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Baseball in the Bahamas on the rise

Quality of talent rapidly approaching hotbed status
MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

Lucius Fox dropped his math homework, raised his fist and pumped it a few times. Back home in the Bahamas, his childhood buddy Jazz Chisholm beat his chest and jumped into the air.

This was the day the doubters would become believers, the friends thought. As boys, the pair grew up on the baseball diamonds across Nassau. As teenagers, they were anointed the new faces of the sport in their country.

Lucius Fox dropped his math homework, raised his fist and pumped it a few times. Back home in the Bahamas, his childhood buddy Jazz Chisholm beat his chest and jumped into the air.

This was the day the doubters would become believers, the friends thought. As boys, the pair grew up on the baseball diamonds across Nassau. As teenagers, they were anointed the new faces of the sport in their country.

It was Sept. 25, 2014, at Yankee Stadium. In one of the most memorable scenes in the franchise's history, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter lined the game-winning RBI single to right field in the final at-bat of his storied career. In the aftermath, the future Hall of Famer embraced every single teammate on the field in the postgame celebration. Cameras caught Yankees legends waiting outside of the home dugout for their chance to embrace the baseball hero.

Fox, who was attending high school in Florida at the time, and Chisholm, who was watching from his living room in Nassau, scanned their TV screens looking for countryman Antoan Richardson. It was Richardson who had sprinted from second base, rounded third base perfectly, and leaped headfirst into home plate and Bahamian folklore with the winning run.

Video: Sanchez on Bahamas being top market for prospects

"This was an inspiration, a huge play for baseball in the Bahamas," said Fox, 21, "Baseball, it gives the kids another outlet instead of trying to just do track and field or basketball. Baseball can take you around the world, and obviously you can make a lot of money playing it. It's what I want kids in the Bahamas to play."

Baseball in the Bahamas is on the rise and while it may never rival countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in terms of quantity, there's an argument to be made that the quality of talent coming from there is on par with other international baseball hotbeds. In all, there have been six players from the Bahamas to play in the Major Leagues, with Richardson, who made his debut in 2011 and retired in 2016, as the most recent. There were an estimated 30 Minor League players from the Bahamas from 1960s to the '80s.

There are 15 Minor Leaguers from the Bahamas now, a list that features outfielder Kristian Robinson, the D-backs' 12th ranked prospect, and Angels prospects Trent Deveaux and D'Shawn Knowles, who rank No. 23 and No. 24. Other prospects from the Bahamas to watch include D'Shawn's twin brother D'Vaughn Knowles (Yankees), Tahnaj Thomas (Pirates), Keithron Moss (Rangers) Reshard Munroe (Reds), and Shameko Smith, who was drafted by the Rockies in 2017.

• Top 100 prospects

"There are a lot of us now, but I'd honestly say I'm going to be the next one from the Bahamas in the big leagues," Fox said. "We have this competition amongst us and all of the other guys from the Bahamas would tell you the same answer. We all have the same goal to stick, make a long-term impact at the big league level for a long time."

Fox, who signed with Giants for $6 million as an international free agent on July 2nd on his 18th birthday in 2015 and was traded to the Rays the next year, started last season with Charlotte in the Florida State League and finished it by hitting .221 in 27 games for Double-A Montgomery. He went on to hit .326 with a home run, 11 RBIs and seven stolen bases for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League.

Video: Top Prospects: Lucius Fox, SS, Rays

Chisholm, who signed with the D-backs for $200,000 three days after Fox, is the club's No. 3 ranked prospect and was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2018. He had a solid pro debut in 2016 but was slowed by injury the next year. In 2018, he combined to hit .272 with 25 home runs and 70 RBIs at Class A Kane County and High A Visalia. He had 19 hits in 43 at-bats in 10 games for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League, where he roomed with Fox.

"I'm definitely going to be the next big leaguer from the Bahamas," Chisholm, 20, said. "No question."

Fox and Chisholm met in the Freedom Farm little league and have been competing against each other since childhood. Fox has always been the faster runner of the two. Chisholm has always shown more home run power. Their high level of confidence -- which is through the roof -- is equal.

"I know what he can do, what he's capable of and he knows what I'm capable of," Fox said. "Even him just watching me play one day, he'll be like, 'Hey, you did this.' When he has a little question, I'll give him my opinion and vice versa. We're just trying to push each other until the end. Even after our careers are done, we're going to find some way to compete."

Both Fox and Chisholm played some high school baseball in the United States, a common practice that Bahamian prospects use to get noticed by scouts. The next crop of players from the Bahamas are being discovered and groomed in a different way.

Video: Jazz Chisholm on 3-hit game at Arizona Fall League

In 2013, Richardson, Albert Cartwright, Greg Burrows Jr. and Geron Sands opened the Maximum Development Baseball Academy to train players in Nassau, where 60 percent of the 400,000 people in the country live. Cartwright and Sands branched off to form the International Elite Baseball Academy last September. In 2017, Richardson, who graduated from Vanderbilt with an engineering science degree in 2008, launched a non-profit organization called Project Limestone, an education-based program designed to empower students to chase their dreams on the field and in the classroom.

"A long time ago, we all decided that, 'Hey, guys from the Dominican, guys from all over the world, they're signing and entering the Major Leagues at young ages. Why can't we?'" Sands said. "So, we decided to start the academy and we have worked extremely hard to bring Bahamian baseball players up to standard. We have tons of talent here and Albert and I work hard everyday to make sure the guys get the training and mentorship they need to get to the next level."

International scouts have paid attention to the for island nation for years, but there's been a newfound focus on the country during the last three years, in part because prospects like the Knowles brothers, Moss and Robinson were all developed there.

In many ways, the Bahamas is the new battle ground for international talent.

"This island is on the cusp of making baseball more a norm than an exception at producing Major League talent," an American League international scouting director said. "Geron Sands and Albert Cartwright continue to produce talented players committed to growing the sport on the island and it's exciting to see where it's heading."

The country's baseball potential is not lost on its rising stars. Last month, Marlins Minor Leaguer Anfernee Seymour organized a baseball camp for 100 youth players from the Bahamas that featured Fox, Moss, Robinson and other Bahamian prospects as guest instructors.

"Our main sport is track and field, and swimming, and stuff like that, but baseball is definitely on the rise," Seymour said. "All of the people who run our country, I hope they take note of that and try to do something for our baseball players here in the country, because it really isn't as popular as it is in other countries, but we have a lot more players now playing professionally."

Next month, Fox and Indians prospect Todd Isaacs will play host to their second annual Don't Blink Home Run in Paradise contest in the Bahamas sponsored by their clothing brand in an effort to promote the sport. Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette, who won the contest last year, is scheduled to return to defend his title. Nick Gordon, Lewis Brinson, Tommy Pham, Touki Toussaint, Nolan Jones, Jonathan India, Triston McKenzie are among the players scheduled to appear at the event.

"We just want to do something for the Bahamian people and the kids and the fans there," Fox said. "They come out and they watch the derby and they're amazed. It's new. If you watch their faces, it's amazing to them to just watch us go and hit."

The next wave of young talent from the Bahamas includes shortstops Ian Lewis, Dax Stubbs, Zion Bannister, catcher Lahiem Bell, along with outfielders Everette Cooper, Adrian Edgecombe, D'Shaughn Forbes and Andre Arthur. Their first steps in the race to be the next big leaguer from the Bahamas starts when they sign during the international signing period that begins July 2.

"In real time, I was just doing my job," Richardson, 35, said. "But when I reflect on that play with Derek Jeter and everything I did since I first left the Bahamas at 14, I'm happy if any part of my journey inspired people. It was my obligation to help pave the way and allow people to dream big and keep going forward. It still is."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.