PHOENIX -- It's been a year since he first heard the words on the back fields outside Tempe Diablo Stadium, but when Christian Little closes his eyes, he can still hear Junior Spivey's voice."This sport takes time and dedication," Spivey told the teenager last January. "You're good at this, but
PHOENIX -- It's been a year since he first heard the words on the back fields outside Tempe Diablo Stadium, but when Christian Little closes his eyes, he can still hear Junior Spivey's voice.
"This sport takes time and dedication," Spivey told the teenager last January. "You're good at this, but you're going to have to dedicate yourself to it to be great."
Little, a high-school sophomore pitcher from Missouri, is back in Arizona for the third annual Dream Series and he's ready to build on the lessons learned from Spivey and others at last year's camp. The five-day Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high-school pitching and catching prospects, begins Thursday with a welcome dinner and continues through Monday at the Spring Training home of the Angels.
The Dream Series, which runs in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is designed to develop the more than 60 participating athletes for a future in baseball, and diversify the future talent pool.
"Our focus is creating opportunities for the underserved and give training to a group of players that might not get it elsewhere," said Tony Reagins, MLB's Executive Vice President of Baseball and Softball Development. "We feel like the staff we put together and the other components of the initiative will give the access and experience that they might not get. We are very proud that the program continues to grow, and that the talent level continues to grow, too."
In addition to hands-on coaching, the Dream Series will provide the participants information on baseball career opportunities on the professional and collegiate level with daily presentations from former Major Leaguers, scouts, college administrators, and MLB umpires Kerwin Danley and Adrian Johnson. Reds pitcher Amir Garrett is also scheduled to visit.
The Dream Series will also offer athletic assessments, including measurement of agility, movement and cognitive speed, and sports-vision screening, through Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) screenings. A large number of college recruiters and pro scouts were expected to attend to evaluate players.
"They give us notebooks at the beginning, and I would advise every player to write down all of the information and learn it," said Little, who is committed to play collegiately at Vanderbilt. "They give us a lot of good things to use that you wouldn't think you'd be able to use, but when the situation pops up, it's good to have the answers."
Joining Little this week are a number of players who also have committed to elite college programs. The list includes right-handers DJ Jefferson (USC), Trey Faltine (Texas), Michael Braswell (South Carolina), Irving Carter (Miami), Daniel Corona Jr. (Wake Forest), Chris Moore (Tennessee) and Aaron Roberts (University of California, Berkeley) along with catchers Darius Perry (UCLA), Ian Moller (LSU) and Tre Richardson (Houston).
Coaches at this year's Dream Series include former MLB stars Tom "Flash" Gordon, Charles Johnson, Kenny Hill, Spivey, LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver, Marvin Freeman, Gerald Laird, Lenny Webster, Darrell Miller and Sergio Santos. Former MLB manager Jerry Manuel and former MLB front-office executive and scout Reggie Waller will also serve as instructors.
"There are a lot of people at the Dream Series who played in the big leagues a long, long time, and they just have different knowledge about the game, and share different things that worked for them," said Faltine, 18, who attended the Dream Series in 2018. "The coaches really had a big influence on me as far as how you go about your work, the preparation toward a start or relief appearance and the different mindsets of each one. They showed me how to get your body physically and mentally ready to perform at the highest level."
The Dream Series is the first of several events throughout the year designed to create opportunities for players. The Breakthrough Series, The Hank Aaron Invitational, States Play, and numerous amateur tournaments also are scheduled for 2019.
"What we are finding is that the programs are becoming more popular and there is a lot of interest in them," Reagins said. "We are excited about being able to provide these opportunities and looking for ways to expand."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.