Brandon Rembert will enter the 2020 season as one of the best hitters in the SWAC and a 2021 MLB Draft prospect, yet he’s still one of baseball’s best kept secrets. The Alcorn State Braves right fielder grew up in Pensacola, Florida, a baseball hotbed that produces MLB prospects at a rate equivalent to a Jacob deGrom fastball.
As a baby baller, first playing Tee-Ball and then coach pitch, Little League and eventually ascending to the “big boy” field, the elite competition sharpened his skills as his natural ability adapted quickly and allowed him to excel in his diamond grind, making an immediate connection with the sport.
Rembert, a 2021 MLB Draft prospect, patterns his game after Mookie Betts. The 21-year-old, fifth-year senior credits the Dodgers All-Star with inspiring a generation of young African-American players trying to be recognized in a sports culture that too often shows them no love.
“Mookie Betts because we’re about the same size and he’s African-American too,” Rembert tells The Shadow League in a phone interview.
Brandon Rembert led Alcorn State in batting average (.345) in 2019
“I feel like he’s doing so much for African-Americans in the game of baseball right now, Rembert continued. “He just signed that $500 million contract… so he’s making a name for himself and paving the way for us in baseball. I really look up to him. He has great tools and plays the game the right way.”
Becoming Mookie is a long shot for any player in the world. The odds are especially stiff for Black players as they comprise less than 8 percent of total MLB rosters. Those numbers, Rembert says, mirror his experience while growing up in The Sunshine State, where most of the Black kids play football, hoop, even lacrosse, as a primary sport.
“I didn’t grow up playing with a lot of African-Americans,” Rembert tells The Shadow League. “Baseball in America is predominantly white and that’s the reality of things. There have been some teams where I was the only Black player… even in junior college, there were only maybe two or three Black players.”
That changed when he stepped on an HBCU campus.
“We have a lot of African-American players at Alcorn Stare, it’s definitely a different experience,” said Rembert. “I love it. Being the same race and playing the same game as me, I actually love it.”
The odds of making the major leagues — or even getting drafted — are slim for players who attend HBCUs, but Rembert’s managed to position himself as a pro prospect.
The Journey: Adversity Builds Character
Before you count him out, you have to listen to his journey. Overcoming odds is something that Rembert does in his sleep. How did this kid go from NAIA player to D-1 MLB prospect? It’s all about the grind. Staying committed despite a few major setbacks.
“Going into my freshman year at Booker T. Washington High School, I was at practice or a tryout and I dove for the ball and broke my hip.” Rembert painfully recalls. “That was a major setback for me because I had to have surgery. I missed a good six or seven months. I couldn’t walk for a good bit. Going into freshman year, having high hopes and trying to prove my worth, and then sustaining that injury was the toughest part of my life. I battled back and got it back stronger. It made me appreciate the game even more. It doesn’t hinder my performance but I have a pin in my hip right now.”
Rembert wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school. He was ranked as the 530th outfield prospect in the country by Perfect Game. He was also considered a zero star prospect by Prospectwire. He didn’t field many college offers, but he did have skills.
“I don’t think I was developed, he admitted. “I started college when I was 17 so I was actually a year ahead, I started school a year early. So I developed later than some other people because I was younger and that had something to do with it.”
Rembert says he started working harder and learning more about the game and improving his areas of weakness.
He signed to NAIA Faulkner University (Montgomery, AL) out of High School and played on the JV team his freshman year. He then transferred to Coastal Alabama Community College his sophomore season.
Then he made the power move to Alcorn State University for his junior year.
This is where Rembert says he started to “take off.”
“I had a really good junior year and that got some MLB scouts’ eyes looking at me,” Rembert said. “Scouts show up to our games, maybe not as much as SEC or ACC programs but scouts do show up and I performed well in front of them and started getting on a couple of radars.”
During his junior year campaign in 2019, Rembert led the team with a .345 batting average (8th in conference) and a .462 on-base percentage (5th in the conference). He also hit .300 against SEC teams, showing that he can compete with players from the most coveted baseball factories.
“To be honest… I finally got to D-1 so I had to try to prove myself again,” Rembert admits. “I was hungrier and wanted to start there. I started refining my swing. I feel like I always had the talent and couldn’t put it together, but that year it clicked.”
Rembert credits his coach Brett Richardson with elevating his game. Richardson was a three-time MEAC champion as a catcher for Florida A&M back in the 90s.
5th-year Braves coach Brett Richardson has helped Rembert elevate his game
“Coach Richardson is a great guy. He sticks with me and he’s always a man of his word,” Rembert said.”I started getting on the radars of some teams and that’s big, especially being a player in an HBCU.”
Rembert was a Preseason All-Conference First-Team selection (no postseason conference awards were given), Pre-Season All-SWAC 1st team selection, Perfect Game Preseason All-Conference selection, Preseason All-HBCU 2nd team selection, and named a SWAC Top Player to Watch by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper prior to the 2020 season.
Rembert reminded us that he was “also named an ‘HBCU Player to Watch’ for the MLB Draft this year as well.”
Rembert, 21, batted .300 against SEC teams in 2019
The Road From HBCU To MLB
Speaking of HBCUs, in 2019 the Ultra Black SWAC conference produced seven athletes selected in the MLB Draft for the second time in four years. Anthony Maldonado was the first HBCU baseball player taken in the 2019 (MLB) First-Year Player Draft when he was selected in the 11th round (No. 321 overall), by the Miami Marlins
HBCU ballplayers are usually taken on the third day of the draft, which consists of rounds 11-40. With the 2020 MLB Draft limited to just five rounds, no HBCU players were selected for the first time in 32 years.
Obviously, cutting off 80 percent of the draft rounds would lead to a vast number of undrafted players, leaving HBCUs — which on average have four to five players taken within the usual 40 rounds each year — on the bench.
Rembert, a senior, whose season was suddenly cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, just narrowly escaped a disastrous setback, when the NCAA rewarded Spring baseball players another year of eligibility.
“I didn’t know if we would get that year back or what would happen with the draft,” said Rembert, recalling the uncertainty that engulfed the sports world when quarantine shutdowns were put into effect.
“It was a lifesaver. I didn’t want my senior year to end having just 12 games.”
Rembert made the most of his 12 starts, recording 16 total bases, 13 hits, six RBI, six walks, and a homer.
Black College Nines named Rembert an ‘HBCU Player to Watch’ for ’21 MLB Draft
The extra year, now also gives Rembert time to improve his weaknesses.
“I need to hit for some more power because I’m a corner outfielder,” Rembert tells the Shadow League. “I have the power I just haven’t tapped into it yet. I need to steal more bags, tap in more to my speed more.”
Black Baseball Bandit On A Mission
With one more year to show MLB scouts what he can do, Rembert will enter this season as one of the top hitters in the talented SWAC and he’s gotten to this position by swinging some wicked wood at every destination, pitstop and pitfall along the way.
When you add his multifaceted skill set and relentless determination to his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame, it quickly becomes 20-20 as to why Rembert’s MLB dreams are not delusions of grandeur by an overly ambitious ballplayer.
“MLB? …I feel like they would be getting a very good hitter,” Rembert insisted. “The best thing I do is hit. My hand coordination and bat speed are good too. I feel like I’m very disciplined at the plate and can make things happen offensively. I can be a spark plug. I have a very good eye. I think I am pro-ready hitting wise. I can hit consistently day in and day out and get great at-bats and walks and not strike out that much.”
He also runs a 6.5 60-yard dash, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Rembert’s respectfully confident and he understands the grind. He also understands what his presence means in baseball and he hopes to electrify MLB stadiums while inspiring other young African-Americans to pick up a bat and glove.
“I wish more people would bring light to African-Americans in baseball,” said Rembert. “ We have talent on the baseball field as well and there’s a lot of it.”
But what if his Diamond Dreams don’t work out? How is he going to put that Master’s Degree in Athletic Administration Coaching & Teaching to work?
“First I would try to play independent ball and if that didn’t work out then Physical Therapy school,” said Rembert, “or maybe I would coach…I could go a lot of different routes. Maybe be a weightlifting coach.”
Either way, Cheryl and OJ Rembert didn’t raise no fool and Brandon’s never wasted any chance he’s ever gotten. So if I were a betting man, I’d probably put my money on the kid from Pensacola Florida, He just might be baseball’s Roy Jones.