It was another banner year for the Urban Youth Academy at the First-Year Player Draft, and another indication that Major League Baseball's efforts in the inner cities are working. More than 30 players with ties to a UYA were drafted over the last three days, and a few more came from the RBI program.
Top pick Carlos Correa headlined four draftees from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, and several more had played at the facilities in Houston and Compton, Calif. Darrell Miller, vice president of youth and facility development for Major League Baseball, underlined the significance of this year's Draft.
"It was about what we expected overall. We knew we had a lot of guys that people liked," said Miller. "But what happened for the Puerto Rico academy is pretty amazing. We're hoping to just get kids to college and to have a first overall pick and a sandwich pick is incredible."
That second pick -- shortstop Jesmuel Valentin, picked 51st overall by the Dodgers -- is the son of former big-leaguer Jose Valentin. Teammates Ariel Estades and Wilfredo Rodriguez joined them in the later rounds, capping a stunningly successful year for the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.
Commissioner Bud Selig was asked about Correa and the academy's success Monday night and delivered an effusive response. "It's everything we're trying to accomplish in a lot of ways, so I'm very pleased," he said of the Puerto Rico academy. "It can't help but help. And to be the first player picked by the way is great. Everything in life runs in cycles. I think this is a hopeful sign for the future."
Many of the players affiliated with the Compton academy played in tournaments or showcases at the facility, but a few had honed their games there from the very beginning. Miller pointed out Ron Miller -- no relation -- and said that he had seen the youngster develop over a period of several years.
UYA PRODUCTS TAKEN IN THE 2012 FIRST-YEAR PLAYER DRAFT
"It was really gratifying to see him drafted," he said of Miller. "He's one of our original kids and he's been working out at the academy since he was 10 years old. He's worked religiously and diligently on improving his game, and he's just gotten better and better over the last few years."
Another standout was Kevin Maxey, a senior from Long Beach Poly High School in California. Maxey, a 17th-round draftee by the Dodgers, played at the Compton academy for five years, and Miller said that he didn't even play for the varsity team at his high school until his senior year.
Miller's son, Darrell Miller Jr., was drafted late in the day but is expected to honor his commitment to UCLA. That was the plan all along, said the elder Miller, even if it was nice to think about going pro.
"We're just happy to see him drafted," he said of his son. "The Draft seemed to be a lot about signability this year, and college was really important to him. Now he'll have the chance to go to a fine institution like UCLA, and we all know how well they've done in the Draft in recent years."
Major League Baseball could also boast of 14 draftees -- Ron Miller and Maxey included -- with ties to the RBI program, which is short for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.
Victor Roache -- selected 28th overall by the Brewers -- became the fourth RBI alumni to be a first-round draftee, and Chase DeJong, another UYA/RBI alumnus, went in the second round.
MLB clubs have drafted more than 200 players from RBI programs since 1989, and Miller said that the Urban Youth Academies are really "the next level" of RBI because they entail both a greater time involvement and a larger emphasis on education. As such, many of the draftees may opt for college.
"A lot of these kids are going to be more prepared after two or three years," said Miller. "It's no day at the beach in the Minors. It's all about survival. It's a grind. Quite frankly, it helps if you're mature."
Another hopeful sign came from the first round, which saw seven players of African-American descent taken on Monday night, the most by total and percentage (7-of-31, 22.6 percent) since the class of 1992 (10-of-28, 35.7 percent). For Miller, that's just the beginning in a flood of talent to come.
"The bottom line is they don't have to be from the academy to justify the effort," said Miller. "We're seeing the beginning of the growing of the wave. This is the critical part where kids want to play or see the opportunity to play and get an education. It's their game. It's an equal opportunity sport."