AFL debuts MLB's 'Prospects & Expectations'

Bean, others educate prospects on social media, harassment and more

October 22nd, 2018
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Billy Bean, Ambassador of Inclusion, MLB moderates a panel discussion during the 2015 Sports Diversity Alex Trautwig

PHOENIX -- In Major League Baseball's latest effort to enhance the careers of its players, Arizona Fall Leaguers recently were treated to a morning of educational presentations and discussions as part of the sport's "Prospects & Expectations" program.

Unlike other sports, which have far fewer players selected in their respective drafts and nowhere near the number of players in their organizations, Major League Baseball faces a unique challenge when it comes to reaching all of its players.

With 1,200 players selected in the MLB Draft each June and another 800 to 900 signed internationally annually, there are around 2,000 players coming and going each year.

"So, we have historically struggled to get in front of all those players in a meaningful way," said Paul Mifsud, vice president and deputy general counsel for MLB. "We're looking now to find additional avenues for getting in front of them as many times as we can with a consistent message, depending on where they are at the level of their development."

Major League Baseball already had its "Ahead in the Count" program, which it has used to get in front of its youngest players in instructional league and a similar Spanish-language program for those starting out in the Dominican Republic.

Now you can add "Prospects & Expectations" to the mix, which debuted with the Arizona Fall League and included similar elements to "Ahead in the Count" but added lessons on things like social media and building a personal brand.

There was a wide variety of topics and presenters, ranging from Billy Bean, who is a vice president and special assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking on "Building a Broad Fan Base" to others in the game's hierarchy, who talked about maintaining healthy personal relationships, the game's drug-testing program, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

"I feel like this was important," said right-hander Jon Duplantier, who is ranked as the D-backs' top prospect by MLB Pipeline. "I was a little apprehensive about coming because it's 8 a.m. and you see the itinerary and it looks long, but then when it starts you see the important information that you're getting. You also get to have a lot of good discussions and see a bunch of guys you haven't seen in a while. So, in hindsight, I'm happy we got to experience this."

Longtime front-office executive Bill Bavasi, who now works for Manfred as senior director of baseball development, said the program is the "single best thing [he has] seen in player development" and that the program could have saved the careers of players from the previous decades.

Bean told the players that he wasn't there to change their political or religious views, but he did want them to realize that baseball appeals to a wide spectrum of people and that as players they need to be respectful and simply treat others as they would hope to be treated.

It is a message that is personal for Bean because during his Major League career, he was afraid to share with teammates, and even his own parents, that he is gay.

"I feel a massive responsibility with those moments," Bean said of his time in front of the Arizona Fall League players. "As a former player, I think it gives them a chance to see in real life a player who gave up on himself because he felt like he was on the outside and how much better baseball has become."

Players learned that one of the deciding factors that corporations look to when deciding whom to associate with is how large an audience a player can reach via his social media accounts.

"Growing your brand, talking about social media and how to build that and seeing the examples gives you ideas to make the experience better all around," Duplantier said. "Hopefully I'll be able to implement a lot of this stuff and see where it takes me."