Once upon a time, an aspiring baseball prospect from the Northeast had many obstacles to overcome just to get onto the scouting radar.
But the advent of elite summer showcases and all-star travel teams have made chasing the dream of becoming a big leaguer a lot closer to reality for the northern talent.
"While you used to see a fair amount of rawness to the Northeast kids, it's not the case as much anymore, as a result of this travel showcase baseball," said Tim Wilken, the Chicago Cubs' director of scouting. "These guys are getting to play a fair amount more than they used to and they know how to play the game. They've seen better quality competition, and the learning curve for them isn't as tough as it used to be."
"The kids in the cold-weather areas from Virginia on up are just getting better and better from those showcases," added Eddie Bane, director of amateur scouting for the Los Angeles Angels. "You rarely see the kid who is really crude anymore."
One such beneficiary of this new trend is 17-year-old New Jersey outfield sensation Mike Trout, who is expected to be a high pick in the First-Year Player Draft on June 9.
Sure, he's from the south -- south Jersey, that is. Born and raised in Millville, about a half-hour from Atlantic City and an hour from Philadelphia, Trout grew up on a steady diet of baseball, mid-Atlantic weather conditions notwithstanding.
His dad, Jeff, was a fifth-round pick by Minnesota in 1983 out of the University of Delaware and played for four years in the Twins system, an infielder who hit a combined .303 in that span, making it as high as Double-A Orlando.
Trout and his family definitely fell on the side of the state bordering to their south rather than to their northeast, though, when it came to their baseball loyalties.
"Everyone in my family loves the Phillies," he said, singling out his own favorite Phillies player. "Chase Utley -- he just plays hard and loves to play, he's always out there trying to win."
Trout couldn't put a finger on the moment when he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. It was just always a done deal in his mind.
"All my life I've wanted to be a pro baseball player," said Trout, the youngest of three siblings. "I just love playing baseball and every time I step onto the field I have fun doing it."
And while some parents might have tried to steer their baby on a career path that had better odds for success, Jeff and Debbie Trout's own history and passion for the game had them firmly on his side from the beginning.
So they not only encouraged their son, they made sure that when the time came that he qualified to participate in some of the bigger showcases and travel teams, he'd be able to do so.
"About two summers ago I started going to summer tournaments, playing travel ball with the Tri-State Arsenal," Trout recalled of the elite travel squad that comprises New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. "They offered some good showcases and my parents said to choose a couple and they'd send me."
Trout and his family realized that the top players in the country were all getting the opportunity to play with or against each other, and that was what he needed as well.
"Staying in New Jersey wasn't going to do anything for me," he said. "I had to go out and showcase."
Which he did. Last summer, he got to play for Team USA, teaming up with players such as left-handed pitcher Tyler Matzek, from Southern California, and right-hander Jacob Turner, from St. Louis -- both of whom are predicted to be first-round Draft picks like Trout.
"It was a great experience," said Trout, who spent the beginning of the summer with Team USA in North Carolina and Arizona before playing for the Angels scout team at a showcase in Florida and in the elite Area Code Games in California as a member of the New York Yankees scout team.
Of course, qualifying for this elite level of summer play takes a little more than just signing on the dotted line and filling out forms. You have to have talent, and Trout has that to spare.
Already viewed as a true center fielder despite having just moved there from shortstop, Trout has impressed with his plus speed, strong arm, fine defensive capabilities and live bat. Most scouts believe his power will develop. He's just started switch-hitting, and while that's a work in progress, it seems to be going well. A fine athlete with a strong build, his upside is high.
"His range is good, he reads the ball well and I think he's a well-balanced player," said another NL scout. "It's not a bad guess that he could go high in the first round, because if he's a big league center fielder, he could fit some teams' needs."
But while Trout's talent got him the summer opportunities that put him on the scouts' maps, one thing it couldn't do was control the weather when the scouts followed those directions.
The 2009 spring has not been kind to the Northeast Corridor and that cost the Millville Thunderbolts several games, both at the beginning of the season and the end.
But head coach Roy Hallenbeck made a point of creating every possible chance for his players to be seen, even if he had to manufacture them and work through the windows in the weather, dancing between the raindrops.
"It was hard for me because I wanted to play; everyone wanted to play," Trout said. "But our coach was always there, setting up BP early to throw to me, and e-mailing guys to come out to the field. If we didn't have a game, they'd come to the cage in our gym on rainy days to watch us take our swings."
After several games were rained out to open the season, rain fell again this past week, postponing some of the final games on the Thunderbolts' schedule. The forecast is better for Saturday and Sunday, when the team is scheduled to play its final two games.
While it was no doubt disappointing for Trout and his fellow Thunderbolts teammates to have their season end on such a soggy note, it wasn't enough to dampen the enthusiasm of the teams that have been watching him.
"He's a very good athlete who hasn't played as much baseball as some of the southern or western kids, but he's a guy whose best days are ahead of him and he's got a chance to be a complete player," said one NL scout. "A very talented guy who could be a five-tool player."
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11, on MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on June 9, noon on June 10 and 11:30 a.m. on June 11.