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‘Best program in the country’: The rise of North East Baseball and its impact on the MLB Draft

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When you’re a baseball program centered around development, your success tends to be measured by your results.

So, when you have four players selected in the top 57 picks of the 2020 MLB Draft, and the 25th pick in the first round is calling you the “best program in the country,” you must be doing something right.

That’s exactly the case when discussing North East Baseball, a New England-based organization looking to help players reach the next level in their career, whether it’s collegiately or professionally.

The program, started in 2008 by owner Scott Patterson, was founded “with a vision of exposing [high school] players to as many college coaches as possible while playing the best competition possible,” according to North East Baseball’s website.

For Jeff Sullivan, North East Baseball’s national team head coach and national recruiting coordinator, the organization provides an opportunity to work in a sport he’s followed extensively since he was a kid.

“I was obsessed with the draft the whole time,” Sullivan said. “Starting with 2000, 2001, I lived for minor league baseball and the draft and amateur ball, I just loved that process of it.”

Sullivan recalled writing scouting reports on his own personal website before being named head recruiting coordinator for Chandler Baseball in 2013. A few years later, he landed a spot with North East Baseball.

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Now, working alongside Patterson, general manager Matt Kruger, fellow North East Baseball head coach Mike Abraham, and national team assistant coach Mike Pagacik, Sullivan has a helping hand in the development of some of MLB’s rising stars.

Need some statistics? In the 2018 MLB Draft, 28 North East Baseball alumni were drafted, with one first-rounder (St. Louis Cardinals third baseball Nolan Gorman) and five total players picked in the event’s first 100 selections.

A year later, the New York Mets selected third baseman Brett Baty, another North East Baseball product, with the 12th overall pick. The Texas native highlighted a North East Baseball draft class that included three total first-round picks.

“That was one of the most fun things I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sullivan said of Baty’s first-round moment. “It’s always stressful, just knowing how much every pick means to them. Their bottom dollar, too. It’s crazy, but it’s a fun process.”

This year, things were a little different. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement, and likely cancellation, of the 2020 minor league baseball season, and trimmed the 2020 MLB Draft down to just five rounds. Despite that, North East Baseball still saw three familiar faces selected in the event’s first 57 overall picks.

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Jared Shuster, the 25th overall pick and newest member of the Atlanta Braves organization, took to Twitter a day after the first round concluded to show his appreciation for the work Sullivan and company put in to improve his career.

“Best program in the country!!” Shuster wrote.

“It was awesome,” Sullivan said of Shuster’s praise. “He’s actually one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet in your lifetime. Super, super quiet kid, but just a genuine, good kid. 

Shuster isn’t the only alumni paying it forward after making it to the big leagues, either. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Tabor, a third-rounder in the 2017 MLB Draft who signed with the team for $1 million, still helps out with North East Baseball during the offseason, and is active on social to spread the wealth.

“The alumni is everything,” Sullivan said. “Even when [Tabor] was 16 years old, he was throwing 84 miles per hour, he grew like four inches over the summer and put on like 10 miles per hour on his fastball. But still, he’s back working with the kids every single offseason, back with NEB, still tweeting about kids.”

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“That means a ton when he’s with the Diamondbacks, signed for $1 million, and still coming back all the time,” Sullivan continued. “But, he’s been in the program for like 10 years now. That’s what it’s all about; them giving back.”

While some individuals tend to focus on their own growth, North East Baseball’s concentration is on the evolution of others. That, Sullivan said, is an idea that won’t be changing anytime soon.

“The goal is always to get kids to the next level,” Sullivan said. “Pretty much just keep moving along and getting kids to the next level. That’s what it’s all about. Winning and getting drafted is awesome, but the main goal of the whole thing, of the program, is get them to college and help get some money off of that big bill coming with school.”

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