Home Pro MLB

Nightengale: As MLB Aims to Attract African American Pitchers, Greene May be Model

440
0
Hunter Greene is one of the top amateur baseball players in the country. Photo: Baseball America

The name is Hunter Greene.

You may not know it, but every team in baseball recognizes that he’s perhaps the most gifted amateur baseball player in this country, projected to be the first player chosen in June’s draft.

Greene, who attended the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. since he was 7, also represents Major League Baseball’s potential star role model in its battle to reverse the industry’s scarcity of African-American players.

Greene, 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, who throws 98-mph with a solid slider and changeup, could become the first right-handed high-school pitcher selected with the No. 1 overall pick. When Greene isn’t pitching, he plays shortstop, possessing tremendous bat skills with sheer, raw power.

He’s America’s amateur version of Shohei Otani, Japan’s two-way baseball star who will become one of baseball’s highest-paid players once he comes over to this country.

Greene will be the centerpiece this weekend in Major League Baseball’s inaugural “Dream Series,’’ in Tempe, Ariz., providing exposure to about 65 minority pitchers and catchers, primarily African-Americans.

MLB, with its African-American population hovering around 8%, is now trying to focus efforts on attracting more pitchers and catchers.

There were only 14 African-American pitchers on opening day rosters last year – 1.6% of all major-league pitchers – and just one black Canadian-born catcher.

Considering every team employs 12 or 13 pitchers on their 25-man roster, along with at least two catchers, nearly 60% of job opportunities are unavailable if you don’t play those positions.

Now, with the help of Greene, and baseball’s Dream Series, baseball is hoping to show that it’s cool to be a pitcher or catcher, while also inviting collegiate and professional scouts to take a look for themselves this weekend at the Los Angeles Angels’ spring-training complex.

“I love pitching,’’ Greene told USA TODAY Sports, “but there’s so few African-American pitchers I see out there. As far as catching, maybe there’s only one or two African-Americans I’ve ever seen, and none in our league.

“Maybe there just hasn’t been as many opportunities, I don’t know, but hopefully that can change.’’

Darrell Miller, director of MLB’s Urban Youth Academy, believes a renewed focus on pitching and catching should make a difference. It’s absurd that Canadian-born Russell Martin of the Toronto Blue Jays is baseball’s lone black catcher. There hasn’t been an everyday African-American catcher since Charles Johnson 12 years ago.

Perhaps if more African-Americans are funneled into these positions, MLB reasons, this spiral could end.

“I honestly have no idea why it got to be like this,’’ said Miller, who spent parts of five years as a major-league catcher. “I remember taking a [recent] picture with Charles Johnson and Lenny Webster. I’m thinking, “Wow, when have we ever seen three African-American catchers in the same room at the same time.

“It’s a little bit like the quarterback syndrome in football. The catcher is the quarterback, he runs the game, and there has to be a lot of trust in that regard.

“Maybe it’s our fault, too. Maybe we haven’t sold it right. These kids want to hit, want to be an athlete, and show athleticism. We’ve got to show them if you want to be in the big leagues, maybe the best way is through pitching or catching.

“That’s why this Dream Series is really important, making that message apparent to these young gifted African-American athletes.’’

Just in case these kids wonder whether there can actually be a career opportunity on the pitcher’s mound or behind the plate, there will be prime examples this weekend serving as instructors under coordinator Jerry Manuel. Former major-league pitchers Dave Stewart, LaTroy Hawkins, Ken Hill, Marvin Freeman and Darren Oliver will be on hand, as well as Johnson and Webster as catching coordinators.

“I’m just ecstatic to see this happening,’’ says Hawkins, a catcher and pitcher throughout his high school career in Gary, Ind., before embarking on a 21-year major-league career as a pitcher. “I haven’t seen a black catcher since Charles Johnson. And now to see these many African-American pitchers and catchers all together, it can give them hope.’’

Greene, who committed to UCLA but is expected to turn pro, says he relishes the opportunity to be a role model, no matter if he’s a pitcher or shortstop. No offense to Greene’s future employer’s desires, but MLB would love to see him make it as a pitcher.

“If you see a guy like Hunter become a really high pick as a pitcher,’’ Miller says, “I’d be thrilled. Talking about it is one thing, but seeing guys come through the academies, and the impact he could have on the mound, it gives these kids a vehicle, knowing there’s a chance.

“That’s really what this is about, giving kids the best opportunity. And if you want to increase your chances of playing in the major leagues, you’d be foolish to pass up the opportunity to be a pitcher or catcher.

“We have never driven that message home before, but we sure are now.’’

Perhaps, just in time.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here