MLB development programs changing the way players get drafted

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Kumar Rocker MLB Development Program MLB Draft
Kumar Rocker is annonunced as the third pick of the 2022 MLB baseball draft, by the Texas Rangers, Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Major League Baseball made history in last week’s draft when four of the first six picks made — Dru Jones, Kumar Rocker, Termarr Johnson, and Elijah Green — were Black players. MLB also made waves by seeing six out of the first 18 players drafted come from league development programs.

 Jones, Rocker, Johnson, and Green are products of the MLB development programs and show aspiring players who are interested in playing professionally what it can do for them. These two events in last week’s draft are evidence that the league is making efforts to not only have more Black players but also to regain the interest of baseball in the black community. However, these necessary efforts are going to take some work and time before the league sees any impact made. 

As of May of 2022, only 7.2% of players in the MLB are black. That’s a significant drop from 18% in the early 1990s. Aside from the faltering percentages in players, this could translate into how many Black people watch the sport as well. Chief baseball development officer Tony Reagins hopes to address some of these issues. 

“The players that were taken are players with very high ceilings. These kids have the chance to be our stars of the future,” said Reagins. “Termarr, Elijah, Dru, those guys are all impact players if they reach their potential, they could be household names for a long time to come.”

The Dream Series, Breakthrough Series, and the Hank Aaron Invitational are just a few of the programs that are offered to young players like Jones, Rocker, Johnson, and Green. Players that get an opportunity to be a part of these programs gain the skill set they need to play in the major leagues. These development programs are helpful to players of color by creating a level of access for those that may have thought it wasn’t possible. 

“The opportunity that we create, former major league players are the instructors,” said Reagins. “So, we get to teach these players how to play the game the right way, what to expect when they play at higher levels, and then mentor them as well.”

Creating opportunities like the Breakthrough Series, Dream Series, and the Hank Aaron Invitational allows these young players to see where they could be in a few years. These programs also allow them to see and speak with players that look like them as well.

“It’s a pipeline,” Termarr Johnson told MLB. “It’s just amazing that we just get to have those guys together, get to support them, get to cheer them on, and just love each other. It’s special.”

Since becoming chief baseball development officer, 95% of MLB development program alumni have gone on to play college baseball, attend college or play at the pro level. Having this high conversion shows that the development programs help these players in ways other than just being drafted.

“Not every kid is going to play at the major league level, but most of them have an opportunity to go to college,” said Reagins. “And if we can do that, get them in college and play college ball those are wins because you can’t replace a college education.”

With the development programs only being around for seven years, it’s clear that Reagins sees a need to not only keep helping players get to the big leagues but to get an education as well. Showing these players that there are other opportunities for them helps them understand that these programs care about them holistically both on and off the field. With last Sunday’s draft behind them, the Major League’s development programs are looking forward to what’s next for them in the future. 

“We’re seeing a direct correlation; EDI started seven years ago and now this is what we’re seeing,” said former Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia to MLB. “These programs that MLB put together; you’re starting to see them pay off.”

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