'A great improvement' as one-fourth of 36 Round 1 picks are African-American
By Spencer Fordin
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- The best young baseball players in the country are coming from increasingly diverse backgrounds, and we saw that firsthand on Monday. Nine of the 36 players selected in the first round of the 2015 Major League Draft were of African-American descent, the most since 1992.
"A full quarter of the first round were African-Americans," said Rob Manfred, overseeing his first Draft as MLB's Commissioner. "That's a great improvement for us. I think it shows that some of the things we've been working so hard on are starting to bear a little fruit, in terms of the amateur Draft. I think it's encouraging for us, and it makes us want to work even harder at the things we've been working on."
Five of the nine African-American draftees came out of the prep ranks, with Dillon Tate from UC Santa-Barbara leading the college group at No. 4 overall. Tate saw his stock rise precipitously after rounding out his game at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. Other African-Americans from the college ranks were Florida's Richie Martin (No. 20, A's), Florida State's D.J. Stewart (No. 25, Orioles), and Tennessee's Christin Stewart (No. 34, Tigers).
Tate, a right-hander, showed enough over the last three years at UCSB to position himself as the first pitcher taken this year. Tate was the only pitcher of the nine African-American players drafted in the first round.
Darrell Miller, MLB's vice president of youth and facility development, was thrilled with the night's results.
"It was overwhelming, actually -- that's the first pitcher we've had taken in the first round from the Academy," said Miller, who has known Tate since the pitcher was 14 years old. "And it's great to see some African-American arms in the top two or three rounds. We might have this thing on the run."
Three more young players of African-American descent -- shortstop Cornelius Randolph (No. 10, Phillies), outfielder Garrett Whitley (No. 13, Rays) and outfielder Trent Clark (No. 15, Brewers) -- were taken within the first 15 picks of the Draft, while Nick Plummer (No. 23, Cardinals) and Ke'Bryan Hayes (No. 32, Pirates), helped round out the first round.
In addition, African-American players comprised 17 of the 75 selections (22.7 percent) made on the first day of the Draft. Among the others were Daz Cameron (No. 37, Astros), Triston McKenzie (No. 42, Indians), Eric Jenkins (No. 45, Rangers), Austin Smith (No. 51, Padres), Desmond Lindsay (No. 53, Mets), Juan Hillman (No. 59, Indians), Blake Perkins (No. 69, Nationals), and Jahmai Jones (No. 70, Angels). Hayes, Hillman, Perkins, Smith and Tate each played in The Breakthrough Series, a joint effort by MLB and USA Baseball that allows a wide-ranging group of some of the nation's top high school stars to play in front of pro scouts and college recruiters.
"All the exposure and things we've created, starting in 2008 with the Breakthrough Series, all those things have helped," said Miller. "We even have more academies. The RBI program is expanding. I think things are starting to play. The kids have been playing, but now they're starting to get serious about it."
The Urban Youth Academy's mission has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and now the organization has facilities in Houston, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, in addition to the Academy in Compton. And now, with players like Tate going high in the Draft, there are lessons for the academy kids to digest.
"The whole idea is to show a path," said Miller, "And there is a path now. If you go to the Academy, there's an opportunity to be drafted and there's an opportunity to play professional ball. But more importantly, you can play for your high school team, play for a junior college if you need to, go to college after that. You can realize your dreams and your potential.
"Now, kids can look at Dillon and say, 'Wow, I played with him. I've seen him over here working out.' ... And those things help our ability to influence these kids to want to play the game. People want to be like people they know. And now they can say, 'He looks just like I did. He reminds me of myself.'"
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.