When MLB Network first aired the opening round of baseball's draft in 2009, only one prospect accepted the invitation to attend the proceedings in Secaucus, N.J. For 24 selections, this player -- an in-state prep outfielder few people in the room had ever heard of -- patiently sat in Studio 42's third-base dugout with family and friends, waiting for his turn to be called, as television cameras kept zooming in on him for lack of an alternative.
This year, a record eight players will be in attendance on Thursday night, and two are friends who are expected to be waiting only half as long as Trout: Dominic Smith, a first baseman/outfielder from Gardena (Calif.) Serra High, and J.P. Crawford, a shortstop from Lakewood (Calif.) High.
"He's like a baseball brother I never had," Smith said of Crawford.
Baseball America touted Smith as a plus hitter from the left side who will likely grow into plus power and a potential Gold Glove defender at first base, noting that "scouts rave about his makeup and work ethic." Crawford, meanwhile, is hailed by BA as "the rare prep prospect with a real chance to play shortstop in the major leagues" and that he has good game awareness, range, an above-average arm and spray line-drive ability at the plate.
One prominent pre-draft storyline has centered on two friendly Georgia high school outfielders, Grayon High's Austin Meadows and Loganville High's Clint Frazier, who are part of a growing pipeline of players in that state, as recently profiled in Sports Illustrated by Albert Chen. But Crawford and Smith, who have played with or against each other in showcases and tournaments since they were about 13 years old, are also likely get drafted in the first half of the first round.
While Southern California is obviously not a new hotbed of talent, one important commonality between these two prospects is that they spent summers training at Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, which provides baseball and softball training and educational programs year-round and free of charge. Smith also played extensively in MLB's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
"It's almost like a validation of all the hopes and dream that you sell," Compton's UYA director, Darrell Miller, said. "We're trying to sell the inner city on baseball. It's relevant. You can make a difference, and you can make it in this game."
There are four UYAs in operation (also Houston, New Orleans and Gurabo, Puerto Rico) with three more in development (Cincinnati, the Miami area and Philadelphia), with more than 10,000 young men and women having attended one of the academies. Miller noted that the academies have helped create diversity off the field, too, with past participants now working in other areas of baseball, including scouting, minor league coaching and minor league umpiring.
Those league-sponsored programs have had increasing success developing elite players. A record 14 alumni of the RBI program were drafted last year, and 17 trainees at the Urban Youth Academies were selected. Two UYA alumni were first-round picks: last year's No. 1 overall selection, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, attended the academy in Puerto Rico, while Twins centerfielder Aaron Hicks, the No. 14 overall pick in 2008, trained at the Compton academy.
"They just helped me with all the little things [about the game] and getting a lot of exposure," Crawford said.
Smith echoed Crawford's praise of the baseball training and noted that the tutoring and SAT prep program helped him get admitted to USC, where both are committed if they decline to sign pro contracts. "They really had a major impact on my life," Smith said of RBI and the Compton UYA.
The academy was just one element of their respective developments. Smith said his role models were God, his parents and a mentor, Christine Sullivan; Crawford said Hicks has become a baseball mentor to him and that his older sister, Eliza, a softball player for Cal State Fullerton, was his earliest influence in the game. "She's always been on me and been pushing me to work," he said. (Also, Crawford's father, Larry, was a star in the Canadian Football League, and Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford is a relative.)
But both credit the academy for getting exposure in top tournaments around the country. Smith, for instance, has played games in Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium, Petco Park, Minute Maid Park and Wrigley Field.
Smith was at Dodger Stadium Friday night, in fact. In his final high school game he struck out nine batters in 6 1/3 innings and reached base four times on three walks and a single to lead Gardena Serra to its first state title, defeating Manhattan Beach Mira Costa in the Southern Section Division 3 championship.
"It finally paid off," Smith said of his team's hard work, "just to stand in Dodger Stadium and hold the trophy up."
"It wasn't the first time I was in a major league stadium, and hopefully it wasn't the last."
After Thursday night's draft, Crawford and Smith will know which stadiums they'll be aiming for.
? The Dodgers continue to be decimated with injuries, as centerfielder Matt Kemp and catcher A.J. Ellis have joined shortstop Hanley Ramirez and starters Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley on the disabled list. In all, Los Angeles has lost 13 players to 15 DL stints totaling 363 games. Plus, on Saturday, leftfielder Carl Crawford pulled up on the bases paths with a hamstring injury that left him out of Sunday's lineup; starter Hyun-Jin Ryu missed a start Sunday with a bruised left foot. It's looking harder and harder to blame their poor record on manager Don Mattingly.
? The season is now more than two months old, and James Loney is still hitting better than .325. Also, Kelly Johnson's OPS since May 1 is over 1.000, as the Tampa Bay continues to be a harbor for career resurrections.
? Look out for the Cardinals. Most importantly, the already-first place club promoted pitching prospect Michael Wacha -- the 6-foot-6 righthander whom one AL scout told SI had better stuff than Shelby Miller. The scout said that before the season and thus before Miller went 6-3 with a 1.82 ERA in 11 starts for St. Louis, but Wacha did have an auspicious debut, as he allowed one run on two hits to the Royals while striking out six and walking none over seven innings. But that's not all for St. Louis: Since May 17 previously slumping third baseman David Freese has a .357/.426/.667 batting line with three home runs in 12 games.
? Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche more than doubled his April OPS in May -- he had a .473 mark in the season's first month and a 1.024 mark in the second month.
? What Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown is doing is incredible: He became the first player in history to hit 10 or more homers in a month -- Brown hit 12 in May -- while not walking a single time. On Sunday, he added to the homer tally, with eight in his last 10 games, but he also walked to end that drought.
? Before last week, Houston had only won consecutive games on three occasions: one three-game winning streak and two back-to-back wins. Then the Astros won five straight, doing so all on the road (two in Colorado, three in Anaheim) for what may prove to be the season's most unlikely winning streak.
? The A's fell to 20-22 on May 15, but since then they have won 14 out of 16 games, during which time they've nearly doubled their opponents up on the scoreboard by scoring 72 runs and allowing only 40.
Three Up, Three Down: Competitive-balance draft picks
Debuting for the first time on Thursday, competitive-balance draft picks have been awarded to low-revenue and small-market ballclubs. Inclusion in the lottery was based on the business side of the game only, though the worst teams from 2011 had a greater chance of securing a higher pick in the lottery that occurred last July.
Initially, 12 picks were awarded -- six sandwiched between the first- and second-rounds, the other six placed between the second- and third-rounds -- though the Indians forfeited their added selection and second-round pick for their signings of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. And, for the first time, teams can choose to trade these draft picks, which happened in two deals last summer.
Miami doesn't have the first pick, but it's placed here because it has two of these new-fangled picks. (And, no, not because its on-field product suggests the team needs the extra help.) Notably, the Marlins don't own their original pick; they included the No. 39 overall selection along with starter Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante in last summer's trade with the Tigers, which netted three prospects (including starter Jacob Turner) and Detroit's pick, No. 73. Miami also acquired the second competitive-balance pick, No. 35, from Pittsburgh in last summer's trade involving first baseman Gaby Sanchez.
Kansas City won the lottery and gets the 34th overall pick in the draft, which is the first pick of competitive-balance Round A. Recent, notable No. 34 overall picks include Reds third baseman Todd Frazier (in 2007) and Rockies reliever Rex Brothers (in 2009).
Detroit, which was included in the lottery because it received revenue sharing money, is not the only playoff team to receive one of these picks, joined by Baltimore (No. 37), Cincinnati (No. 38) and Oakland (No. 71). But the Tigers made the World Series last year and, thanks to their trade with the Marlins, moved up 34 spots in the draft.
Milwaukee already lost its first-round pick when it signed free-agent starter Kyle Lohse and then received the second-worst pick in the competitive-balance lottery, No. 72.
2. Padres and Rockies
Five clubs have picks in Round B. Milwaukee fared the worst, as noted above; Miami has the last pick but also has one in Round A; Oakland won the AL West last year; and that leaves San Diego and Colorado as clubs who had losing records each of the last two seasons yet also lost the lottery, settling for Round B picks rather than Round A.
Good fan support and/or market size -- key factors in a team's financial performance -- are rarely, if ever, detrimental, but it's worth noting that the three pairs of teams above all reside in divisions where the other three ballclubs received competitive-balance draft picks.
Trend to track: Reliever usage
In 2011 the average start surpassed six innings for the first time since 1998 -- it was only a hair longer, at 6.03 innings, but it was still a milestone of sorts. Despite the dominance of pitching in today's game, that number has regressed to 5.89 innings last year and 5.87 innings this year.
That leaves a little more of the game for bullpens to cover, but there has been a slight trend this season toward having fewer relievers bridge that gap. On average each team is using 2.85 relievers per game, the lowest number since 2006. The average number of relievers per team per game last year was 2.99.
That 0.14 difference means one fewer call to the bullpen every seven games, which is about 23 fewer appearances over the course of a 162-game season; every little bit helps in saving arms from fatigue. (Each relief outing this season spans an average of 1.08 innings, slightly longer than any season since '06 as well.) Of course, this year's 2.85 mark is still 0.39 more than 15 years ago in 1998, a difference of 63 relief appearances over the course of the season.
Another side of . . . Jeremy Affeldt, Giants RP
After helping the Giants win their second World Series title in three years, reliever Jeremy Affeldt got to work. In addition to spending as much time as he could with his wife, Larisa, and three children, his winter work had as exhaustive a schedule as his spring-summer-fall day job. While most athletes are involved in charitable work of some kind, Affeldt has taken it to an extreme.
"When you win a World Series, there are a lot of doors that get opened up to you," he said this spring, "and I try to use them in the right way."
Affeldt has -- and then some. Consider his projects:
? Through Generation Alive, an organization he founded with his wife, Affeldt works to raise awareness and alleviate the pain of poverty. Both near his home in Spokane and in a visit to a middle school in Palo Alto, Calif., he engaged children in conversations about poverty and hunger, helped empower the children to raise money and then assisted in packaging meals. He said 400 students were involved at the Palo Alto event and helped package 100,000 meals. "I use the platform as an athlete to talk to kids about poverty and hunger and how we can help fight it," he said.
? Affeldt made visits to Spokane-area high school and college athletes about the experience of being an athlete and how one should conduct him- or herself. "Basically, I'm tired of seeing the negativity," he said.
? As an ambassador for Not For Sale, a non-profit dedicated to ending human trafficking and slavery, Affeldt helped recruit other major leaguers to get involved (there are more than 20), and he traveled to Korea and Thailand for five days, visiting an orphanage and a village where there are children who have been rescued from trafficking.
? He wrote a recently released book, To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice and Major League Baseball. He's the first to admit it was a collaborative effort, but he recorded 16 hours on 81 topics spanning his life story and his activism. Some friends transcribed the tape, then he edited his words into a book released by Beacon Hill Press.
? And, oh by the way, he needed to train and prepare not just for the Giants' season but he also needed to be in game shape earlier than usual for participation in the World Baseball Classic -- all this after the World Series run meant the season lasted a month longer than scheduled.
"It was a busy offseason," Affeldt said, "but for me it was positive."
The same came be said for his 2013 season: Affeldt has a 1.92 ERA, a .206 average against and eight holds in 21 appearances spanning 18 2/3 innings.
The Final Out
Some teams, whether they'll admit it or not, are waiting to promote their top prospects to the majors until after the risk for Super 2 eligibility has diminished, but remember that it's a relative cut-off point. Among players with more than two and less than three years of service time, the top 22 percent become Super 2 players eligible for four years of arbitration instead of three. The more that clubs hold back such young players, the later and later that deadline will be, thereby increasing the amount of time fans must wait to see many of the game's best young players.