Urban Academy alums do well in Draft
Scouts enjoy watching players in controlled environment
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Aaron Hicks got most of the attention on Thursday at the Milk House simply because he chose to attend the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. While Hicks' presence made him the de facto face of Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., it didn't make him the program's lone representative.
Nine players with ties to the Academy were drafted on Thursday. Hicks and Kyle Skipworth went in the first round. Zach Collier and Mike Montgomery were selected in the Compensation round. That's a marked contrast to last year, when five Academy players were taken in the entire Draft.
It was the beginning of a wonderful two days for the project, which has drawn universal praise since its inception earlier this decade. The Urban Youth Academy has become an integral part in the First-Year Player Draft. Academy senior director Darrell Miller didn't have final figures as to how many players with Academy ties were drafted, but at least 18 had their names called over the two days. Miller expects to have a list sometime this weekend.
"We didn't have a number in mind going in, but I was hoping we'd get about 10 guys picked," Miller said. "There were guys I thought we might be able to help out a little bit -- eight, nine, 10 guys. But I feel very blessed and fortunate to see how many kids we had go. It seems to be working.
"We're very proud. We're fortunate and happy that we're able to contribute. This is great for baseball in America, great for African-Americans playing and a great tool for all the clubs and the scouting bureau, which uses us to help showcase players. It's a win, win, win, because we have our kids exposed."
"The Academy is giving scouts a tremendous opportunity to see the players in a controlled environment," said Frank Marcos, the director of Major League Baseball's Scouting Bureau. "That's a big part of it. The word is out among the kids. When they are done playing in the offseason with their teams over the summer, they want to go to the Academy and get the better-skilled teaching.
"What kid wouldn't want to go there? Word is out among the players about what the Academy has to offer."
Florida made Skipworth the sixth overall selection and hopes to have the catcher signed and on its Gulf Coast League roster by the end of the month. The Marlins were impressed with Skipworth, who had worked out for several teams that had scouted him at the Academy. He's drawn comparisons to Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
"The Marlins targeted me more than any other team had," Skipworth said. "There would be games where they'd have four or five guys there. I saw them going into the Draft as the best fit for me. I felt it was the best possibility for me to fit in, and move up through the system. I couldn't be happier right now."
The same can be said for Hicks, who was all smiles as he paraded around the Milk House on Thursday afternoon, doing television appearances, shaking hands with baseball dignitaries and walking on stage to hold up a Twins jersey next to Commissioner Bud Selig.
"He's such a great young man and his being here speaks volumes about the type of player he's going to be," Miller said. "He has the courage to come to the Draft, and he's the only [eligible player] here. He's a kid with tremendous courage, and he puts in on the line every day. Whatever he does, he puts it out there.
"We're thrilled to have him representing the Academy. He's a great kid, and I hope it all works out well for him."
The Phillies actively sought out Academy proteges, taking Collier with the 34th overall selection and fellow California prep outfielder Anthony Gose in the second round (51st pick). Philadelphia scouting director Marti Wolever said Collier was a "Garrett Anderson-type" while Phils area scout Tim Kissner added Gose has "Very good instincts in center field with a true cannon for an arm. He's a run-saver in center field."
"I absolutely think [the Academy] enhances the status of a lot of kids that probably wouldn't get the opportunity," Wolever said.
Other Academy alumni selected on Day 1 included Montgomery (36th overall to Kansas City); Cutter Dykstra, son of Lenny Dykstra, who was tabbed by the Brewers in the second round; Tyler Chatwood (74th to the Angels); Clark Murphy (fifth round, Texas) and Chris Smith (fifth round, Yankees).
It didn't take long for the Academy to make its presence felt on Friday either. The Marlins tabbed outfielder Isaac Galloway out of Los Osos High in the eighth round. A productive center fielder, Galloway has committed to play at San Diego State. He may not sign, because its doubtful the Marlins would go over the slot number for an eighth-round selection.
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.