USA Baseball's Development Programs Set to Get Underway in Cary

The NTDP and ADP will be held at the National Training Complex over the next two weeks

Since 2012, the USA Baseball 13U/14U Athlete Development Program and 16U/17U National Team Development Program have served as two of the primary methods for identifying up-and-coming athletes as potential fits for the organization’s national teams.

Between the two programs, more than 100 players will participate in on-field skills development, off-field education training sessions, intrasquad scrimmages, and more over the course of four days this summer. The USA Baseball Task Force, which is a group made up of coaches who have experience at the high school, college, and professional levels, takes this time to evaluate these players on their overall skill sets, and by the events’ conclusions, a select few will earn an invitation to participate in future USA Baseball national team programming.

In order to get the best out of these young athletes, the ADP and NTDP have historically brought on star-studded lineups of current coaches across all levels of the game and former players to the coaching staff to impart their wisdom accordingly. The groups chosen for 2023 are no exception to this, as the coordinators tabbed to lead the programs this year bring a wealth of baseball experience to the table, both out on the field and in the dugout.

Captaining both the ADP and NTDP as the field coordinator is Jim Koerner, the Director of Player Development with USA Baseball. He returns as the head of both events after serving in the same roles a year ago for the first time.

Prior to joining the organization, Koerner was the longtime head coach at North Carolina Central University, where he set the school record for most wins in a season on two separate occasions in 2013 and 2018. He also spent time on the coaching staffs at numerous other collegiate programs, including Buffalo, Marshall, Monmouth, and Medaille College.

Despite being relatively new to the programs, Koerner has already seen firsthand how important they are to USA Baseball as a whole.

“It's an exciting process,” Koerner said. “We look to bring in the best players in those age groups that we can find throughout the country, and expose them to the best coaches and techniques that are at our disposal to give them the best baseball experience we can.”

Leading the pitchers at the NTDP is longtime MLB veteran Brad Penny, who returns to the program after working as a pitching coach and roving instructor last year. Penny played 14 seasons in the major leagues, finishing his career with 121 wins, 1,273 strikeouts, and a 4.29 ERA in 1,925 innings pitched. He won a World Series Championship as a member of the Florida Marlins in 2003, made two All-Star teams while with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and finished third in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2007.

In addition to all of this, Penny also featured as a player for Team USA himself both before and during his major league career. The right-hander won a silver medal at the 1999 Pan American Games while playing for the organization’s first ever Professional National Team, and a year later, he took home the gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. On the coaching side, Penny led the U.S. pitchers in 2022 as the 18U National Team secured a gold medal at the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-18 Baseball World Cup Americas Qualifier.

“I think Brad brings a few different things to the table that are really unique,” Koerner said. “He's a World Series winner and a USA baseball alumnus, so to have to have both of those different aspects as part of his resume, I think is really relatable for these types of athletes for their coaching. These are aspirations that we want our players to have, and to have a pitching coordinator that's been there and done that, it's just a great example.

“On top of that, Brad is so relatable with these kids. He is a great communicator, and his passion and caring for these kids is evident from the moment he gets on the field. I haven't met a player, coach, or person that doesn't have great things to say about Brad Penny and what he does for USA Baseball and these athletes.”

On the ADP side of things, Georgia Southern pitching coach AJ Battisto will work with the young arms as the pitching coordinator in 2023 after recently wrapping up his second season with the Eagles. In 2022, he helped his alma mater finish with a 41-20 record and earn a bid to host its first-ever NCAA Regional where the pitching staff gave up just nine runs in its three games. Prior to Georgia Southern, Battisto coached at the University of New Orleans for two separate stints as well as at North Carolina Central University.

Additionally, he has coached several pitchers who have gone on to sign contracts with MLB organizations, including Eric Orze and Devin Sweet. 

Before entering the coaching ranks, he spent seven years in the minor leagues, making 167 appearances and going 21-10 with a 3.62 ERA and nine saves. Prior to his professional career, he played collegiately at Georgia Southern where he posted a perfect 12-0 record in three seasons with the Eagles.

“We’re excited to have AJ as this year’s ADP Pitching Coordinator. He brings a tremendous amount of coaching experience at the highest levels of college baseball with stints at three different Division I schools,” said Koerner. “His pitching staff has found much success in his short time at Georgia Southern by hosting an NCAA Regional in 2022, and he has coached multiple players who have gone on to play professionally.

“Additionally, AJ had a successful playing career at Georgia Southern and in the minor leagues, having pitched as high as AAA baseball in the Miami Marlins organization. What he’s learned from his playing career, combined with his coaching background, will be an invaluable resource for our ADP athletes.”

Finally, Mike Kinkade will be tasked to lead the hitters at the ADP this year as the program’s hitting coordinator, the latest stop in his lengthy list of positions on various coaching staffs over the years. He most recently coached at the 2022 Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League, serving as an assistant coach for the Team Gray squad that took home third place that year. Prior to that, he spent time on the staffs at the inaugural MLB Draft combine, the 2021 Women’s National Team Development Program, Cal State Bakersfield, Pullman High School (Pullman, Wash.), the Whitman County American Legion Program, and the Seattle Mariners’ minor-league affiliates.

Like Penny, Kinkade also featured in the majors as well as with Team USA during his playing career. He spent six years in the big leagues after making his debut in 1998, hitting .256 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs in 222 games played with the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles Dodgers. In the stars and stripes, Kinkade played an important role on the Professional National Team that won gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, driving in three runs and scoring four more throughout the tournament. He also played for the national team during the 2006 Olympic Qualifiers, hitting .333 while driving in a team-leading 11 runs.

"Mike’s experience working with these athletes and familiarity with these athletes is a tremendous asset,” Koerner said. “His knowledge from professional baseball, both as a coach and a player, just brings tremendous experience to these events, and our players just have a great time working with him. He’s easy to talk to, he loves being on the field, and his passion and energy are evident. He’s just a really good baseball person to have around USA Baseball and these national level players.”

These four coordinators all bring different things to the table for the athletes chosen to participate in the ADP and NTDP, and in Koerner’s eyes, being willing to learn from all of them and soak up all the available information is the key to getting the most out of their time with the program.

“I definitely want them to be open-minded to new concepts and new techniques, probably some things that they haven’t heard before from a coaching standpoint, but also be open to the life lessons and the experiences that these coaches are going to bring from different aspects of baseball,” Koerner said. “From your former major leaguers to your current college coaches to your high-level high school coaches, there’s a lot of different experiences on the field. If they’re open-minded to hearing what each coach has to say, I feel like they’re going to gain a lot of insight, not just from a baseball player perspective, but from a character development and work ethic perspective as well.”

The NTDP roster has been released, and the ADP roster is slated to be revealed later this week. Both events will take place at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina, as the NTDP will run July 26-29 and ADP will be held August 3-6.