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Kerrick Jackson To Lead New MLB Draft Summer League, Start Diversity Foundation

Major League Baseball and Prep Baseball Report will announce on Monday the creation of the MLB Draft League, a new collegiate summer league designed to showcase draft-eligible players who, for any number of reasons, were under-scouted during the spring.

PBR is operating the league, which is composed of six teams that previously were a part of the short-season New York-Penn League. Kerrick Jackson will guide the new venture as league president after three seasons as head coach at Southern. Jackson has an extensive baseball resume, leaving him uniquely qualified to lead the league. He previously has been an area scout for the Nationals, an agent with Boras Corporation, a recruiting coordinator for Missouri and Nicholls State, and a summer ball coach in the Cape Cod League, MINK League and New England Collegiate League.

Jackson was not looking to leave Southern after rejuvenating the program. He led the Jaguars to a regionals appearance in 2019, their first since 2009. But in addition to serving as Southern’s coach, Jackson is also the chairman of the American Baseball Coaches Association’s Diversity Committee, which is working to improve the diversity of the playing and coaching ranks in amateur baseball. But in addition to hiring Jackson to run the MLB Draft League, PBR is also funding a foundation to carry on that work.

The combination of the job and PBR’s commitment to the diversity issues convinced Jackson to take the job. He said it is important to him to have a purpose in his job.

“Being here at Southern, I had plenty of purpose, elevating the profile of HBCU baseball, giving players a chance and giving coaches a chance,” Jackson said. “(Being league president) wasn’t enough for me. It was them being able to add that other piece to it and then being in charge of this league, giving kids a draft opportunity and being able to get some more minority kids in that mix.”

Jackson is excited by the idea of being able to devote more time and energy to the diversity initiatives. While the ABCA Diversity Committee has made important strides, including the development of the Frank Robinson Baseball Coaches Association to provide further professional development and act as a clearinghouse for qualified minority candidates for available jobs, it is somewhat limited because its leaders all also have full-time jobs as coaches and must focus much of their energy on their own teams.

Now, Jackson can devote more of his focus to the foundation’s work.

“The idea of being able to take those initiatives we started with ABCA, one being the youth level and growth of minority players, especially black kids, and to provide better coaching, better pathways to go about process of recruiting and everything, and the other being to provide more opportunities for coaches,” Jackson said, “Being able to get going on the foundation and have the dedicated time and energy it takes to happen is exciting.”

Southern is one of the SWAC’s favorites for the 2021 season and the next coach will carry on Jackson’s mission to return Southern to the pinnacle of HBCU baseball and beyond. Chris Crenshaw, Southern's recruiting coordinator, was named the interim coach. Crenshaw played at Southern and has been Jackson's assistant for two years, following a five-year stint as Jackson State recruiting coordinator.

The return to regionals in 2019 was a significant step forward for the Jaguars following several difficult seasons that were marred by slipping on-field performance and off-field struggles with Academic Progress Rate that left Southern ineligible for the postseason. For a program that won the 1959 NAIA national championship and had 27 SWAC titles in the last 60 years, it was a disappointing run.

Getting Southern back on track will be Jackson’s legacy in Baton Rouge.

“We did a lot in a short time frame,” he said. “The idea of getting back to being considered what they were back in the early 2000s, I think we were headed in that direction and getting back that respectability and working the way to being a dominant force.

“Hopefully, we laid a good enough foundation.”

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Now, Jackson will take on a new challenge. The Draft League is the second summer league MLB has created this fall as a part of it’s overarching plan to reorganize the minor leagues while eliminating short-season baseball. The league will consist of six teams located in part of the New York-Penn League’s former footprint and is open to all draft-eligible players. It will primarily have rising college seniors or players who exhausted their college eligibility in the spring, but it will be open to high school seniors and junior college players as well.

With the draft being pushed back from early June to mid-July, those players will have more than a month to showcase their skills in one easy-to-scout league.

“We want to provide that opportunity for all draft-eligible players to be seen and be seen in a more concentrated environment, knowing that scouts and crosscheckers and the like will all be there,” Jackson said.

Jackson said that he would have appreciated such a league when he was a scout. His area stretched into the upper-Midwest and oftentimes it was hard to get all the players checked that he wanted to, simply because they ran out of time due to the shorter season the weather forces teams in those areas to play. This league could provide those players more chances to get seen.

Jackson said it might also be a good opportunity for players at major programs who don’t get a chance to fully showcase their talent because of the team’s depth—a pitcher who might have a starter’s profile but instead works as a relief ace, perhaps—or a player at a mid- or low-major program who didn’t get a chance to prove himself against premium competition.

“Now, the crosscheckers and scouting directors are going to be in this league at six sites and see everybody,” he said.

With that focus, MLB has created a clear pathway for players through summer ball. The Appalachian League is now designed for incoming freshmen and rising sophomores. Rising juniors are ticketed for the Cape Cod League, still seen as the premier summer league. Then, rising seniors and graduated seniors would play in the Draft League.

While the progression is clear now, the process of setting up the new leagues won’t be as easy. The first year will be especially difficult as the league is still just getting off the ground at the end of November. Most summer leagues have already signed their players to contracts for next summer, further adding to the challenge of creating a new league in a crowded college summer ball ecosystem.

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