Dream Series gives youngsters special insight

High school pitching, catching prospects mentored by former big leaguers

January 12th, 2018

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The video of Junior Spivey's monstrous home run into the second deck in left field at Chase Field caught the attention of everyone in the room.

The clips of former big league pitchers Darren Oliver, Pat Mahomes and LaTroy Hawkins striking out hitters had the teenage prospects looking at each other and nodding their heads.

"Oh, these kids are definitely going to Google us," Oliver said. "And I guarantee once they read about us and start asking questions, they will understand that we are here for them because we care, and we want to help. What is the point of having all of this knowledge we have if you can't share it?"

The Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, featuring a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects, began Thursday night with a welcome dinner. Video highlights were shown of the coaches who are participating in the event. The program continues through Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Angels.

"You can't win without pitching, and the catcher and pitcher touch the ball more than anyone on the field, so we felt it was important to create a strong foundation in an environment, in a player-development camp, and specifically for kids that don't get the opportunity to go to showcases that often," said Del Matthews, MLB's senior director of baseball development.

"We can go over mechanics and talk about delivery, strategy, pitch selection, how to mentally prepare, how to prepare for a season, what goes into your training between starts, starter routine, reliever routine," Matthews said. "For catchers, the longevity of a season, the whole relationship between pitchers and catchers. There's a lot of things we can focus on in this environment, that in a true showcase setting you don't really get a chance to do."

The event, which runs in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is designed to not only prepare the more than 60 participating athletes for a future in baseball, but also spread diversity across the sport.

"There's a void at the Major League level, specifically with African-Americans, but also with African-American pitchers and African-American catchers, so we thought it was important to put something like this together," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "This is an experience that hopefully these kids will come away with, that one, they learned a little bit more about the game; two, they learned how to prepare for a game; three, they learned about what Dr. King's dream really meant; and four, other opportunities in the game, off the field."


In addition to on-hand coaching, the second annual event will provide presentations on baseball career opportunities on the professional and collegiate level, and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

The PDP screenings include measurement of agility, movement and cognitive speed, and sports-vision screening. The players will also undergo swing analysis and ball-flight analysis, which for pitchers measures velocity, spin rate and spin axis, among other metrics.

A large number of college recruiters and pro scouts are also expected to attend.

"There's a lot of talent in this room, and in the old days there would be scouts, and kids would get seen, but nowadays, they don't always get seen," Mahomes said. "So, for them to come here and get training from some guys that have been in the big leagues, and have done it, and they get to see their face and think that maybe they've got a chance, if they just keep on going."

This year's attendees include many players who are already committed to elite college programs, including right-handers Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt), Simeon Woods-Richardson (Texas), Sanson "Tre" Faltine (Texas), Christian Little (Vanderbilt), DJ Jefferson (USC) and Irving Carter (Miami); left-hander Armari Paula (Virginia); and catchers CJ Rodriguez (Vanderbilt) and Ian Moller (LSU).

"There are a lot of former guys who played in the pros and a lot of baseball knowledge here, especially pitching-wise, so to be able to be here and learn from them is really big," Faltine said. "I've participated in other Urban Youth Academy series, like the one in Compton, and there's a lot of information, a lot of mechanical information and stuff about the mental part of the game and how to grow mentally, and what to be aware for when you're doing certain things, and how to cooperate with that."

Coaches at this year's Dream Series include former MLB All-Stars Tom "Flash" Gordon, Charles Johnson, Kenny Hill, Junior Spivey and Marquis Grissom. The coaching staff also includes Hawkins and Oliver, former MLB manager Jerry Manuel and former MLB front-office executive Reggie Waller, among others.

"The inspiration and aspiration, that's a big part of it," Matthews said. "Coming in here, staying in the hotel we're at, being at the Tempe Diablo Stadium, a Major League Spring Training facility, it gives the kids a little bit of a taste of what the Major Leagues is like, what it can be like.

"The life that they've been working at as high schoolers where they aspire to be Major Leaguers, or to go to the next level and play in college, this gives them a little bit of what it could be like if you go to the next level."