7/21/2014 6:23 P.M. ET
Crawford hasn't forgotten his UYA roots
19-year-old prospect wants to give back to MLB's academy in Compton
By Ben Platt / MLB.com
Recently J.P. Crawford walked into the USA Team clubhouse at Target Field in Minneapolis to take part in the 2014 Futures Game.
Three lockers to his left was 2013 Golden Spikes winner and Cubs prospect, Kris Bryant. Four Lockers to his right was someone he knew well, growing up in Southern California, Nationals pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito. Across the way there were two other top prospects, the Dodger's Corey Seager and the Ranger's Joey Gallo.
Most 19-year-olds would be a bit overwhelmed by the talent in the room, but not Crawford, who calmly went about his business, preparing for the game and talking with members of the media who would stop by his locker.
"It's just an honor to be here," said the young shortstop from Lakewood High School, who was the No. 16 overall pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2013 First-Year Draft. "There's a lot of future big leaguers here and this being my first full year playing pro baseball, it's an honor to be a part of this group."
When the MLB Urban Youth Academy (UYA) first opened its doors in 2006, a number of high school kids with talent gravitated towards the Compton, Calif., facility and two of the early talents, Aaron Hicks and Anthony Gose, have reached the Majors and still give back to the academy and the community they came from.
But UYA's stated goal was to reach out to the younger urban kids and teach them, not only to play the game, but also learn how to love baseball. They hope that when high school football and basketball coaches try to recruit them to solely play their sport, the child's love of baseball would keep them on the diamond.
"Aaron and Anthony really worked hard to get to where they are now," said Darrell Miller, MLB's vice president of youth and facility development, who was the first UYA director when the facility opened in Compton. "They worked hard with our staff and worked on their grades and we took them to tournaments in Japan, and we are really proud of all of our older players, who were there in the beginning.
"But these young kids, like J.P. and Dominic Smith, who were 10, 11 or 12 years old when they first came to us and now are getting college scholarships or are being drafted by Major League teams and getting the exposure they needed to get to that level … that was the reason that we were created."
"The academy helped me out a lot," said Crawford, who was recently promoted to High-A Clearwater. "Just going there, working on my fundamentals, hitting, skills, hand-eye coordination, everything to help get me ready for pro ball."
Crawford takes pride in the fact that he and his close friend Smith, who was a first-round selection of the New York Mets in 2013, were part of that first wave of middle school and younger players at the academy.
"Not too many people know about the Urban Youth Academy," said Crawford. "For me and Domino to be drafted in the first round -- we're trying to get into the public eye that people can go there. It will help a lot more people out if they start going there."
And like his predecessors, Crawford and Smith want to give back to the place that helped make it happen for them.
"Me and Domino talk about it," said Crawford. "We talk about going back during the off-season working out there and working with the kids who are there now. It's giving back, giving back to our community. It means a lot."
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.