By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Growing up around an impressive list of big leaguers in southern California, it seems unlikely that Jeremy Booth ever imagined that he would be taking his talents up north to share what he’s learned over an 18-year career in professional baseball with a group of young Canucks.
But with the wide landscape of the game in Canada, and a relationship with Sean Travers, the director of player development for the Ontario Blue Jays program, that is exactly what Booth will be doing to end his year, hosting a three-day combine and instructional camp with staff from his Program 15 organization at The Athlete Matrix in Mississauga from Dec. 27-29.
Throughout his almost two decades in pro ball as a player, hitting coach, in player development, and in scouting, the president of Program 15 has seen players rise and fall, and now hopes that he has found a way to utilize his own experiences to help the next generation do more of the former than the latter.
“The bottom line is one of the things that has happened in baseball in my mind is that we have a development failure,” Booth said. “I started to see it show up at the major league level, and it was really frustrating – trying to win championships and build pennant-winning teams, and watching guys not be able to connect to their tools and use their skills to build themselves into a role.”
After departing from the Seattle Mariners organization – also previously working in the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers organizations – Booth wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and couldn’t find anything that he deemed to, “be the right fit,” so he started to help some of the local professional players with their workouts. It eventually spiralled into something much bigger, now the Katy, Texas-based Program 15.
“I started out with six guys, and that went to 22 within a couple of weeks,” Booth said. “I added some other staff to come on and help, and then we opened up a high school group. I had done the travel ball circuit before when I was an area scout and I hated it, but I wanted to help some kids get to schools. I helped 43 kids get to school in a couple years, out of the group we had.”
He reaped the reward of seeing the successes of his players, moving onward and upward in a direction that he was on board with. Booth was able to supplement his own knowledge with a staff of other former players, coaches, scouts and executives.
“It was something that was better personally, watching other guys achieve,” the 40-year-old said. “I was able to satisfy some of the frustration I’d seen in the game from the travel ball industry and the showcase environment, which can eliminate a lot of players.
“I took the knowledge that I had acquired and talked to a few people, including Bob Watson, former GM of the Yankees and Astros, back in February [and now a special assistant in the Program 12 organization], added Benji Gil and Trenidad Hubbard, and Jesse Barfield is consulting for us now. Adam Dunn is a consultant, and we added Roberto Kelly most recently.
“It just grew. I designed a system that incorporates player development through a combine environment, with athletic assessment; it has development feedback, and a player development manual. It has real scouts and executives and players doing the instruction and development. There’s no wasted feedback; these are people who have done this.”
The three-day camp in Mississauga will consist of four components including instruction, mental development, physical evaluation and player evaluation.
“You start with that foundation and you grow,” Booth said. “We’re able to do it and we’re having a lot of success with it and that’s what the three days are for. You make sure you see them the first day with the development and the combine workout, and the second day you put them into a simulated game...This is not meant to be a once-a-year thing. This is meant to give feedback to the programs to make sure they can keep their players on task.”
When he was growing up in southern California, Booth had the feedback and assistance and presence of big leaguers around him to help him as he progressed, shagging fly balls for players like Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis, Chris Brown, and even occasionally Frank Thomas and Barry Larkin. He wants to use camps like the one that will take place at the Athlete Matrix to pass on what helped him to the next generation of players.
“They instilled values in me about how to prepare yourself, how to grow, how to master what you’re doing one step at a time, and how to be able to see your future while taking care of today,” Booth said. “Those are the things that we do here...You have to give these guys confidence in what they can do. You can’t just throw it out there against the wall and make it stick. You’ve got to teach them how to play so that they can grow into who they should be as players.”
The primary focus for Booth and his group is the maximize the value of the players who fall under their umbrella. While this is the goal for many, if not all, coaches and staff members, Program 15’s president believes he has figured out a successful plan of action to do just that.
“It’s the idea but it’s not always successful,” Booth said. “We’re able to start with the scouting evaluation, all these different components, and find ways to connect it to players to build it...Our method does work for players and the results are an improvement...
“All this started with my growth as a youth and the idea that we were doing something fundamentally wrong that was hurting players instead of helping them. And this is a way to kind of harness it and create that separation and make sure players have a more streamlined path.”