, and others from the 2011 Breakthrough Series may have elected to attend college and re-enter the Draft later.
Last year, at any rate, was the most impressive of the showcase's brief history. Three players -- Addison Russell (11th overall), Courtney Hawkins (13th overall) and Victor Roache (28th overall) -- went in the first round, proof that the Breakthrough Series is choosing the nation's best players.
"That's the whole emphasis," said Miller. "This is a breakthrough opportunity just to be seen by college coaches and professional scouts. The kids that the Scouting Bureau has chosen have basically never been seen before, and we're trying to get each of them a little bit more exposure."
The players will come from more than 20 states and from Puerto Rico, giving evaluators a one-stop shopping opportunity to see many of the nation's most intriguing talents. Monday will feature a pro-style workout for the players, who will then split up into teams for the next few days.
And on Tuesday, the fun begins in earnest. The top 40 players will square off in a showcase game televised on MLB Network at 11 a.m. ET, and there will be another game later in the day. There will be two more games scheduled for Wednesday and practices will be held between games.
This will be the second year that North Carolina has played host to the Breakthrough Series, which began at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., in 2008. Several college coaches are expected to attend the proceedings, giving the players an easy goal to circle.
"The Breakthrough Series has proven to be an excellent avenue for Major League scouts and college recruiters to see some of the nation's best amateur players from urban areas," said Frank Marcos, director of the Major League Baseball's Scouting Bureau. "The MLB Scouting Bureau is looking forward to identifying and scouting these players on behalf of Major League Baseball."
Miller credited the synergy with USA Baseball for improving the event, and he said it's also a patriotic endeavor in that it helps the national team identify future prospects. That's just part of the effect of the Breakthrough Series, which has positioned itself for relevance for years to come.
"You never know how the kids will play in this situation. For some, it's the most competitive situation they've ever been in," said Miller, a former big league catcher. "There's a lot of kids we've developed that really have a chance to turn it on. And not just at the Urban Youth Academies, but around the country. The Scouting Bureau has really helped evolve this event. The fact that these guys are able to beat the bushes around the country and find these kids is pretty amazing."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.