Urban Youth Academy features 25 draftees
Marlins first-rounder Yelich at forefront of rising total of alumni
The initiative is working. Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy saw another modest uptick in draftees this summer, when 25 athletes who either played or trained at the branch in Compton, Calif. were selected in the First-Year Player Draft. Prior to that Draft, the program had seen a total of 75 players drafted and 49 who have signed contracts with big league organizations.
The league has committed to providing opportunities to inner-city youths with the Urban Youth Academy branch in Compton, and it's also opened up a matching academy in Houston. Major League Baseball recently signed agreements to expand the Urban Youth Academy to a location in Hialeah, Fla., giving more players a chance to be noticed.
And professional baseball isn't the only reward. More than 100 academy student-athletes have gone on to participate in collegiate baseball and softball programs, giving incentive to the league's executives to continue along the same path. Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball development, was thrilled by the Academy's progress.
"It is most gratifying to see so many outstanding student-athletes that have come through the academy selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft," said Solomon, a driving force in the creation of baseball's All-Star Futures Game. "While this is just a part of our work at the Academy, it is very rewarding to witness the success of these young men."
The Academy graduated just five draftees in 2007 and has seen its efforts bear fruit over the last few seasons. The 2008 First-Year Player Draft saw the Academy graduate more than 10 players -- including a pair of first-round picks in Kyle Skipworth and Aaron Hicks -- to the Draft, and 21 players with some involvement at the Academy were selected in 2009.
The most recent Draft saw the Academy make a high-level impact, with seven players taken before the end of the third round. Florida draftee Christian Yelich -- the 23rd overall selection -- was the highest-profile player in the bunch. The left-handed-hitting first baseman, who will likely profile as an outfielder, batted .451 for Westlake High School in California and is expected to add size as he fills out.
"We really love the bat. He's 6-foot-4. A left-handed hitter. He can run," said Jim Fleming, the Marlins vice president of player development and scouting. "There are tons of things to like about this guy. He's our kind of guy. He's a performer. He's always performed. There is just a lot of things to like here."
Another player with Academy ties -- Aaron Sanchez out of Barstow High School in California -- was taken 34th overall by Toronto. Sanchez went 7-0 with an 0.69 ERA in high school and played on the Urban Youth Academy tournament team.
The Academy saw four players -- Vincent Velazquez (58th overall to Houston), Jacob Thompson (66th overall to Tampa Bay), Cody Buckel (70th overall to Texas) and Angel Gumbs (82nd overall to the Yankees) drafted in the second round. Thompson, who pitched for Cal State Long Beach, played on the tournament team and helped serve as a camp instructor at the Academy.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.