MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Astros host scouting event for area youth

35 high school players gain exposure in Prospect Development Pipeline

Astros host scouting event for area youth

HOUSTON -- He told them he'd once been where they are. He'd had the same dreams, the same butterflies.

"This is an opportunity," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Those of us who've been in the game a long time relate to what it was like when we were going through the process."

That's what Saturday was about, a chance for 35 high school baseball players invited from around Texas to participate in the second Prospect Development Pipeline event.

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Major League Baseball and USA Baseball are jointly sponsoring 17 similar events around the country this year. Atlanta hosted the first one last weekend.

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Jan. 14 Atlanta
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June 21 Houston
June 22 Pawtucket
June 22 Southern California
June 23 Seattle
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In these one-day, invitation-only workouts, players have a chance to increase their exposure in front of representatives from all 30 teams. Unlike other similar events, these are free and held within driving distance of a player's hometown.

The Astros hosted Saturday's program at their Urban Youth Academy with a day that included batting practice and an assortment of drills designed to measure vision, reaction time and speed. If, say, one scout from one team comes away impressed by something said or done, doors could swing open.

"You get the exposure of seeing guys work out," Royals scout Ralph Garr Jr. said. "You also get a personal touch in interacting with them while they're here. That's very useful."

That's how the players saw it, too.

"It's a good way to compare yourself with other players," said Braxton Ashcraft, a junior third baseman and right-handed pitcher from Robinson, a suburb of Waco. "Every kid wants to be the best prospect out there. Just to be able to come and compete in a controlled environment is fun."

He grew up a Rangers fan, but his favorite players are Bryce Harper ("so much talent") and Robinson Cano ("the smoothest player in baseball").

"This is a fun time," Ashcraft said. "I'm trying to make the most of what I've got in front of me. It's fun to be with guys you've played with and competed against."

Another player, senior outfielder Cole Turney of Richmond, a Houston suburb, has been tracked closely by scouts for a couple of years. He has signed a letter of intent with the University of Arkansas, but could also be a high pick in this summer's Draft.

"I don't know which direction I'm going to go," he said. "I can't go wrong. I'm really excited about a day like this when you get in front of guys and have a chance to show what you can do.

"One cool thing is that I know most of these guys, and it's like a reunion. We're scattered all over the place, but to be in one place like this is awesome."

One of the drills was a set of blinking lights designed to measure reaction time.

"These are things I've never seen before," he said. "It's something I've never done before. I've got some numbers [grades] I've never seen before."

Turney grew up playing baseball with his three brothers and became an Astros fan. Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson is his favorite player.

"He's got that swag," Turney said. "He's fun to watch. He's a little bit cocky, and you have to love it."

During a brief talk before the workout began, Hinch told them that finding talent is an imperfect science for every team and that days like this can be invaluable.

"Their worlds are going to open up to people around the game," Hinch said, "and that only comes through events like this where we're all in one place."

One thing was notable: These players weren't just playing baseball. They were watching it. They had their favorite players and teams. They watched how players prepared and the way they played.

Simeon Woods-Richardson, a junior pitcher and third baseman from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, said he began playing baseball at the age of 3 to combat the effects of childhood asthma.

Once he began going to Minute Maid Park to see his hometown Astros, he was hooked. His highlight so far was a workout with his hero, George Springer.

"He's a humble dude," Woods-Richardson said. "He's hungry and confident and hard-working. Everything he does is with max effort. That's how I want to be."

Astros host PDP event

Another player, senior D'Mond LaFond, pitches and plays shortstop for Refugio High School. He has signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Houston. His favorite player -- Jeff Bagwell -- has had a pretty good week, too, having been elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

"I just feel in love with baseball at Minute Maid Park," LaFond said. "I knew that was something I wanted to try. I used to be the worst player on my team, but I stayed with it."

On Saturday, he did just what Hinch recommended: He treated the day as an opportunity.

"It's an honor and a blessing just to be invited to a thing like this," LaFond said. "You learn about other players and meet some new people. You learn something about yourself too."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.