Jonathan Mayo

Prospects get education in off-the-field skills

Rookie Career Development Program wraps 2016 edition

Prospects get education in off-the-field skills

LEESBURG, Va. -- The 2015 season has been called the Year of the Rookie because of the large number of quality young players who made it to the big leagues and influenced pennant races. The seeds of that influx were likely planted at the annual Rookie Career Development Program.

The event, run in tandem by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, has helped up-and-coming big leaguers deal with off-the-field issues such as media training and finances for 25 years.

Several players who received 2015 Rookie of the Year Award votes were at this program a year ago, so the group attending this year's RCDP, which concluded Sunday, should be watched carefully.

"We show them, at the start of this program, a video that has highlights of guys who have gone through this program over the course of the 25 years, but it's loaded with guys just from the last few years who've been here and become stars and All-Stars already in their short careers," said Brian O'Gara, MLB's vice president of special events.

"That makes us feel good, because we're helping them. The game is not just about what you do on the field, but how you get yourself ready to be a Major Leaguer, in total. If they can be successful at that early an age, then maybe we're doing something right with this program."

The program began Thursday morning with a day of sessions for the Latino players, covering topics including learning English, cultural adaptation and financial responsibility. The rest of the more than 100 players (23 from the current Top 100 Prospects list) came together that evening for an annual highlight, a trip to Washington, D.C.

The RCDP participants went to the Capitol building and met with Rep. Roger Williams from Texas, who played and coached baseball at Texas Christian University.

"It was really cool," Phillies outfield prospect Nick Williams said. "It was great, especially because he was from Texas. He knew my high school and everything. To be able to do that on the first night, that was awesome. It's a privilege to be here."

On Friday, the full program began in earnest with a session on making the transition to the Majors, led by former players -- resource players who attend on behalf of the MLBPA. Players get more time with the resource players in breakout sessions throughout the weekend.

"It's been a huge stepping-stone for me, just being able to talk to these guys, pick their brains about how they went about their business, how they prepared the financial part of their life, what they did in the clubhouse, how they talked with the media," A's pitching prospect Sean Manaea said. "Those are all huge things I wouldn't have known until I ... if I ever make it to the big leagues. Having them talk to us, it's been a huge thing for us."

The media training provided is perhaps the most useful information. The players learn do's and don'ts of interviews, as well as how to build relationships with beat writers and other reporters. For the second year, and what is sure to be an annual part of the program, players sat riveted listening to the powerful message delivered by vice president of social responsibility and inclusion Billy Bean and new ambassador for inclusion Curtis Pride.

A unique facet of the RCDP is the participation of the comedy group Second City, which sends a troupe to not only perform and entertain, but also lead role-playing exercises that enable the players to humorously learn how to deal with situations.

"It's pretty amazing," Twins outfield prospect Byron Buxton said. "To me, I learn more when I get more action, getting more feel for it. Seeing them up there acting it out made it [make] a lot more sense to me and made me understand it a little bit better.

"Some of the struggles I went through this past season, if I had the knowledge from these couple of days, it would've made it a lot easier -- talking to media, talking to teammates, starting to figure stuff out."

It may be hard for 2016's crop of first-year players to top 2015 in terms of rookie impact. If their participation in the RCDP is any indication, though, this next group should be ready to try to reach that very high bar.

"This program has been one of the best ever," O'Gara said. "The players seem very engaged, very prepared, very into getting themselves ready for the Major Leagues. They come here and they don't know what to expect, but they've been right on it right from the start, talking about issues -- whether it's media, money, how they interact with each other at the Major League level, how you prepare yourself physically and mentally for the Major Leagues. The players have been fantastic. It's been a great, great program."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.