BRADENTON, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series is now 10 years old, and the talent on hand continues to improve."They're getting better and better," longtime Breakthrough Series field coordinator Jerry Manuel said. "The kids we have chosen to come, a lot of those kids have been drafted. That in
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series is now 10 years old, and the talent on hand continues to improve.
"They're getting better and better," longtime Breakthrough Series field coordinator Jerry Manuel said. "The kids we have chosen to come, a lot of those kids have been drafted. That in itself is kind of an indication that we are doing things the right way."
Over the past 10 years, the Breakthrough Series has churned out several future Major League players, including two current Yankees in outfielder Aaron Hicks and catcher Kyle Higashioka, along with Cubs infielder Addison Russell, Mets outfielder Dominic Smith and White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon.
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This year's field is loaded with talent, too. As many as five Breakthrough prospects have already signed college scholarships to perennial powers like Clemson and four different SEC schools. The experience they gained in just three days this week was an eye opener.
"The competition here is much better," shortstop and Ole Miss signee T.J. McCants said. "Everyone is as big as I am, as fast as I am and stronger. It's a lot more competitive out here than it is normally.
"It lets me know I need to work even harder so I can stay above some guys, and work even harder to get better than the guys who are better than me now."
One of the week's top pitching prospects, Joseph Eichelberger from McDonough, Ga., agrees.
"It's been a lot different," Eichelberger said. "I'm learning a lot of things and I'm getting better each day."
This year's breakout prospects include catcher and Clemson signee Jonathan French from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga., along with Snellville, Ga., shortstop Kameron Guidry, who has a scholarship to South Carolina.
While those players came in highly touted, others used this week to open a few more eyes.
"Talent-wise, I've seen some really good guys," said Charles Johnson, a Breakthrough Series coach and former All-Star catcher. "There are some guys from my team that can hit. Jeffery Davis, an outfielder from Winston-Salem [N.C.], came out of nowhere. A lot of people didn't know much about him; he comes here, and now he's recognized. That's what these Breakthrough Series mean -- you can find diamonds in the rough, kids you didn't know about, they can come here and get recognized."
Besides discovering players, the Breakthrough Series also gets them ready for the next phase of play, the Elite Development Invitational (EDI). Major League coaches on hand will now have a full week to evaluate them.
"You're getting more knowledge, " Manuel said, "and then after that, we can choose a team from that group and say, 'OK, let's go play in some of these big events and showcase some of these kids that might never get a chance to be showcased.'"
"It's a great start, because you are playing against guys around the country, so you really get to see your talents among other people away from your hometown," Johnson said. "That's always very helpful for a young kid to know there's other guys running faster than me, throwing harder than me.
"Sometimes you could be home thinking you're the best player, but you come to find out that other guys around the country are just as good as you are."
The Breakthrough Series exposes youngsters to the full Major League experience -- insight into coaching, the front office and even the media. Most of all, it offers many who can't afford travel ball the opportunity to display their talents in front of an exclusive audience poised to spread the word.
"When we evaluate a player, not only are we evaluating a player for ourselves, but to call to people and say, 'I've seen this kid, I think you need to take a look at him,'" Breakthrough Coach and former MLB infielder Luis Alicea said. "Guys would never have a chance to be seen in any other program."
"They learn what it's like to be a professional for three days," MLB senior director of baseball development Del Matthews said. "We try to create a professional Spring Training type of environment, what a Spring Training or mini-camp would look like. The kids come out and emulate that, so hopefully when they go back to their high schools or their summer programs, they have a few nuggets in their back pockets that they can apply to their game."
In its 10th run around the bases, the Breakthrough Series is stronger than ever, with a bright future ahead.
"As long as we can create that and keep that little flame burning, we can start a fire at that very next level," Manuel said. "I think we're close to that."
Mike Nabors is a contributor to MLB.com.