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Jim Callis

Top prospects attend Rookie Career Development Program

Tomorrow's stars receive extra training for off-the-field issues

Top prospects attend Rookie Career Development Program

LEESBURG, Va. -- "Offseason" has become a misnomer, as few players take much time off at all between finishing one year of play and preparing for the next. In addition to getting physically ready for 2017, several of the game's top young prospects spent the weekend at the annual Rookie Career Development Program.

Staged jointly by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association since 1992, the RCDP was designed to make up-and-coming big leaguers aware of off-field issues that can arise and teach them how to deal with them. Among the seminars at this year's program, which ran Thursday through Sunday at the Lansdowne Resort, were discussions about financial planning, inclusion and respect, the media, performance-enhancing drugs, relationships and sexual health. Former big leaguers such as Jose Cruz Jr., Jeffrey Hammonds and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield were on hand to share their experiences from their careers.

The program began Thursday morning with a program for 29 Latino prospects, and an additional 80 players arrived that afternoon for the full session. Twenty-two members of MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list attended, including White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada, Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres, Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger and Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer. They're following in the footsteps of recent participants Jackie Bradley Jr. and Gary Sanchez (2014); Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor and Noah Syndergaard (2015); and Michael Fulmer (2016).

"Being a successful Major Leaguer is a lot more than hitting, pitching and fielding," said Brian O'Gara, vice president of special events for MLB. "This program is designed to help prepare the game's best prospects for the next phase of their lives. It's a big transition from Minor League prospect to Major League rookie. Our job here is to help them get ready mentally and emotionally for what's ahead, and to get the most out of this amazing opportunity."

O'Gara said that the MLB and MLBPA continually make changes and improvements to the program, many of them based on player feedback, to ensure that it remains impactful and productive. According to this year's attendees, the RCDP is doing exactly that.

"Before I came here, to be honest, I didn't even know it existed," Athletics No. 4 prospect Matt Chapman said. "Definitely it's an honor to be invited and it's been more than I expected. I expected to come here and learn, and try to figure out as much I could about what the next step in my career was going to be. Getting to see Dave Winfield speak and shake [MLBPA executive director] Tony Clark's hand, see some of the things that go on around here, actually learn a lot of things that I didn't know before and see some familiar faces, it's been an unbelievable experience. I've enjoyed it very much."

White Sox No. 12 prospect Adam Engel echoed those thoughts, saying he enjoyed the opportunity to have dialogues with the various speakers.

"They make it as easy as it gets to really maximize the opportunities you have in front of you with all the big league players, all the people who are at the top of their fields," Engel said. "It's been great. It's just a lot of quality knowledge I don't think you can get anywhere else."

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Paul Mifsud, MLB deputy general counsel and vice president of labor relations and social responsibility, said the RCDP and similar programs run by individual clubs show the changing face of player development. It's about much more than refining a player's physical talent.

"It's about ensuring that they are successful in their personal lives, so that they are armed with the tools necessary to protect and grow their professional lives," Mifsud said. "And the sessions on diversity, inclusion and respect are all about making every player -- regardless of race, national origin or sexual orientation -- feel welcome and a vital part of the same great game. We are, after all, the game of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente."

While there was a lot of wisdom being imparted at the RCDP, there was time for fun as well. Players got to catch up with former teammates and opponents and, divided into groups by their teams' division, they also performed skits. They took a trip to the Capitol Building in nearby Washington D.C. and enjoyed performances by The Second City comedy troupe, which also did some role-playing during some of the sessions.

"I wish I would have known some of this stuff before I got up in September," said Tigers No. 9 prospect JaCoby Jones, who made his big league debut in the final month of last season. "Whether it's the media, talks we've had about financial stuff, what to look forward to when you walk in the clubhouse, on- and off-the-field stuff, life situations and fans and social media and everything. I've learned a lot of stuff here. It's a good experience and I'm having a blast here."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.