HOUSTON -- Even with almost 90 percent of this year's Breakthrough Series participants hailing from outside the state of Texas, the local boys still stole some of the spotlight as the games got underway on the event's second day at the Houston Astros' Urban Youth Academy.
The series, which is in its sixth year and first in Houston, is part of a combined effort by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball to spotlight and bolster the involvement of urban youth in the sport.
The day consisted of two games, with the 60 kids in attendance divided into four squads. The Blue team downed the Red team, 7-3, in the morning game, and the Black team cruised past the White team, 6-1, in the afternoon session. Both games were seven innings.
The four teams will be combined into two 30-man squads and face off for a 10-inning contest on Thursday at noon CT in Minute Maid Park. The game will be televised on the MLB Network on Saturday at 11 a.m. ET.
After check-in and registration on Monday and instructional and scouting drills Tuesday, the players were eager to finally get on the diamond.
"It was funny, because dinner the first night sounded like a library and then last night, everyone was joking around and laughing," said Major League Baseball manager of baseball development Ben Baroody. "Even yesterday it started as they were wrapping up the workouts, guys are saying, 'Oh no, you're on the Red team, get out of here.'
"They're all good athletes and they're that way because of their competitiveness. A lot of these guys have played together, but once you line up across from somebody, that all goes out the window. They are ready to compete and win."
In the morning action, catcher and Houston product Jerry Murillo paced the Red squad to an early lead with a towering two-run homer that capped a three-run first frame. Murillo is a rising senior at St. Pius High School in town and often helps out at the Academy during camps.
The fun for the Red squad was done though, as the Blue team used run-scoring hits from Dalton Blumenfield, Brendon Davis and Perry Hunt to methodically move ahead, riding six consecutive innings of scoreless pitching to the win.
While the first game was compelling but sloppy, the afternoon session was consistently higher quality baseball, despite the scorching afternoon temperatures.
That's emblematic of this year's camp, which lacks an outstanding prospect or a breakout star but boasts a deep talent pool across the board.
"There isn't one favorite or standout guy yet," said Cardinals area scout Jared Odom. "I think Major League Baseball is doing a good job of finding talent. It takes work, and we're just seeing a few of many great ones out there."
Baroody said the consensus among the two dozen or so scouts in attendance was that this is the toughest Breakthrough class to filter players into different talent categories.
"This is the most balanced group of talent across the board, with the median being much more elevated," Baroody said. "They're all guys that can play at some next level, whether it's college or pro. The baseline talent of the event has elevated since last year. For experienced scouts to say that is a testament to this event's quality and growth."
Catcher Robbie Espinosa, cousin of Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa, put the White team in front with an RBI single.
But it was all Black squad and Houston native Pablo Salazar from there, as they scored in five of seven innings to win handily. Salazar pitched a scoreless fifth, striking out two, and played two innings apiece of solid defense at second and third base, respectively.
"It's a lot of talent out there, but you can't get nervous, even with scouts in the stands," the lanky Salazar said. "My fastball was good, but the curveball was working. It got out in front of some hitters and was bending a lot, moving away guys."
The 6-foot-1 Lutheran South High School rising junior added a two-out RBI single in the game's final inning.
But even after quenching their competitive thirst, players said the real action begins Thursday, when these potential future baseball stars will live out their dreams as teenagers as they take the field at the Astros' Minute Maid Park.
"We're real excited, just bouncing up and down thinking about it," Salazar said. "I don't think any of us can wait."
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com.