NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—USA Baseball and MLB jointly announced the creation of the Prospect Development Pipeline during the Winter Meetings, establishing an official identification and player assessment process for top high school players as they approach draft eligibility.
In 2017, the PDP schedule will include 17 single-day, regional workouts across the country, leading up to a National Scout Team Championship event. The first event will take place on Jan. 14. The program will create a direct line of communication between top prospects and all 30 MLB teams.
Prospects participating in the pipeline will receive educational information about professional baseball and the draft process, as well as a personalized assessment of their abilities. The events will be held on an invitation-only basis and the players will participate for free.
"Major League Baseball strives to be a steward to the amateur game, and the launch of the Prospect Development Pipeline marks a promising new chapter of this longstanding commitment," said Chris Marinak, MLB's senior vice president of league economics and strategy. "The Prospect Development Pipeline program will offer direct opportunities for the next generation of players to receive the most comprehensive exposure to MLB clubs possible."
MLB Dips Into Amateur Ranks
The Prospect Development Pipeline is another example of Major League Baseball using USA Baseball as way to exert influence over amateur baseball. MLB and USAB already have partnered on the Pitch Smart program and website for youth pitching guidelines and the Play Ball initiative.
The creation of the pipeline and the regional workouts should benefit teams, giving them more exposure to the players and allowing them to get additional looks at more players. Players also should have a much better understanding of how evaluators see them and what improvements they need to make.
"We're doing this in partnership with the 30 clubs, so if one of your objectives is to play at the highest level of the game, then this is where you would go," USA Baseball's chief development officer Rick Riccobono said.
The regional aspect of the pipeline aims to cut down travel costs for qualified athletes. This can make a significant difference, because players' families won't have to pay for flights or hotels, in addition to not paying for the showcase itself.
The partnership met with general approval of the amateur scouting community.
"The best thing for me is that it would naturally develop more interaction and relationships between the two most important groups of people in the MLB draft—the players and families, and the MLB teams," one American League scout said.
Improved relationships and proliferation of quality information to the players appears to be key motivations for MLB's involvement. The pipeline should help prepare the nation's most talented players for the difficult decision of signing professionally or pursuing college baseball after high school. By making the program free for athletes, MLB is increasing its pool of talent and providing another avenue for players from lower-income families to show teams their abilities.
"The fact that this is free of charge to the player lines it up nicely with what the East Coast Pro Showcase and the Area Code Games have been doing for years—making exposure affordable, with the emphasis being on player identification," added another AL scout. "Hopefully as this idea grows, there will be some teaching component to it so young players can get further away from the mere showcase mentality and further learn how to actually play the game aided by USA Baseball's blueprint for player development."
Perfect Game, the industry's largest showcase operator, welcomed the move in a statement to BA: "Perfect Game is in favor of anything that helps grow the game and gives more players an opportunity to be seen. Hopefully, this new effort will give many talented players an opportunity to display their abilities in an area close to where they live."
The pipeline is being created in cooperation with the MLB Scouting Bureau, which has gone through drastic changes the last two years, the most significant being a reduction to four scouts. The bureau will oversee the athlete evaluations and will file official player reports on all attendees.