CINCINNATI -- Four years ago, R.J. Barnes was a kid without a team to help him hone his skills. Things were not working out with his select travel team, and Barnes saw what were becoming limited options until his father made a suggestionThe new P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy
CINCINNATI -- Four years ago, R.J. Barnes was a kid without a team to help him hone his skills. Things were not working out with his select travel team, and Barnes saw what were becoming limited options until his father made a suggestion
The new P&G Cincinnati MLB Urban Youth Academy was just completed and opened in 2014. Why not give that a shot?
"It's probably the best baseball decision I have ever made," said Barnes, who is a center fielder. "That is one of the biggest reasons why I am here today. It's a place where I put in tons of work. They gave me millions of opportunities like going to Dodgertown or the Breakthrough Series, where I could be with like-minded baseball players that just wanted to get better. Going to those camps helped me learn a lot about myself as a baseball player and a lot about the game."
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Barnes -- a resident of Blue Ash, Ohio, and a Sycamore High School graduate who turned 18 on Friday -- was selected on Wednesday by his hometown Reds in the 34th round of the MLB Draft.
"I feel extremely blessed. It doesn't feel real right now," said Barnes, who will now choose between a scholarship commitment with Morehouse College and playing professionally.
Before playing in travel ball, Barnes played for the Madisonville Braves, a Knothole Baseball program that is supported by the Reds Community Fund.
The $7.5 million Urban Youth Academy is a 33,000 square foot facility featuring state-of-the-art equipment, playing fields and elite instruction. Several former Reds Major Leaguers have visited the academy and spoken with aspiring players, including Dmitri Young, Eric Davis and Dave Parker.
For the past few years, the UYA has also hosted one of four MLB Breakthrough Series events, a showcase for some of the nation's top high school baseball players to play in front of pro scouts and college recruiters.
Reds scout Ben Jones was among those who watched Barnes play there.
"He's a very goal-driven young man. He knows what to become in life and has a purpose," Jones said. "On the field, he's a very instinctive kid for a Midwestern kid. He's a toolsy, instinctive defensive guy with arm strength. He has bat speed and all the makings. He just needs time. He definitely has some promise."
Right fielder A.J. Bumpass, a North Carolina resident, was also spotted at the Breakthrough Series in Cincinnati by then-University of Cincinnati head coach Ty Neal. He credited the brief stint at the UYA for helping him.
"It gave me the sense of direction I needed to go towards," Bumpass said.
Bumpass earned an offer to play for the Bearcats and on Wednesday, the sophomore was taken by the Reds in the Draft as a 29th-round pick.
"The first feeling was I felt pretty accomplished," Bumpass said. "I was proud and kind of overwhelmed. Everybody sent me congratulations. I am happy. It's been a dream, honestly, since I was four. For me to push towards my goal of reaching my dreams of playing professionally was a real proud moment."
Bumpass and Barnes participated in the MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. Jones also scouted Bumpass extensively.
"I think every young man who has the opportunity to be part of something of that nature, it's beneficial to those kids," Jones said. "It gives those guys an additional avenue to better themselves completely. Those guys are definitely qualified and quality guys in that program."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.