Prospects Take Center Stage At Dream Series Over MLK Weekend
Major League Baseball and USA Baseball joined forces to host the Fourth annual Dream Series event over the MLK weekend.
Approximately 80 high school baseball players, predominantly African-American, from across the United States converged in Tempe, Arizona for four long days of instruction and mentoring by a staff of former major league players and coaches. The attendees participated in bullpen sessions, fielding drills and batting practice during the daily workouts at Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring home of the Los Angeles Angels, while also attending evening presentations consisting of motivational speeches and potential baseball career opportunities.
What was most impressive about this year’s event was the caliber of players, with many of the top-ranked high school athletes from the 2021 and 2022 classes in attendance. The selection of players for the Dream Series is part of an ongoing process that MLB has had in place to prepare the best players for a career in baseball. The Dream Series workouts focus primarily on minorities and inner city youth, according to Del Matthews, MLB’s Senior Director of Baseball Development.
"We’ve actually had these young men since their freshman years in high school, some of them even eighth graders,” Matthews said. "They’ve continued to get better so now their names are recognizable because they’ve gone to some other events and they’ve stood out. We have an identification tour that we use --- our MLB tour. We go around to some of the inner cities around the country and we do a one-day pro workout, and we’ll get recommendations from that. We have some of the best of the best, so that we really give them the opportunity that when they get to the next level, they feel comfortable, they’re ready to go, and they’re fine-tuned and polished.”
For the past three years the Tempe version of the Dream Series has included only pitchers and catchers, but this year’s event added infielders and outfielders. While the participants don’t play competitive games, there are plenty of development opportunities through fielding drills and batting practice sessions, monitored closely by the plethora of experienced coaches working the event.
"We want to take the event to the next level,” Matthews said. "We were kind of brainstorming with Tony Reagins (MLB’s Executive Vice President of Baseball & Softball Development) about how we can add to the camp. We said, we’re doing pitchers and catchers, why don’t we add a defensive component. We talked to Ron Washington, who’s one of the best infield gurus, and he said he wanted to come down. We said we’d add the outfielders and the infielders, and we’ll focus on some of the fundamentals of defense. Just another opportunity to get better in a different part of the game.”
Among the top high school talent attending the Dream Series were Chase Davis (2020 outfielder from Elk Grove, California committed to Arizona), Christian Little (2021 righthanded pitcher from St. Louis committed to Vanderbilt), Tyree Reed (2021 outfielder from Vallejo, California committed to Oregon State), Termarr Johnson (2022 shortstop from Atlanta), Elijah Green (2022 outfielder from Kissimmee, Florida committed to Miami), Druw Jones (2022 outfielder from Norcross, Georgia committed to Vanderbilt) and Matthew Porchas (2022 righthanded pitcher from Ladera Ranch, California commited to Texas).
One of the more recognizable names at the event was Georgia Tech commit Marquis Grissom Jr. Unlike his famous father who had a 17-year career as a major league outfielder, the younger Grissom is a righthanded pitcher. Grissom, a high school senior eligible for the 2020 draft, first came to the Dream Series as a high school freshman and has participated in all four years of the event.
"I learn something every year from these new coaches,” Grissom said. "They got to where I want to be, so I’m just learning, picking their brains, and asking everything I want to know about my mechanics, my pitch location and command, and not worrying about velocity. That’s where I can just focus on my strengths and weaknesses.”
As expected, Grissom has a rich background from being around the game, not just learning from his father but also his uncle, Antonio Grissom, a former minor league outfielder and currently the head coach at Morehouse College in Atlanta. His background is not just an advantage for Grissom Jr., but also for those with whom he plays.
"Just the IQ of being around the game my whole life,” Grissom said about what he’s been able to pick up from his family and share with others. "I feel like I have a little IQ over some people, and I can teach other people.”
With a lean, projectable body at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Grissom has room to get stronger. His fastball sits in the low 90s, touching 94, complemented with a pitch mix consisting of a slider, curveball and changeup. He’s working on using his curveball more in order to give batters a different look, and Grissom knows its his biggest area for improvement.
"I always can work on command to get that better,” Grissom said. "Mainly to have feel for all of my pitches and know where they’re going.”
One-time major league hurler Marvin Freeman has been a coach at the Dream Series every year in addition to working with the young pitcher at Grissom Sr.’s Atlanta baseball academy. He elaborated in more detail about Grissom Jr.’s development needs as well as his strengths.
"Right now, we’ve just been trying to command his breaking ball to both sides of the plate,” Freeman said. "His slider is probably one of his better pitches, but since he doesn’t have a really good grasp of how to command it, he doesn’t have the confidence to throw it in any kind of situation. I think his changeup is one of the best I’ve seen … having a feel (for it) as young as he is … His fastball command has been outstanding where he can control it to both sides of the plate.”
Grissom gets more than family reinforcement in his baseball development, as he also soaks in as much as he can by watching major league pitchers, specifically Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole.
"Just the way they attack the zone and get in the strike zone,” Grissom said, "that’s the main thing I focus on. Strike one is the best pitch in the game.”
Druw Jones is another notable prospect from the Atlanta area, with the high school sophomore being two years behind Grissom. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because his given name is Andruw Jones Jr., the son of another outfielder with a storied 17-year major league career. The 16-year-old Jones is the No. 5 high school prospect in the 2022 draft class and has already secured a prestigious Vanderbilt commitment.
Jones put on an impressive display during the Dream Series batting practice sessions, launching multiple balls out of the yard. He’s got plenty of power now, and he projects to be able to add strength to his 6-foot-3, 168-pound athletic frame. Jones is a five-tool prospect noted for his solid makeup and instincts for the game, not surprising since he’s had a good role model in his father.
"He just tells me to keep grinding every day, keep working hard and just do your thing out there,” Jones said. "Don’t let any outside distractions get you and just keep working.”
Jones believes that his outfield defense is his strength right now, but that he needs to keep working on speed and agility.
"I’m an alright runner, but I feel like I can get faster,” he said.
While his father came from the island country of Curacao, the younger Jones was born and raised in the Atlanta area. They still have family on the island, and his father’s status as a native son who became a major league star gives Jones a strong connection even though he’s never lived in Curacao. When asked if he can speak any Papiamentu, the Creole language of the Caribbean Dutch islands, he said he only knows how to say good night—"Bon nochi.”
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Arkansas high school right-hander Markevian Hence got perhaps the most attention from major league scouts during his Dream Series bullpen sessions. The draft-eligible high school senior possesses a lightning quick arm from a slender frame and a solid track record. He also won’t turn 18 until August, making him younger than many of his peers.
Despite his 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame, Hence is able to deliver a fastball in the mid 90s with sinking action and shows a potential plus slider that’s his swing-and-miss pitch. He keeps that arm speed through his strength and conditioning workouts, staying away from the heavier weights and focusing more on working with bands to keep the looseness in his arm.
Like many of the other Dream Series attendees, Hence is learning more about the mental side of baseball during the sessions in Tempe.
"It’s basically a mental part of the game,” Hence said. "I know it’s my last year (in high school) and they say to just go out and have fun. But at the same time, I’ve just got to keep working hard. I like how they just teach me the mental part of the game.”
Hence is committed to the University of Arkansas, and as a lifelong Razorbacks fan he’ll be very happy to head there in the fall if he doesn’t sign with a major league organization.
"It’s just the atmosphere and the fans,” Hence said. "Growing up I was always a fan and going to games, and a couple of friends are going there. It was a big choice for me.”
In addition to the aforementioned Washington and Freeman, other members of the Dream Series coaching staff included Mike Scioscia (his first year at the event), Jerry Manual, Ken Hill, Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos, Garvin Alston, Bob Didier, Ty Waller, Reggie Williams, Lenny Webster, Anthony Manual, Lou Collier and LaTroy Hawkins.