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MLB

MLB Breakthrough Series Shines With First-Round Draft Picks Howard and Walker 

The 2020 MLB Draft confirms the effectiveness of MLB’s diversity programs. 

MLB’s diversity and development programs continue to produce Major League Talent under the leadership of former Angels GM Tony Reagins, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball and Softball Development and Del Matthews, MLB’s Vice President of Baseball Development. These guys were tasked with reviving Black culture in the game from the grassroots level up to the professional ranks. 

Over the past five years, African-American baseball talent has comprised about 20 percent of all first-round selections, and that spike continues after this year’s MLB Draft. It has been a steady process, but you can see the soul returning to the game. 

Breakthrough Series Produces Black Gems

The 2020 MLB Virtual Draft was a watershed Draft for the revival of Baseball’s chocolate talent pipeline. The selections of Ed Howard by the Cubs and Jordan Walker by the Cardinals mark the first time ever that two alumni of the Breakthrough Series – a diversity-focused, amateur development experience by MLB & USA Baseball – have been selected in the first round of the MLB Draft.  

Major League Baseball’s Breakthrough Series is now 12 years old and the talent pool gets deeper and richer each season and. The caliber of instructors keeps improving as well, as former black stars flock to help cultivate predominantly Black baseball talent.

Both Howard and Walker also participated in other diversity-focused development programming offered, in part, by MLB & USA Baseball, including the Hank Aaron Invitational (Howard participated in 2015 & 2018) – which is funded by the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation – and the DREAM Series (Walker participated in 2019).  

The Breakthrough Series exposes youngsters to the full Major League experience — insight into coaching, the front office, and even the media. Most of all, it offers many who can’t afford travel ball the opportunity to showcase their talents to guys who have played the game and coached it at a professional level.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Howard is a former member of the Jackie Robinson West Little League squad that made LL World Series history in 2014. He’s also a product of Chicago’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) through the Chicago White Sox ACE program, which competed in the 2017 RBI World Series. In one of the feel-good narratives in the Draft, Big Ed gets to stay at home. 

Walker’s an 18-year-old 3B/1B from Decatur, Georgia. 

Walker is an intelligent young man who was a Duke commit, but it’s safe to say that you don’t turn down a first-round selection by one of baseball’s flagship franchises. 

“They’re getting better and better,” longtime Breakthrough Series field coordinator Jerry Manuel said. “The kids we have chosen to come, a lot of those kids have been drafted. That in itself is kind of an indication that we are doing things the right way.”

In just over a decade, Breakthrough Series has produced several future Major League players, including two current Yankees in outfielder Aaron Hicks and catcher Kyle Higashioka, former Cubs infielder Addison Russell, Mets outfielder Dominic Smith and White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon. 

The Breakthrough Series exposes youngsters to the full Major League experience — insight into coaching, the front office, and even the media. Most of all, it offers many who can’t afford travel ball the opportunity to showcase their talents to guys who have played the game and coached it at a professional level.

It’s In The Numbers

25 alumni of previous Breakthrough Series’, as well as additional diverse-focused amateur development camps, were drafted in 2018. 13 Black players were selected on Day 1.

The overall numbers improved in 2019. A record 31 @mlbdevelops alumni were selected, with African-American players comprising 12 of the 78 selections on Day 1 of the MLB Draft (15.4%), continuing a trend that has seen Black players — particularly those who have participated in MLB-sponsored camps — being drafted more frequently.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 MLB Draft was cut to a virtual event of just five rounds and 160 players — a huge decline from the traditional 1,200 players that are usually drafted. 

Despite the shortened format, sixteen of the first 73 selections (21.9%) come from diverse backgrounds, including African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders.  

Other alumni of diversity-focused development programming selected in the 2020 Draft included Tink Hence (2018-19 BTS & 2020 DS; CB-B, STL); Connor Phillips (TX States Play; CB-B, SEA); Isaiah Greene (2019 BTS & 2019 HAI; 2-C, NYM); Sammy Infante (FL States Play; 2-C, WSH); Zavier Warren (2014 RBI & RBI WS – Detroit Arsenal; 3rd round, MIL); Werner Blakely (2017 RBI & RBI WS – Detroit PAL; 4th round, LAA); and Mackenzie Wainwright (2015 & 2017 HAI; 4th round, CIN).

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