AFL prospects participate in development program

September 16th, 2019

PHOENIX -- The privilege of being a prospect at any level comes with responsibilities -- on and off the field -- and the participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League were reminded of those obligations Monday in Arizona.

More than 200 of the league’s prospects participated in a program called “Prospects & Expectations,” an initiative through MLB’s Player Programs group in the Labor Relations Department at the Commissioner’s Office. Player Programs provide all current and former Major and Minor League players resources that support off-the-field development

“We try to find all of the places over the life of their careers, even before they sign and after they have stopped being professional athletes, where there will be stress points and things that happen to them off the field,” said Paul Mifsud, MLB’s vice president and deputy general counsel of labor relations and player programs. “We try to provide -- at the league level -- some basic safety nets and support systems to address all of their concerns they may have as their careers progress. We work with the teams to make sure all of the messaging is consistent.”

Monday’s program began with an introductory speech from Bill Bavasi, MLB’s senior director of baseball development, followed by an inside look into a player’s perspective from former MLB pitcher Chris Young, who now serves as MLB’s VP of on-field operations, initiative and strategy.

“These players are the future of our game, and to be able to provide them with resources and programs to help educate them so when they do become Major League players, they will have a background and understanding of what it takes to perform and alleviate some of the off-the-field stuff that may impact how they perform on the field,” Young said. “The more resources we can provide the better off everyone in our industry is.”

The program also featured Kelly Posner, PhD, who provided the prospects guidelines to identifying stressors and how to manage them, so they do not negatively impact their careers. Billy Bean, MLB’s vice president and special assistant to the Commissioner, discussed the importance of players maintaining an inclusive presence in the clubhouse and off the field.

“This is a very helpful program for players like us,” said Mariners No. 3 prospect Julio Rodriguez. “It’s good to know what we can do, what we can’t do and what it takes for us to be successful. You hear a guy like Chris Young that played 13 years in the big leagues the right way and it motivates you to do the same. I feel like stuff like this is really important for us.”

Later, Lindsey Ingraham, an attorney who administers MLB’s drug programs, spent 30 minutes with the prospects. Alicia Mullin -- MLB’s vice president, new media and content marketing -- offered guidance, support and talked about growing the players’ brand through social media. 

“It’s really important for everyone to be aware of the rules and the way to go about their business,” said Angels prospect Jo Adell, who ranks as MLB's No. 4 overall prospect. “Some things have changed in Major League Baseball. Things are there that were not there before. It’s a good refresher and helps the guys that were not aware. It’s information good to know.”

Lilah Drafts-Johnson, MLB’s coordinator of player programs, followed with a discussion of the components of healthy and unhealthy relationships. The former college athlete touched on topics such as consent and appropriate conduct in personal and professional relationships on and off the field.

“A high percentage of these players are going to be in the big leagues, and this next generation has the power to impact baseball culture,” Drafts-Johnson said. “It’s about getting the players to understand concepts and understand they will have a platform and the power to shape the ways young boys and men -- and all people -- think about these issues and the personal responsibility to take action.”

The day’s events concluded with conversation about the benefits of communicating with the media and connecting with fans led by Michael Teevan, MLB’s vice president of communications. The final chat was about preserving the players’ brand off the field by Rick Burnham, MLB’s senior investigator. 

“Major League Baseball has determined this as an 'Integrity of the game' issue,” Mifsud said. “'Integrity of game' has now grown into drug use, domestic violence and sexual assault and all sorts of off-the-field issues that we need to be just as sharp on in order to protect the integrity of the game and grow the brand in the best way possible while helping these players.”