Rookie Career Development Program ushers in new generation

There were a handful of players at the 2016 Rookie Career Development program who had some limited Major League service time. But the vast majority of the more than 100 players who attended the four-day orientation program last week in Landsdowne, Va., are about to join the exclusive group of just over 18,000 players who have played Major League Baseball.

For the program, each club designates several players it believes will gain their first significant service time in the Major Leagues in the upcoming season.

"I feel one step closer to the Major Leagues now," said Tyrell Jenkins, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher from Henderson, Texas. "Most of the guys who come here are players who the organization believes in. To be here and have that feeling and to represent the Braves organization makes me feel special. I'm sure everyone feels the same way."

A joint initiative between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, the rookie program begins with a day devoted specifically to Spanish-speaking players, and in the following days offers sessions including "Making the Transition (to the Majors)," "Working with the Media," "Financial Planning and Responsibility" and "Security."

Among the biggest benefits of the program for the young players was the opportunity to be around their peers and a cast of former players who attend annually to assist those making the transition into their fraternity.

The former players included Jose Cruz Jr., Dave Gallagher, Jeffrey Hammonds, Rick Helling, Vance Law, Jim Poole, Jeff Reboulet, Steve Rogers, Bob Tewksbury and Dave Valle. In addition to Cruz, Hammonds, Helling and Rogers, the Players Association was also represented by executive director Tony Clark, special advisor Dave Winfield and special assistant Kevin Slowey.

"I learned a lot just talking with all of the former players who are there for you as a resource," said Lucas Giolito, a 21-year-old pitcher who is the Nationals' top prospect. "You learn from their experiences, their trials and tribulations that you can compare to your own.

"There is definitely a connection between players of all generations," Giolito said. "I feel like Joe DiMaggio could come back to life and we could have a great conversation about baseball. The game connects so many different types of people."

There are also smaller-session breakout groups and skits performed by the Second City improvisation group that bring to life in a humorous and accessible way some of the difficult issues that often arise for players off the field.

On Saturday, for just the second year, the Players Association had its own dedicated session in which Clark addressed the rookies and provided an overview of how the MLBPA operates.

"The union session was one of the top ones," Giolito said. "I don't have a full understanding yet of the business side of baseball. You're playing a sport for a living, and sometimes you realize, hey, it is a business when it comes down to it. You need to be educated in that sense. I'm interested in the MLBPA and everything it has to offer."