Breakthrough Series ends with game at Minute Maid
After week of instruction, teenage prospects get chance to compete on big league field
HOUSTON -- On the final day of this year's Breakthrough Series, a few dreams came true.
The participants played a 10-inning game at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros. For the five dozen teenage prospects who have worked out for scouts and received instruction from former pro players this week, stepping on to a Major League diamond was the highlight of their baseball careers thus far.
"It's an honor, just to be in this atmosphere with these types of players," said Stars catcher Jerry Murillo. "Playing here at Minute Maid just made us all feel like big leaguers for a day."
This is the Series' sixth year as part of a combined effort by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball to spotlight and bolster the involvement of urban youth in the sport.
After playing a pair of intrasquad games at the Urban Youth Academy on Wednesday, the 60 players were divvied up into two teams, the Stars and Stripes, with the Stripes prevailing, 12-6. The game will be televised on MLB Network this Saturday at 11 a.m. ET.
The star of the contest was Sanger, Calif., pitcher Luis Ortiz, who started for the Stripes and pitched two no-hit innings, striking out four in the process.
According to Ortiz, who is considered to have Top-10 round potential in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, it was his circle changeup -- a rare pitch to see in a high-schooler's repertoire -- that impressed the most.
"I hardly ever throw it, and never in games really," said Ortiz, who's committed to Fresno State. "Every showcase I go to, I try to show them all my pitches."
Stars lefty starter and Atlanta product Cordarius Dorsey basically matched him, tossing two innings of one-hit, no-run ball.
Following three frames of lockdown pitching, the Stars got to Stripes reliever Dazon Cole for two runs in the fourth. Touted California outfielder Denz'l Chapman led off the frame with a walk and moved to second on an error. He swiped third on a double steal and then scored on a wild pitch.
Murillo, a local product, walked on the wild pitch, and his pinch-runner, James Davidson, eventually scored on Dalton Blumenfield's fielder's-choice groundout.
But the Stars really pulled away in the sixth, using a trio of Stripes errors to plate seven runs and grab a 10-0 advantage that the Stripes' late comeback couldn't match.
Overall, the teams combined for 10 errors and a slew of other passed balls or wild pitches, as the youngsters' bats seemed more developed than their glovework.
Even with a few sloppy innings, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was impressed by the play he saw on what is normally his team's home turf.
"There's some talented young men out there, for sure," Luhnow said. "We watch Major League baseball here every night, and you can dream on a lot of them out there. You can see them playing there some day. The speed and athleticism immediately caught my eye. There were parts that could have passed for the pro game."
Stripes infielder Harrison McElroy showed some of that athleticism Luhnow referenced when he made a running catch in foul territory, flipping over the railing -- a la Derek Jeter's famous catch against the Red Sox in 2004.
In addition to Chapman, Murillo and Ortiz, touted prospects like Joshua Morgan, Tyree Davis, Luis Alvarado and Roberto Gonzalez were also on display during the Breakthrough Series' inaugural year in Houston.
With only five local players, a midday start time and no surefire top Draft picks for 2014 in uniform, the crowd at Minute Maid for the event was sparse, consisting mostly of family and a few dozen scouts.
But Major League Baseball manager of baseball development Ben Baroody said his boss, MLB vice president, baseball development Frank Robinson, hopes to grow the showcase game into a major event for scouts and fans interested in baseball's next crop of stars.
Thursday's game came on the heels of three days of baseball preparation focused not just on the playing field.
During the week, umpires, NCAA compliance officials and scouts all made presentations to players, presenting and preparing the teenagers for futures via baseball, not just through being drafted out of high school.
"As high-level high school athletes that are getting attention from scouts and recruiters, you're looking to be drafted," Baroody said. "And that's what we ideally want.
"But we're also thinking about how we can prepare them for the future. What's the recruiting process like? What are the different options offered to them? What's a national letter of intent? Do you want to have a life in baseball? That's what we tried to offer the players this week."
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.