Urban Youth Academy
From BR Bullpen
The Urban Youth Academy is a string of facilities set up by Major League Baseball to provide training and guidance to teenage ballplayers who have graduated from the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities youth program, and have enough talent to look forward to either a professional career or attending college on a baseball scholarship. The original Academy opened in Compton, CA in 2006.
The first Academy was run by former major leaguer Darrell Miller; another former big leaguer, Carl Nichols, was a coach. Also deeply involved in the founding was Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's Vice-President of Baseball Development. The Academy is located on the campus of El Camino College's "Compton Center", in one of Los Angeles, CA's tougher neighborhoods whose population is largely black or Hispanic and where sports facilities are inadequate while the temptations of drugs and gang membership are ever present. The Academy provides both coaching and training facilities and life skills coaching that assists gifted teenagers in achieving their goals in spite of the long odds. It was set up in recognition that there was a major gap in facilities to accompany teenagers at a critical age when they can easily fall into a circle of addiction and criminality from which it is extremely difficult to escape.
In 2011, the first two graduates of the Academy to reach the major leagues were Trayvon Robinson and Efren Navarro, a few weeks apart. Many more prospects were in the pipeline at the time, besides Navarro and Robinson, including Anthony Gose, Aaron Hicks and Reggie Williams. Given the success of this pilot project, MLB decided to open a number of similar facilities, the first two in Houston, TX and in Puerto Rico (the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy High School). Another in New Orleans, LA, was inaugurated in November, 2012 and one in Cincinnati, OH in August of 2014. Next up were Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC and West Dallas, TX with more on the horizon. MLB has benefited from a sponsorship from Procter and Gamble to make the creation of new facilities possible, while local teams have also invested to ensure the academies take shape.
In 2011 also, the Academy decided to extend its services to young women by starting a softball program for them. It also organized a series of games with an All-Star team of high schoolers from Japan; the Academy has also sent teams to Japan itself. On January 28, 2012, it held its first alumni game, featuring graduates such as Robinson, Navarro and minor leaguers Ricky Oropesa, Desmond Henry and Virgil Hill, playing against current members of the program and others who have moved on to college baseball programs. Among the latter was Darrell Miller Jr., recently recruited by UCLA.
One token of the program's success was the fact that 30 players who went through the Academy were selected in the 2012 amateur draft, including top pick Carlos Correa, who had attended the Academy's Puerto Rico facility. Jesmuel Valentin, selected 51st as a supplemental first round choice, was also a graduate of the Puerto Rico program, as were two other players selected in later rounds. Two other first rounders - Courtney Hawkins (picked 13th) and Lucas Giolito (16th) - were Academy graduates, as was supplemental first rounder Shane Watson (40th). Another 14 draftees had taken part in the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, a sign that MLB's investment in fostering the game in urban areas was starting to pay significant dividends. In the 2013 amateur draft, two more first-rounders, Dominic Smith and J.P. Crawford, picked 11th and 16th respectively, were products of the Compton Academy. Other graduates who have reached the majors are Khris Davis and Jon Singleton. In the 2015 amateur draft, Dillon Tate, a Compton graduate, was picked 4th overall, the highest draft showing yet for a player from one of the U.S.-based academies. Another sign that MLB's efforts were paying dividends were that 9 first-rounders in 2015 were African-Americans.
In 2016, for the first time, an active player became involved in the project as superstar Alex Rodriguez invested $750,000 in the project to build a youth baseball and softball academy in Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx. MLB and the MLBPA contributed the remainder of the funding for the $11.25 million initiative.
In addition to training players, the Urban Youth Academy has served as a proving ground for prospective umpires, with young men from different backgrounds who aspire to become umpires receiving training and instruction from former and current MLB umpires. Eight scholarships to an umpiring school are given out to the best recruits each year. Minor league umpire Malachi Moore was the first graduate of that part of the program to join the professional ranks.