FEATURE: MLB Breakthrough Series Makes Champs NC Debut

MLB Breakthrough Series made its first National Team Championships in North Carolina appearance at the 16U event

CARY, N.C. - Despite the unfavorable weather, the 2023 16U National Team Championships in North Carolina proved to be an action-packed event, hosting 16 of the top travel baseball teams from across the country.

Among those teams was a squad representing the Breakthrough Series, a joint effort of USA Baseball and Major League Baseball established in 2008 focused on developing African-American high school baseball players on and off the field.

The program, which is based at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, utilizes seminars, mentorship, gameplay, scout evaluations, video coverage and the highest level of instruction to aid in the development of selected athletes. 

The Breakthrough Series also provides a platform for the players to perform for scouts and collegiate coaches, including at events such as the National Team Championships in North Carolina.

Thirty players and the coaching staff of former MLB players Brian Hunter, Lou Collier, Marvin Freeman, Marquis Grisson, and Carlos Munoz, made the 10-hour trip from Vero Beach to compete in the 16U event at the National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.

Hunter, the program’s head coach, spent nine years in MLB after being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the eighth round of the 1987 amateur draft. Following his retirement from professional baseball, Hunter served as a scout for Atlanta for 10 years but knew he wanted to return to the field at some point. The former first baseman found the opportunity to get back in the diamond when he learned of the Breakthrough Series through former Braves teammate Freeman.

Hunter, along with the other Breakthrough Series coaches, use their experiences as professional baseball players to aid in the coaching and development of the 15 and 16-year-old’s selected to be a part of the MLB Breakthrough Series 2025 team.

“We can explain to them the things that we went through,” Hunter said. “They see us in them. There were a lot of former Black players that I looked up to. I got to be coached by them when I was in the minor leagues. Hopefully some of these guys can take some of the nuggets that we’re giving them and be better players.”

The Breakthrough Series has been very successful in developing and increasing the exposure of its participants. In its 15-year history, approximately 300 Breakthrough Series alumni have been drafted to the big leagues.

“It’s a very important program,” Hunter said. “We have some great coaches and great leaders. We teach the players the history of the game, way back when Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron were playing. With these guys, you’ve just got to believe in this.”

The 16U age group team features two USA Baseball alums and eight players with experience at USA Baseball developmental programming such as the National Team Development Program and Athlete Development Program.

Although MLB Breakthrough Series 2025 went 0-3-1 in tournament play at the National Team Championships, the team was able to gain valuable experience on and off the field and exposure to USA Baseball Task Force, coaches, and scouts. 

“We brought 30 players here,” Hunter said. “That’s a lot, but we’re getting them all in. We’re getting them ready. We’re doing it like it would be a minor league game, so they’re learning that right now. They’re picking it up as they go and hopefully it will help them in the long run.”


One of those players, two-time Team USA alumnus Alexander Mercurius traveled all the way from Las Vegas to play third base and pitch for MLB Breakthrough Series 2025. His selection as a member of the Breakthrough Series was an important moment for the rising junior.

“It means a lot,” Mercurius said. “Playing with a group of people that I know, who look like me, and just being around the coaches and the experience that we have on this team and the roster that we have to compete at this great event.”

At the National Team Championships, Mercurius pitched 3.2 shut-out innings with four strikeouts to hold the Texas Senators 16U Scout Team to two runs and tie the game for MLB Breakthrough Series 2025.

“I loved it, honestly,” Mercurius said. “I felt like I did really well. I impressed myself, and maybe a few other people. It was super fun. I helped my team out to stay in the game and try to win it. I like the way I competed out there and gave my team a shot to win the game.”

Mercurius traveled to Hermosillo, Mexico, with the 15U National Team last September for the 2022 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-15 Baseball World Cup. In the world cup, the rising junior pitched in three games, including one start, and went 2-0 with a 4.67 ERA.

Nearly a year later, Mercurius has been able to utilize the valuable lessons he learned at the WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup and bring them to his high school and travel ball teams.

“I try to take as much energy as we had during the World Cup back to my high school and travel ball teams and use it to become more competitive and help my teammates out,” Mercurius said.

Similarly to the 15U National Team, the Breakthrough Series has proved to be a tremendous learning opportunity for Mercurius. 

“It’s helped me a lot,” Mercurius said. “With the experience that the coaches have, they impress their knowledge into me and it helps me with my pitching performance, my hitting, and my base running. Everything evolves the game. It’s all fun and a super great experience to compete with.”