One of the core pillars Commissioner Rob Manfred has preached with consistency since assuming office is arguably the most paramount to the future of the game. Youth and amateur development has grown into a chief priority, and the ripple Manfred's office has cast is one that has been on particular display in the wake of this month's MLB Draft.
Building upon initiatives such as the RBI Program (established in 1989) and the Breakthrough Series (2008), under Manfred, MLB has established the widely successful Play Ball program, launched in 2015, which incorporates a league-wide effort by all 30 clubs to engage and encourage youth participation in baseball and softball.
Francisco Lindor has been an ambassador to the youth movement, making a concerted effort to contact local RBI programs when the Indians are on the road. On Tuesday, Lindor visited an event in Baltimore, answering players' questions and taking part in practice.
"It's just awesome to see their environment. It's pretty special. It's different than where I am every day. It always takes me back to when I was doing it," Lindor said. More >
That same day, in Los Angeles, rookie sensation Cody Bellinger surprised roughly 80 area kids at a Play Ball event at Dodger Stadium, where participants played in three Play Ball bat and ball games, spoke with Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel and were recognized in a pregame ceremony. More >
Taking the competitive level a notch further, MLB and USA Baseball are jointly conducting nine Prospect Development Pipeline Premier (PDP) events this week across the country, drawing the likes of Urban Meyer's son, Nathan, in Cincinnati (More >), and top 2018 Draft prospect Jarred Kelenic in Chicago (More >).
Launched this year, PDP establishes an identification pathway between elite amateur players and MLB clubs. By participating in invite-only, cost-free PDP Premier events -- there are 19 scheduled for 2017, across many major markets -- each athlete receives customized player reports that consist of objective metrics and data captured by PDP's sophisticated tracking technologies.
The evaluation consists of four categories, many of which incorporate Statcast-minded metrics. The proactivity is two-fold -- players receive extensive feedback highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, and clubs gain a pool of extensive data on young talent to supplement with grassroots scouting.
"The conversation starts with the events operated and administrated by a governing body, and the initiative is wholly supported by MLB and the Scouting Bureau," said Rick Riccobono, USA Baseball's Chief Development Officer. "The connectivity of the Draft and Bureau inclusion does drive the identifying component for the league office. We really see the 30 clubs as our partners in this endeavor, and their relationship with the Bureau is a major component of that."
Through its Steering Group, comprised of club representatives, MLB officials and USA Baseball personnel, PDP has put a premium on the parent relationship, particularly through education.
"Players, without question, are a very important part of what we're trying to do here, but the other unspoken is the parents," Riccobono said. "Part of what we try to do is help educate parents, give them information they might not be receiving on their son, but also some best-practice type of stuff. The pathway to potentially being a Division-I or Draft day type athlete, there's no blueprint or road map for that, so if we can provide guard rails for them as they go through process, that's an area we want to focus on and try to lend a voice of support."
Of the 10 PDP Premier events conducted before this year's Draft, 67 participants went on to be selected, including 11 on day one.
"These drafts are very important to these clubs and futures of these clubs. … You can't have too much information," said Bill Bavasi, Sr. Director of the MLB Scouting Bureau.
PDP Premier events for 2017 will conclude Sunday. Riccobono was deliberate in calling this year's slate "version 1.0" but alluded the program could grow more as soon as 2018. There have even been conversations on how to include international talent.
"Our strategic vision is to have blanket coverage and to make the sport as available as absolutely possible," Riccobono said. "If you're good enough for an opportunity, you're going to get an opportunity. It's also one of the reasons we set this whole program up on a regionalized basis. We've gone at great lengths to bring the opportunity to the athlete in a way that hasn't really been done before."