RBI provides baseball after high school

Last week I wrote about how Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) has given opportunities to high school kids on the baseball field that they never had before. This week, I look at how the Cubs perceive the potential and risk of RBI products.

Baseball games and cultural bonding are not the only opportunities that RBI provides. This year alone, three kids from the Chicago RBI league were drafted in the First-Year Player Draft. Julian Kenner of Whitney Young (Chicago, IL) and Steven Florence of Simeon (Chicago, IL) were drafted by the White Sox, while Troy White of Whitney Young was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.

Even though RBI is giving these kids new possibilities, it is dragging behind with player development that may be found in other communities that have more money, space and qualified coaches. Therefore, many of the players that come out of programs like RBI are what scouts call “toolsy.” This means that they posses many of baseball’s five tools–the abilities to hit for power, hit for average, run, field and throw–but are not polished baseball players yet. This is best exemplified by their draft rounds. Kenner was the first of the three RBI players drafted after being taken in the 45th round.

Oneri Fleita, Cubs vice president of player personnel, explained how taking a risk on a “toolsy” player over a polished player can be worth it in the long run.

“You might find a guy who is very polished, who can do a lot of thing now, yet he doesn’t have a lot of ceiling,” Fleita said. “The raw guy trails that guy a little bit but has tools that can look so superior to [the more polished player] when he’s on, on a particular day. But on other days it can look like he is a freshman in high school, and the other guy’s a senior. But over the course of time, if you let them keep playing, that freshman, if he ever catches up to his abilities, will certainly shine, and the other guy may end up shining his shoes.”

Taking risks on raw players also means allotting more time to development. For Fleita, this means finding the right team and level to place unrefined talent.

“You might have a 22- or 23-year-old who can really run, who was drafted as a senior-sign, that you’re really hoping will hit, but you know he will be overmatched at the next level up,” he said. “That’s why we have levels. That’s why we have a Rookie club in Mesa [Ariz.] and the Rookie club in Boise [Idaho]. We try to separate them a little bit based on [readiness].”

Chicago has talented but raw players that scouts are discovering because of RBI. Major-league teams are willing to take a risk on them because of the potential upside that many “toolsy” players have shown in the past. It’s not hard to believe that the kids who played on Wrigley Field on Aug. 12 for the RBI Chicago Championships will one day play there as professionals.

Zach Martin

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