JUPITER, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series squad continues to show it not only belongs, but it can also enjoy success against some of the best competition at the prestigious Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship this week at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.Making its
JUPITER, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's Breakthrough Series squad continues to show it not only belongs, but it can also enjoy success against some of the best competition at the prestigious Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship this week at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.
Making its inaugural appearance in the 18U event, Breakthrough Series on Friday defeated the St. Louis Pirates/Elite Baseball Training squad, 5-3, in the team's second game in as many days. On Thursday, Breakthrough Series played to a 3-3 tie against the D-Bat Elite team, in a game halted due to a time limit.
The mere fact the Breakthrough Series team is participating this weekend is a testament to the growth of the program, which launched in 2008 as a joint partnership between USA Baseball and Major League Baseball.
"This is the best amateur tournament of the year, here in the fall," MLB senior director of baseball development Del Matthews said. "All the best players, the best amateur players, know about this tournament. They want to play in this tournament and do well. We're excited that the MLB Breakthrough Series has a team here. Partnering with USA Baseball, giving a lot of these kids the opportunity to compete in this tournament that they otherwise wouldn't have. To be able to come down here and compete, and try to advance, it doesn't really get much better than that."
More than 80 teams from across the country have converged on Palm Beach County this week, with games being played on the backfields in Jupiter, and about 10 miles south in West Palm Beach.
For the Breakthrough Series team to be among the "who's who" of youth baseball is a sign of progress.
"It started back in 2008 as just a showcase," Matthews said. "We've morphed it into more of a development, mini-camp, if you will. With that, we've been getting it around the country, getting more kids into the development camp, having them a couple of times a year, and now taking it to the next level, with actually competing in tournaments. Picking teams and then competing in tournaments. It's been an incremental process."
Hundreds of players are participating in the Wood Bat championship, and their every move is being noticed. Behind the fences of each field are dozens of scouts from all 30 MLB clubs, and many more from colleges, as well as player representatives.
This year has another special side note: It is the 20th anniversary of the event.
"Twenty years ago, we were just trying to do a tournament with some of the top travel teams in the country," said Jerry Ford, founder and president of Perfect Game. "We didn't really have any intentions to make it really much bigger than that."
It initially started in Fort Myers with roughly 32 teams, but due to rapid expansion, Perfect Game switched sites to Jupiter because it had more fields. The number of teams grew to 48 in year two, and to more than 80 today.
Adding the Breakthrough Series team, according to Ford, is another significant storyline.
"I love that whole program. I think what they're doing is amazing," Ford said. "I'll say it is one of my favorite teams to watch. In some cases, we don't know who all those players are, and in some cases we do. Many of their players are players that we've seen at our other events. What they're doing with those kids is simply amazing. You can actually see those kids getting better as they face more and better competition."
The Breakthrough Series squad features several of the top-ranked players at the weekend tournament -- highlighted by shortstop Nasim Nunez, a Clemson University commit and ranked No. 21 nationally by Perfect Game. Other notable players on the squad are shortstop Sanson Faltine III (No. 40), catcher Darius Perry (No. 45), outfielder Emanuel Dean (46), shortstop Glenallen Hill Jr. (76) and right-hander DJ Jefferson (86).
All six have early commitments to high-profile Division I schools: Faltine (University of Texas); Perry and Dean (UCLA); Hill (Arizona State); and Jefferson (USC).
"I think it's one of the best programs out there right now," Ford said. "Having them being able to attend events like this one, for some of these kids, this actually will be life changing. I don't know if they know it. I don't know how they appreciate it, but man, they should."
Ford also is impressed by the passion with which the Breakthrough Series team plays.
"They have a lot of fun," he said.
The players are enjoying every moment, and they have a message to those who say young people believe the sport is boring.
"I say, if you think baseball is boring, you're not watching the right parts," Nunez said. "There's certain parts in baseball you've got to look for to make it fun. Somebody with an arm at shortstop or center field. Somebody who can run. Somebody who can hit the ball hard. It's not like football, where there is action every time, there are certain things you've got to look for, you've got to know what you're talking about with baseball. People who tell me they think baseball is boring, I automatically know they don't know baseball. Baseball is not a boring sport."
Along with their baseball duties, the players also have an hour a night reserved for schoolwork, because they were excused a few days to attend the tournament.
"Off the field, they tell us to stay on top of our schoolwork," said Hill, the son of former big leaguer Glenallen Hill. "We actually have an hour study hall every day that we're here."
The players also are receiving top-notch coaching, from former big leaguers like Marquis Grissom and Tom "Flash" Gordon. Marquis Grissom Jr., a right-hander from Counterpane High School in Atlanta, is ranked 95th by Perfect Game.
"In our program, we're teaching character," said Gordon, the father of Dee Gordon (Mariners) and Nick Gordon (the Twins' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline). "We're teaching accountability, and we're also hoping that their goals are set, just like ours were, to be Major Leaguers."
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.