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MLB Academies celebrate college signing day

@SarahWexler32
November 9, 2019

COMPTON, Calif. -- For a select group, Saturday at three of MLB’s Youth Academies was about celebrating promising futures while acknowledging the hard work -- and the support system -- it took to get to that point. In Compton, New Orleans and Dallas, college signing day is an occasion to

COMPTON, Calif. -- For a select group, Saturday at three of MLB’s Youth Academies was about celebrating promising futures while acknowledging the hard work -- and the support system -- it took to get to that point.

In Compton, New Orleans and Dallas, college signing day is an occasion to recognize Youth Academy members who have recently committed to play baseball and softball at the collegiate level and have earned athletic- and/or merit-based scholarships. At the Compton facility on Saturday, infielder Tank Espalin, right-hander Tim Scarlett and left-hander Hasan Standifer signed letters of intent to play at USC, San Diego State University and Jackson State University, respectively.

“It is absolutely one of the best days of the year,” said Rocky Gholson, educational program coordinator for the Compton Youth Academy. “I’ve been watching these guys grow up since they were little guys to where they are now. I have traveled around the country with Tim, Hasan, Tank, and watched them perform at all kinds of events … and now, to watch them sign their letter of intent, it’s the most exciting thing I can see.”

MLB Youth Academies -- a network which includes 10 facilities across the country -- offer free yearlong baseball and softball instruction. Participants receive instruction from a staff that includes former Major Leaguers, while also getting opportunities to be seen by scouts.

“To come and get the coaching that I’ve been able to get from these coaches has been great,” said Espalin, a senior at Orange Lutheran High School. “Kenny [Landreaux], all these other guys, have really helped me out, and it’s been a real big part of my life being able to have somewhere to come and really feel at home.”

“This is one of the best places to see exposure by scouting and getting seen by the next level, [at the] Dream Series, Breakthrough Series and all these events,” said Standifer, a senior at San Pedro High School who plans to study electrical engineering at Jackson State.

Although the Youth Academy has proven to be a path to the Majors for some -- as Aaron Hicks, J.P. Crawford and Dominic Smith, among others can attest -- their value is not just in the athletic instruction. They also provide educational and sports-related vocational programming, including SAT/ACT classes, sports law and broadcasting training, and homework assistance.

“Coach Rocky, he’s helped me with academics,” said Scarlett, a senior at Capistrano Valley High School who looks up to another big righty out of SDSU, Stephen Strasburg. “Told me the things I needed to do to get into San Diego State, get where I am today.”

While all three of the Compton signees ultimately hope to play professionally, their time at the Academy drove home how important a college education is. In fact, Eddie Davis, director of the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, says setting up members to earn college degrees is “the main goal” of Youth Academy staff.

“That’s probably the most important thing that we look for as Academy staff members, because we know you’re gonna be good citizens,” said Davis.

Darrell Miller, MLB’s vice president of youth and facility development, points to Academy programs geared toward teaching kids about career paths in baseball beyond playing, including scouting, umpiring and front-office jobs.

Whether it’s directly to a professional athletic career or by putting them on the path to higher education, the Youth Academies’ goal is to use baseball and softball to help guide its kids to a future with options. College signing day is symbolic of that goal coming to fruition.

“I’m proud, extremely proud, because the hard work that he put in, this is the culmination of it,” said Timothy Scarlett Sr., Tim’s father. “There’s always more work to do, but it’s nice for him to be acknowledged by the Academy, because he depended on it so much and he gained so much from being here.”

At the New Orleans Youth Academy, first baseman/outfielder Dillon Cousin committed to Tuskegee University and infielder Sean LeBeouf committed to the U.S. Naval Academy for baseball, while first baseman/outfielder Alexa Poche committed to Nichols State University for softball. In Dallas, outfielder Joshua Marcellus signed his letter of intent to play at Bethany College in the spring.

At the Kansas City Royals MLB Urban Youth Academy, shortstop Avery Williams committed to play baseball collegiately at University of Central Arkansas, while four other players declared their commitment to transition from junior college baseball programs to Kansas Christian College, a four-year institution: shortstop Christopher Javon Hunter, outfielder/pitcher Stay’Jawn Hunter, and outfielders C.L. Stacker and Elijah Rush.

Sarah Wexler is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @SarahWexler32.