SYDNEY, 1 August - The Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP), run in partnership with the Australian Baseball Federation (ABF) for eight weeks during the Australian winter, now beginning its final week, has seen six young Australians sign with MLB clubs while another has agreed to terms and will sign his contract shortly.
New South Wales pitchers Dean Aldridge and Josh Guyer have joined the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins, respectively, Queensland infielder Connor MacDonald has become the first Australian amateur to sign with the Houston Astros, Perth catcher Sam Kennelly - the fourth Kennelly brother to join the professional ranks - has signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sydney infielder Zack Shepherd has inked with the Tigers and Victorian pitcher Lewis Thorpe has joined the Minnesota Twins. Ryan Dale, an infielder from Victoria, has agreed to terms with the Kansas City Royals and merely awaits the arrival of his contract which is winging its way via courier from the United States. All are still teenagers so they will see out their schooling before reporting to Spring Training with their respective clubs in March 2013.
The seven additions means 16 of the 70 players at the Academy have already signed with Major League clubs. The others are pitchers Dan McGrath (Victoria, Boston Red Sox, Melbourne Aces) and Matthew Wilson (Mordialloc VIC, Baltimore Orioles); catchers Josiah Atkins (Mt Gambier SA, Kansas City Royals) and Robbie Perkins (Canberra, Colorado Rockies, Canberra Cavalry); infielders Pita Rona (New Zealand, Baltimore Orioles), Aaron Sayers (Victoria, Detroit Tigers), Ricky Schwarz (NSW, Minnesota Twins) outfielders Ben Leslie (Victoria, San Francisco Giants) and Adam Silva (Victoria, New York Yankees).
“The Major League Baseball Australian Academy was created to give talented ballplayers the opportunity to refine their skills while preparing them for competition at the next level,” said Paul Archey, Senior Vice President, International Business Operations, Major League Baseball. “It is Major League Baseball's hope that the instruction they receive at the Academy will help make the difference in these players someday having the opportunity to play baseball at the professional level."
Since 2001, the MLB Australian Academy has been staged at the Palm Meadows Baseball Complex on Queensland’s Gold Coast, home of Team USA 2000 Olympic training site. The Academy aims to improve the quantity and quality of young baseball players coming out of the region and over the past 11 years the number of Australians playing professional and collegiate baseball has increased 40 percent. In 2000, Australia counted 48 professional and 32 collegiate players; in the 2011 season there were 73 Australians active with Major League and other professional league teams including 57 Academy graduates. In the 2011 season, Australian pitchers Josh Spence (San Diego Padres, MLBAAP 2003-2006), Shane Lindsay (Chicago White Sox, MLBAAP 2002-2003) and Liam Hendriks (Minnesota Twins, MLBAAP 2006) became the 4th, 5th and 6th MLBAAP alumni to make their major league debut.
While most participants are native to Australia, each year MLB clubs also send recently signed European and Asian players to the Academy to prepare them for the rigors of Minor League Baseball. A total of 177 Academy graduates have signed professional contracts with MLB clubs, these include 25 players with nationalities other than Australian (seven Czechs, four Japanese, Koreans, and Taiwanese, three New Zealanders, two South Africans and one each of Chinese, Dutch, American, French, German and Italian.)
This Academy was the first of its kind and has served as a model for other MLB Academies now operating in Tirrenia, Italy (est. 2005) and Wuxi, China (est. 2007).
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