FEATURE: USA Baseball Developmental Programs Bridge Gap Between National Teams

ADP, NTDP help prepare players for Team USA

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One of USA Baseball’s core values is providing the opportunity for players to represent their country through the game of baseball on the international stage. Within those opportunities to make a national team, the organization takes pride in creating ways for players to develop their skills in order to compete at the highest level of the game.

Two key opportunities come from developmental programs which are held annually at the National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina: the 13U/14U Athlete Development Program (ADP) and the 16U/17U National Team Development Program (NTDP). They help to provide a unique on- and off-field experience for those players selected, and are essential in USA Baseball’s efforts of identifying the top talent in the country for its 15U and 18U National Teams.

This year’s ADP roster featured 50 of the nation’s top 13- and 14-and-under athletes, while the NTDP roster boasted 72 of the best 16- and 17-and-under athletes. Both programs consisted of Team USA alumni as well as attendees whose invitation was their first experience with the organization. They allowed the players to not only further their development, but also gain exposure to USA Baseball coaches in hopes of earning a spot on a future national team.

“These developmental programs that USA Baseball has created are a great way for young players to get exposure not only to high-level coaching, but it’s an unbelievable opportunity for them to learn more about the game,” said Mike Kinkade, who served as the 2023 ADP hitting coordinator. “Especially as the game is changing with travel ball, it’s great for them to come and actually learn the game of baseball.”

Kinkade is a six-year MLB veteran and 2000 Olympic gold medalist, and spent time coaching at the high school, college, and minor league ranks for nearly a decade. Additionally, he has given back to the organization and the next generation of baseball players by serving as a coach with USA Baseball numerous times over the years.

The programs provide attendees the chance to grow as baseball players on the field through advanced skills development and intrasquad games, while simultaneously gaining exposure to professional scouts, college recruiters, USA Baseball staff, and national team coaches. They additionally give players the ability to develop off the field through various educational seminars, character and leadership development, and much more.

“One thing the ADP does is that it gets these players' names involved with USA Baseball,” Kinkade said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to get better as baseball players, and hopefully, if they do get selected for Team USA, they have improved and have learned more about the game as they move on to the 15U National Team.”

“I think the NTDP is important for numerous reasons,” stated Brad Penny, who assumed the role as this year’s NTDP pitching coordinator. “One, these athletes don’t get a lot of practice and developmental instruction in on a consistent basis. They are always competing in weekend showcases and tournaments where you can’t really focus on the actual game of baseball. Two, this program is a build up for the 18U National Team; not only are there are four spots given to players to compete at Training Camp, but a core group of the guys will likely be competing for a spot on the following year’s team.”

Penny, who is in his second year as the NTDP pitching coordinator, has an extensive resume as a player and coach. He had a 14-year MLB career, which was highlighted by two All-Star selections and a World Series championship, and helped Team USA win gold at the 1999 Pan American Games. Additionally, he was the pitching coach for the 18U National Team in 2021 and 2022, helping the stars and stripes win gold at last year’s World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-18 Baseball World Cup Americas Qualifier.

While the four-day schedule that is put together for the athletes is an important piece to these programs, the coaches who come together to make up these staffs are critical in providing a top-notch experience. These coaches come from all backgrounds of the game, ranging from the high school level all the way to the professional realm, and help provide guidance and lessons that will stay with attendees well into their baseball careers.

“We have a bunch of different coaches with a bunch of different experiences, but the one thing we have in common is that we all know how to play the game,” Kinkade explained. “We’ve all been around it for 30-plus years, and we’re trying to pass along our knowledge of baseball to these young athletes. I hope they take away from these programs that we as coaches care about them and we care about USA Baseball, and that they know what an honor and privilege it is to be selected.”

“To have the ability to come and talk to ex-big leaguers and coaches and people that have a lot of experience within the game at their age is incredible,” Penny said. “They have a lot of knowledge at their grasp that could help them not only get to the next level, but help them when they are at the next level.”

With having these developmental programs implemented, it creates a pipeline in which players can continue to grow in the game of baseball, bridging the gap between national teams. They remain engaged with the USA Baseball community, and prepare for the chance to compete for a spot on a future national team.

One great example of the opportunity this pipeline provides is two-time alumnus Jack McKernan. The left-handed pitcher and outfielder was a part of the 2019 12U National Team and the 2022 15U National Team which won gold at the WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup in Mexico.

“Any time you can wear the U-S-A letters across your chest, it’s just unbelievable,” McKernan stated. “Going to Mexico and winning gold, especially with all my guys, was an incredible experience. Winning gold on international soil is an amazing feeling.”

In between his national team stints, he attended the 2021 ADP. He credits his experience in Cary as a catalyst for preparing him to compete with the 15U National Team and bring home a gold medal.

“Being able to develop under coach Troy Tulowitzki (2021 ADP hitting coordinator), was an amazing experience,” McKernan said. “He, along with all of the coaches there, had so much knowledge to give. It really helped me to develop into a pitcher and learn the ins and outs of the game.”

This summer, the Missouri City, Texas, native continued his USA Baseball involvement by returning to Cary to attend the NTDP and earning an invitation to the 18U National Team Training Camp later this month. At Training Camp, he will compete for a spot on the final 20-man roster which will travel to Taiwan next month for the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“It’s amazing to be able to compete against the best kids in your class and really see where you stack up,” McKernan explained. “There’s a bunch of different people there to get eyes on everyone, and it's always great any time you get the chance to get to compete at the National Training Complex.”

The experience of being a part of a USA Baseball developmental program is invaluable to a player’s career. Once they get the exposure to everything that is provided, from the instruction on and off the field to the relationship-building opportunities, it becomes something that they carry with them as they continue on their journey to representing Team USA.

“The programs really bridge the gap between the national teams,” McKernan said. “You get to develop and be ready for the next year when you have the chance to be selected for Team USA.”

“You can’t get the experience of international play unless you go through the USA Baseball process,” Penny added. “It’s so much fun and everything is on the line, every game. As far as baseball goes, in my opinion, there is no better experience.”