Robinson Breaks Through

I was sitting in the shady comfort ofthe Press Box at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton on Wednesday, watching the second game ofthe inaugural Breakthrough Series. In walked Frank Robinson, who promptly sat down next to me. Flummoxed, a flash flood of thoughts and questions ran through my head, foremost being: "What the hell do I say to Frank Robinson?"

The legendary slugger and managerial pioneer could not have been nicer. Nonetheless, Robinson may have mellowed in his 72nd year, but he still holds sharp opinions. A lively but friendly discussion erupted among the press box occupants over the issue of instant replay in baseball. Robinson argued his case, his massive hands jabbing the air for emphasis.

"Instant replay should never be used in our game. Baseball is a human game,” he said.

No one was inclined to argue with him.

Gently, very gently, I reminded the Hall-of-Famer that in the fifth game of the 1969 World Series, an inside fastball skipped off his uniform belt. The umpire erroneously ruled that the ball had been fouled off the knob of Robinson’s bat.

"I had to go into the dugout for treatment from the trainer,” Robinson said.

Needless to say, I didn’t budge his opinion of instant replay one millimeter.

I added, "you hit one off of Koosman in that game which I think is still travelling." Robinson smiled at the memory.

There was a lot to smile about for all observers on Wednesday. Four participants caught my eye:

Jonathan Singleton, 1b, 2009, Millikan High, Long Beach, Calif.

I first saw Singleton at a showcase event in San Bernardino in the summer of 2007. Only 15 years old at that time, he hammered a wood bat home run into the netting atop the right field fence in a minor league ballpark.

Now, as he approaches 17, Singleton may possess the finest pure swing of any of the top 2009 high school draft prospects. To nitpick, Singelton may need to relax his grip on the bat and shorten his backswing somewhat. However, no one should alter that sweet swing.

Reggie Golden, 2010, of, Wetumpka (Ala.) High

Golden physically resembles a younger and slimmer version of Kirby

Puckett. He has enough tools to fix a race car engine. Golden flashes 6.69 speed, a powerful outfield  throwing arm, and electric bat speed. Like so many youngsters, he falls into bad habits at the plate, including overswinging and pulling off the pitch. With his lavish raw skills, if Golden improves at the plate he could easily be one of the top 2010 prospects in the nation.

Victor Roache, 2009, of, Lincoln High, Ypsilanti, Mich.

Roache has a near-ideal, projectable 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame, and his

excellent arm and 6.87 speed make him a comfortable fit at either comer outfield spot. Of course, to hold down a corner in pro ball, a player has to hit, and hit big. Roache shows potential with the bat, but, like Golden, he needs to make numerous adjustements and improvements.

Christian Hickman, 2009, ss, Simeon Career High, Chicago

Far and away my favorite prospect of the hundred or so players in this showcase. Hickman walks, moves and looks like an athlete, and his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame projects to any spot on the diamond, save catcher. At short, Hickman’s glove, hands and fielding actions display the sort of ease, looseness and coordination emblematic of a big leaguer. He will need to work on some details–Hickman’s hands are too close to his ankles in fielding ground balls, and he’ll need to learn to get his tail down and glove out front. Hickman rarely cuts loose with his throws, but his arm strength is impressive when he decides to unleash one. In this showcase, Hickman struggled terribly at bat. However, he did knock one out of the yard in early BP, living up to the old scouting adage that "If you see it just once, it’s in there." Blessed with a perfect frame and marvelous natural ability, Hickman is the exact type of player targeted by the Breakthrough Series. With proper instruction–and if he is a willing and dedicated student–Hickman can be a special player.

If and when any of the above players sign professional contracts, they figure to be a bit savvier about the process than Frank Robinson’s mom was.

In 1953, a Cincinnati Reds scout descended on the Robinson household. He informed Mrs. Robinson: "I want your son to play professional baseball with us. I’d like to sign him to a contract for $3,500."

To which Mrs. Robinson replied: ”That’s wonderful! But…there’s one problem."

Contused and puzzled, the scout asked, "Wha-What’s the problem?"

Mrs. Robinson’s answer was blunt and direct:

"I don’t have $3,500."