Draft bonds formed at MLB Develops programs

July 18th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- As Termarr Johnson and Justin Crawford sat in the crowd at L.A. Live prior to Sunday's MLB Draft, the two friends began to reminisce about their times playing in the Elite Development Invitational back in 2017.

"Look how far we came," Johnson said to Crawford, whom he met at the EDI in 2018.

They're not alone.

Six of the first 18 players selected in Sunday's first round -- including four of the top five -- participated in MLB Develops programs, forming a special bond that will now carry on into their professional careers.

"It's a pipeline, for sure," Johnson said. "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."

Druw Jones, who took part in the 2020 Dream Series and played in the 2021 High School All-American Game, was selected No. 2 by the D-backs, followed by Kumar Rocker, who played in the 2018 Dream Series and was taken No. 3 by the Rangers.

Johnson, who participated in the Breakthrough Series, Dream Series, High School All-American Game and the EDI between 2017-21, went No. 4 to the Pirates, then Elijah Green, who took part in the EDI (which was renamed the Hank Aaron Invitational in 2019), Breakthrough Series, Dream Series and High School All-American Game between 2016-21, was selected at No. 5 by the Nationals.

"It's awesome, man," Crawford said. "Those are my brothers. I almost dropped a tear for them just seeing how high they went. I was just really happy to see them go where they were able to go."

Six-time All-Star CC Sabathia, whose son Carsten played with Jones, Johnson and Green, believes the creation of these MLB Develops programs is helping to mold some of the game's future stars.

"We're seeing a direct correlation; EDI started seven years ago and now this is what we're seeing," Sabathia said. "These programs that MLB put together, you're starting to see them pay off."

Crawford, who first took part in the EDI in 2018 and also participated in the Breakthrough Series and Dream Series, went No. 17 to the Phillies. At No. 18, the Reds then selected Cam Collier, an EDI/Hank Aaron Invitational participant from 2017-21 who has also played in the Breakthrough Series, Dream Series and High School All-American Game.

"Being able to just be in that experience with different coaches that were legends in the game, teaching us just a whole bunch of different information, it's something that I'm just forever grateful for," said Crawford, the son of four-time All-Star Carl Crawford. "It was just something that I'm really blessed and so happy to be a part of. They prepare you for day one of Spring Training."

The Breakthrough Series, which was established in 2008, is a joint effort between MLB and USA Baseball that focuses on developing players on and off the field through seminars, mentorship, gameplay, scout evaluations, video coverage and the highest level of instruction all while providing a platform for the players to perform for scouts and collegiate coaches. Since its creation, 19 participants have been drafted in the first round.

The EDI/Hank Aaron Invitational was created in 2015, producing two first-rounders prior to this year (Hunter Greene and Ed Howard). That total now stands at six after Johnson, Green, Crawford and Collier were selected Sunday.

"Going to EDI, going to Hank Aaron, playing with those coaches and me being under their wing, it's meant a lot," Johnson said. "I've learned how to carry myself as a baseball player and as a professional baseball player; how to learn the game and how to be a student of the game."

Johnson and Crawford were able to experience their Draft day together in L.A., but they'll surely be catching up with Jones, Green and Collier soon enough to share more stories and look ahead to their bright futures.

"They've known each other since they were 13 years old, so to be able to go through this process now is really cool," Sabathia said. "They're family. It's having a huge positive effect on the game and the kids. It's great for the culture of the game."