Breakthrough Series set for sizable expansion

One of Major League Baseball's youth initiatives is about to break through to a new level.

The Breakthrough Series, established in 2008 to diversify the pool of baseball prospects in college and beyond, will undergo a major expansion this season. This year, instead of being held at one site and featuring 60 to 80 players, the Breakthrough Series will be held at five sites for 300 prospects.

The first phase of the 2016 series will begin Saturday at Tempe Diablo Minor League Complex, the Spring Training Home of the Los Angeles Angels. The other phases will be held at four other locations: The Urban Youth Academies in Houston and Cincinnati; Pirate City, the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla.; and the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

Those other phases will all take place in June, and they add an element not seen in prior Breakthrough Series. This year, for the first time, there will also be a component for women's softball. Softball players will be evaluated at the Houston Urban Youth Academy on June 14-15.

The Breakthrough Series, which is completely cost-free for its participants, is a joint initative by MLB and by USA Baseball to find new avenues to discover baseball talent. All of the prospects are invited by the league to showcase their talents, and they all come from urban and underserved communities. Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs, said the series serves an important purpose.

"Providing opportunities for young people to excel and advance within our sport is a central priority for Major League Baseball," said Reagins as part of an official news release. "The Breakthrough Series is a significant component of our outreach strategy, and we are happy not only to expand the amount of locations for this year's event, but also to include women's softball for the first time ever. Together with USA Baseball and a host of former Major Leaguers, we are looking forward to giving these ballplayers the chance to demonstrate their talents and to be recognized for the next levels of our game."

The players chosen for the series will be recommended by MLB, USA Baseball, the Urban Youth Academies, the RBI program and the Major League Scouting Bureau. But perhaps the best part for the players involved is the high level of instruction that can't be replicated in their hometowns.

Former big league players like Eric Davis, Tom Gordon, Marquis Grissom, Dmitri Young and Jerry Manuel will serve as coaches during the Breakthrough Series in Tempe, Ariz., next weekend. And in addition to their on-field work, the youngsters will also be tutored by scouts, college administrators, umpires and other industry professionals who can help prepare them for collegiate and professional recruiting.

Approximately 130 previous participants have been selected in the MLB Draft, and 30 Breakthrough Series alumni were taken in the 2015 Draft. And of those who didn't go pro, the Breakthrough Series has also committed recruits to several of the top collegiate baseball programs in the country.

In its first few seasons, the Breakthrough Series was held at one location, frequently at one of the league's Urban Youth Academies. The UYA in Compton hosted the first two editions of the Breakthrough Series in 2008 and '09, and USA Baseball's National Training Complex handled the event from 2010-12. Minute Maid Park and the Houston Urban Youth Academy served as hosts in '13, and multiple locations were used for the Breakthrough Series in 2014-15.

"USA Baseball is excited to partner with Major League Baseball on the Breakthrough Series for the ninth consecutive year," said Paul Seiler, the executive director and chief executive officer of USA Baseball. "This event is a result of USA Baseball's and MLB's mission to provide great exposure and opportunity for athletes from urban areas and expand the game of baseball throughout the United States at all levels. With five sites scheduled for 2016, the positive impact on these athletes continues to grow."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.