Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy is a perfect example of finding baseball the old-fashioned way -- developing it in a community's own backyard.
And the fruits of the labors of Academy director Darrell Miller and his staff have become more and more apparent with the past few First-Year Player Drafts.
In 2007, only five participants of the Compton, Calif., program were drafted. In 2008, the number rose into the teens, including a pair of first-rounders in Marlins catcher Kyle Skipworth, drafted with the No. 6 pick, and Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks, taken at No. 14.
This year, the tally continued to rise as 21 players who had some degree of involvement in the Academy's events were taken in the 2009 Draft.
In the four years that the academy has been in operation, it has had 28 of its players sign with Major League organizations.
"As a result of their hard work and the support of their families, their scholastic coaches and the instructors at Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy, these outstanding young players have the opportunity to realize a dream," said Darrell Miller, senior director of the Urban Youth Academy.
"The Draft results affirm that we are meeting the challenge in the area of player development. The lives of all the young people who participate in its programs are being impacted by the academy, including these young men who have the opportunity to go on to play with Major League organizations."
First-rounders and top Califoria prep prospects such as Orioles' fifth-overall pick Matt Hobgood of Norco High and shortstop Jiovanni Mier of Bonita High (No. 21 to Houston), both of whom participated in showcase events at the Academy, would have been first-round picks regardless of that exposure.
But the Academy is especially proud of another tier of graduates: Its local prospects who have honed their games in their own backyards.
"There are a lot of kids out there who play for smaller college, junior colleges, and they come and join our Academy Barons team, a summer league we started for kids who couldn't get on the more high-profile leagues," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations for MLB. "We make it economically feasible for them to go to many big tournaments they wouldn't otherwise be able to attend."
Six recent members of that squad were selected in the 2009 Draft, including three-time Barons veterans in outfielder Nicolas Akins, taken in the 19th round by the Dodgers out of Vanguard University, and catcher Trayvone Johnson, a Los Angeles City College product who was taken in the 30th round by the Minnesota Twins.
Other members of the Academy Barons who were taken in the 2009 Draft include outfielder Virgil Hill Jr. (son of the former light heavyweight champion) out of Los Angeles Mission College, in the sixth round by St. Louis; outfielder Khris Davis, taken by Milwaukee in the seventh round out of Cal State Fullerton; second baseman Joseph Terry, taken by Seattle in the 17th round out of Cerritos Junior College; and right-hander Shuhei Fujiaya, a University of Northern Iowa product drafted in the 18th round by San Diego.
Terry, too, was a Youth Academy regular, having played for both the Barons as well as the program's Scout Team, which plays a fall schedule.
Other Scout Team draftees include first baseman Jonathan Singleton, an eighth-round pick by the Phillies out of Milikan High School in Long Beach and outfielder Mykal Stokes, an Orange Coast College product taken in the 46th round by San Diego.
Outfielder Ronnie Richardson, an 11th-round pick by Minnesota out of Eagle Lake High School, was another of the most active Academy players to be drafted this year, with experience in its Breakthrough Series, a week-long showcase of games for scouts, its Japan travel team and its Tournament of Stars.
With the Academy based in Compton, Calif., the organization has made a point of focusing first on the local kids, as young as elementary-school age, bringing them to the 10-acre complex, where a staff of professionals and Academy alumni coach and train them.
In fact, a key part of the process is having the Academy's own success stories return to the fold to pass what they've learned along to the next generation.
"This way the young kids see these guys go on to have success," said Solomon, "and they can say 'I know him, he's my friend.'"
Last year, for example, both Hicks and outfielder Anthony Gose, the Philadelphia Phillies' second-round pick, were very active in that capacity.
"Aaron actually signed his first contract at the Academy, because he wanted people to come out and see it," Solomon said. "And part of the obligation of coming through the Academy is to work there and give back to the community and the kids that follow you."
The Academy offers more to the community than just on-field preparation. It also uses its facilities to provide training programs for aspiring umpires and groundskeepers, with several alumni working in that capacity in the Minors.
Not to mention the number of Academy players who have parlayed their experience into higher education.
"We're proud of the numbers we have on the field," Solomon said, "but we're no less proud of the less 'sensational' numbers among the 2,500 kids who come through here every year, such as the kids we have on baseball scholarships at colleges, who now have a chance to live a meaningful and successful life."
While, for now, the lone Academy is in California, that won't be the case for long. Construction is about to begin on a facility at Sylvester Turner Park in Acres Homes, Texas, in conjunction with the Houston Astros, which is expected to be up and running by fall.
Also in the works are facilities in Hialeah, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia.
Drafted players who participated in Academy events
Nicholas Akins (19th round, 577th overall, Dodgers): Left fielder from Vanguard University. He played at Riverside Community College in 2008. This was his third time drafted. He is a member of the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League.
"This is my third time being drafted, so I am signing for sure," Akins said. "It's kind of crazy that I am about to go out and chase my dream."
Marc Baca (42nd round, 1,255th overall, Pirates): Right-handed pitcher from UNLV. He played with the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League in 2008. He served as the Rebels' closer in 2009, saving three games and posting a 3-1 record.
Blake Crosby (42nd round, 1,263rd overall, Athletics): First baseman at Cal State-Sacramento. He currently serves as a summer baseball instructor for the MLB Urban Youth Academy. He hit .397 with four home runs and 47 RBIs in 2009. His brother is A's infielder Bobby Crosby.
Khristopher Davis (seventh round, 226th overall, Brewers): Right fielder from Cal State-Fullerton. He is a member of the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League. He leads the Titans in doubles (24), home runs (16), and RBIs (57) while batting .336.
Shuhei Fujiya (18th round, 534th overall, Padres): Right-handed pitcher from the University of Northern Iowa. He is a member of the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League. He tied the University of Northern Iowa's career saves record (10) and earned Honorable Mention on the All-Missouri Valley Conference Team.
Mario Gallardo (47th round, 1,416th overall, Diamondbacks): Left-handed pitcher from West Los Angeles College. He is a member of the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League.
Virgil Hill (sixth round, 189th overall, Cardinals): Center fielder from Los Angeles Mission College. He is a member of the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League. He batted .462 with 10 home runs, 48 RBIs and 27 stolen bases in 2009. His father, Virgil Hill, Sr., won a silver medal boxing in the 1984 Olympics.
Chris Jacobs (37th round, 1,116th overall, Diamondbacks: An outfielder at Westchester High School, he led his team to the Los Angeles City Section Division II Championship, hitting .500 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs.
Trayvone Johnson (30th round, 912th overall, Twins): A catcher, he is a member of the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League.
Paul Michael Klingsberg (49th round, 1,482nd overall, Twins: First baseman from Cal State-Dominguez Hills. He participated in a workout for Major League scouts at the Academy. He hit .355 with 44 RBIs and 21 doubles and set a record by hitting three doubles in one game.
David Peters (16th round, 488th overall, Marlins: Catcher from Lakewood High School. He was a member of the Academy scout team and competed in the Tournament of Stars at the Academy. He hit .389 with 11 doubles and 39 RBIs.
Ronnie Richardson (11th round, 342nd overall, Twins: Center fielder from Lake Region High School in Florida. He participated on the Academy's Japan team, in the Breakthrough Series and in the Tournament of Stars. He stole 31 bases in 2009.
Jonathan Singleton (eighth round, 257th overall, Phillies: First baseman from Long Beach Millikan High School. He was a member of the Academy scout team. He hit .321 with four home runs and 25 RBIs in 2009.
Tyler Skaggs (Compensation Round A, 40th overall, Angels): Left-handed pitcher from Santa Monica High School. He competed in the Tournament of Stars at the Academy. Considered one of the top left-handed pitchers in the Draft, he threw 48 innings, posting a 1.60 ERA and 76 strikeouts.
Mykal Stokes (46th round, 1,374th overall, Padres): Center fielder from Orange Coast College. He was a member of the Academy scout team. As a freshman, he helped Orange Coast to a state title, batting .332 with 62 hits, 30 RBIs and 43 runs.
Darnell Sweeney (41st round, 1,238th overall, Marlins): Shortstop from American Senior High School in Florida. He participated on the academy's Japan team and in the Breakthrough Series. He was named to the Class 6A All-State team in 2009, hitting .358 with 25 stolen bases.
Josef Terry (17th round, 503rd overall, Mariners): Second baseman from Cerritos College. He was a member of the Academy scout team and the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League. He was named the South Coast Conference Player of the Year and led Cerritos in batting average (.426), hits (72), runs (50), and RBIs (57).
"I was shocked and overwhelmed," Terry said. "It's my first time being drafted. Baseball has always been my escape. If I had a problem, I would just go out and play baseball. It has just always been my way to rescue me, so it just made my dream come true."
Ivory Thomas (42nd round, 1,271st overall, Astros): Center fielder from Downey High School. He was a member of the Academy scout team and Japan team. A first team All-CIF player and known for his speed, he stole 24 bases while batting .391 with 17 RBIs.
Trayce Thompson (second round, 61st overall, White Sox: Center fielder from Santa Margarita High School. He is the son of former NBA standout Mychal Thompson. He hit .339 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs.
Nick Wagner (44th round, 1,330th overall, Blue Jays): Outfielder from Santa Margarita High School. He played on the Academy's scout team for two years and appeared before Major League scouts in the 2008 showcase event. He hit .380 with 14 RBIs and 11 doubles in 2009.
Kyle Witten (41st round, 1,223rd overall, Mariners): right-handed pitcher from Cal State-Fullerton. He is in his second season with the Academy Barons in the summer California Collegiate League.
Drafted players seen through showcase events at the academy for the MLB Scouting Bureau:
Nolan Arenado (second round, 59th overall, Rockies): Shortstop from El Toro High School. He hit .529 with three home runs, 14 doubles and 19 RBIs in 2009, leading El Toro to the championship game of the Anderson Bat National Classic.
Arthur Charles (39th round, 1,172nd overall, Royals): First baseman from Bakersfield College. Only a freshman, he hit .244 and was second on the team in RBIs (27), while showcasing his defensive skills at first base with a .978 fielding percentage.
Matthew Hobgood (first round, fifth overall, Orioles): A 6-4, 245-pound pitcher for Norco High School. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009, posting an 11-1 record, 0.92 ERA, 101 strikeouts and 26 walks in 68 1/3 innings. He hit .475 and blasted 21 home runs.
Kristopher Hobson (sixth round, 190th overall, Blue Jays): First baseman/outfielder from Stockdale High School. The son of former Red Sox third baseman Butch Hobson, he hit .488 and posted 13 home runs and 47 RBIs.
Jarret Martin (18th round, 536th overall, Orioles): Left-handed pitcher from Bakersfield College. While pitching in only five games due to injury, he struck out 24 batters in 15 2/3 innings and posted a 1.72 ERA.
Jiovanni Mier (first round, 21st overall, Astros): A shortstop from Bonita High School who reminds many of Nomar Garciaparra. He impressed scouts with his defense at the Academy showcase and has some pop in his bat, hitting .394 with five home runs and 10 doubles.
David Nick (fourth round, 126th overall, Diamondbacks): Shortstop from Cypress High School. He was named First Team All-County and hit .388 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs.
Brooks Pounders (second round, 53rd overall, Pirates): Right-handed pitcher from Temecula Valley High School. He posted a 7-3 record with a 1.82 ERA and hit .333 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs in 2009.