'Love to see it': HAI's pipeline is growing

July 22nd, 2021

At the Hank Aaron Invitational in Vero Beach, Fla., there are more than 200 kids -- ages 13-18 -- who have dreams of becoming Major League baseball players. They have a chance to improve their skills by listening to instructors who played the game such as Dave Winfield and Jerry Manuel.

If you go by recent history, the Invitational has been a success. Players such as catcher Ian Moller (Rangers), right-hander Irv Carter (Blue Jays) and infielder Ryan Spikes (Rays) were drafted this year. Moller and Carter have already signed with their clubs. These players have all participated in MLB’s development programs in the past.

“The program has grown year after year,” said Del Lewis, the vice president of player development at the Invitational. “Each year, we have more and more [kids] that are going to college and some to professional baseball, which is great. We love to see it. For those kids that decide [to go into professional baseball], we had the opportunity to hone in on their development and give them the confidence.

“When they go back to their teams or wherever they are playing, they have a little bit of an edge and they have a little bit of a drive. They are seeing their peers that are getting drafted years before them, so they aspire to do the same thing. We are creating a pipeline where these kids. … Hopefully, when they become seniors, they will have an opportunity to go to college or go to the pro ranks.”

Manuel is proud of the fact that he played a role in helping these kids improve their skills on the diamond. He loves when he gets positive feedback from parents.

“When you get that type of information back, you are feeding joy into these young men's lives. You are loving them, [but] at the same time, you are disciplining them, too. It’s very rewarding,” Manuel said.

Mekai Griffin, a pitcher, first baseman and outfielder, is in his third year at the Invitational, while infielder David Hogg II is in his second year at the tournament. In order to participate at the Invitational, participants must maintain a grade point average of 3.0.

“There is a lot of baseball, but there are a lot of instructions,” Griffin said.

Said Hogg: “It’s amazing to get a second chance to come back. You can’t take that for granted. It means a lot because these coaches put so much into us. You leave with so much knowledge. It can’t get any better than this.”