2017 Rookie Career Development Program
Some of these young players were top prospects, some were guys who signed in later rounds or as free agents and have worked their way up through the system, and others began their ascent in baseball in foreign countries. Some had a little bit of service time already, most didn’t.
What they all had in common is that they are on the precipice of a career in Major League Baseball and their clubs and their union wants to ensure they have the best chance to succeed on the merits of their skill and abilities.
Early each January, all 30 clubs are asked to send the 2-3 prospects from their organization that they believe will spend their first significant amount of time in the major leagues that year to the Rookie Career Development program at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg, Va.
The intensive four-day orientation program, which was held Jan. 5-8 this year, seeks to help prepare the young players for the many ways their lives are about to change – from dealing with media to handling their finances to sorting through competing demands for their time.
“This is a great opportunity, especially to hear from some of the ex-players like Dave Winfield and hear about their experiences,” said Chance Sisco, a top catching prospect in the Orioles’ system. “There’s a lot to learn from them.”
This year marked the 26th year of this successful joint venture between MLB and the Players Association. It has evolved over that time along with the world and the industry.
Through a series of discussions, improvisational skits and breakout sessions, the young players begin to understand the many ways in which their lives are going to be affected, both positively and negatively, and start to develop strategies that are right for them.
A constant in recent years has been the improvisation of Second City, a Chicago-based troupe that works with MLB and the Players Association to develop a series of skits that mimic sticky real-life situations that many ballplayers encounter over their careers. The skits invite interpretation, plenty of laughs and, most important, invite discussion about how best to handle that type of situation.
The 109 players attending, including 29 Spanish-speaking players, took part in sessions including “Healthy Relationships,” “Family Demands,” “Protecting Your Career,” “Financial Responsibility.”
But some of the best learning of the four-day program comes from the panels and between-session conversations that take place with former and active players who attend each year to support the young players. When big leaguers talk, prospects listen because they know the players offer first-hand, unvarnished practical experience.
Former players including Dave Gallagher, Jeffrey Hammonds, Vance Law, Jim Poole, Jeff Reboulet, Steve Rogers, Bob Tewksbury, Dave Valle and Jose Veras serve as “resource” players for the prospects and make themselves available to answer questions and provide advice.
“I’d heard about the program from some of the guys who had been here before,” Sisco said. “So when I got the call from our farm director I was excited to be selected to represent the Orioles and have this opportunity to learn from people who have been in the big leagues.”
“It’s an eye-opening experience for all of us here,” said Hunter Renfroe, an outfielder from Jackson, Miss., who had 36 at-bats with the Padres in September. “It’s great to be able to hear what it’s like from some of the older guys who have been there.”
Adam Ottavino of the Rockies, a five-year veteran, volunteered to join the group on Friday to speak on a panel called “Making the Transition” along with Hammonds, Reboulet and Veras.
“It’s really cool to be part of this,” Ottavino said. “I just wanted to share some of my experience. Getting called up for the first time is a challenging thing for a young player, just getting used to the life and all the new things that are expected of you.
“Even if I could be a small help to even one guy get prepared for the next phase of his professional life it would all be worth it.”
Ottavino, 31, wasn’t among those selected for the program before he made his major-league debut in 2010.
“I wasn’t and I wish I was,” the pitcher said. “I was very nervous when I made that transition but I was lucky to have some older guys to help me along. This program is really great. It gives people an idea of what to expect.”
And maybe the most popular session of all takes place Saturday when Executive Director Tony Clark addresses the prospects during a session dedicated to the Major League Baseball Players Association.“It was great getting to know about the union and what the Players Association can do for you,” said Trey Mancini, a 24-year-old Orioles prospect and former Notre Dame standout who made his big-league debut in September. “I had a chance to listen to Tony speak to us in Sarasota during Spring Training, but the meeting today was even more informative coming right after negotiations for our new collective bargaining agreement.”