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White Sox have built a baseball factory in ACE

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Prominent baseball programs are taking notice as 15 players from this year's Amateur City Elite class sign letters of intent.

Amateur City Elite alum, Corey Ray, could be a 1st round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.
Amateur City Elite alum, Corey Ray, could be a 1st round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Chicago White Sox held Amateur City Elite (ACE) Signing Day. It's a special event on an annual basis, with 15 players from the program sign letters of intent to play college baseball this week, increasing the total to 106 scholarships in the last six years. That is a significant impact in providing educational opportunities that are often not available for inner-city kids, in addition keeping them safe from the daily violence seen in Chicago.

The program has done an excellent job in identifying talent and developing skill sets with a structure that aims to reverse a reduced participation by African-Americans in baseball. Since 2007, 16 ACE alums have been drafted, including Chicago's 2015 seventh-round pick Blake Hickman. Ro Coleman has been on back-to-back College World Series teams at Vanderbilt, and Corey Ray is going to be a popular name in next year's MLB draft. According to MLB.com senior writer (and Friend of the Podcast), Jim Callis, Ray is considered the best positional player in the draft class, which almost ensures that ACE will have its first first-round draft pick.

Early in ACE's beginning, scholarships primarily came from Historically Black Colleges and junior colleges. This year's class saw Christan Bullock (Morgan Park High) and Lorenzo Elion (Simeon) sign with Michigan. Jeremy Houston (Mount Carmel High) is heading to Indiana. Bryce Gray (Homewood Flossmoor) turned down an offer to play football at Valparaiso and will play baseball at Notre Dame. AJ Lewis Jr. (Mount Carmel High) picked Missouri over Duke. Not only are more players earning scholarships than before, but prominent baseball programs are taking notice.

Developing the program has made an impact for the White Sox. Sure, they are not feeding this talent into their own farm system, but learning how players develop from an early age has been quite beneficial.  I sat down with Nathan Durst, the White Sox national cross checker who helped co-found ACE (he also signed Mark Buehrle). Durst shared how developing the program has made him a better scout.

Did you ever imagine when starting ACE that it would be this successful?

We never imagined it being this successful. You hope and work hard for it, but this type of success we didn't expect. Hopefully we continue to work hard and build off this success to get more players to receive college scholarships. At the end of the day, college is the first and foremost main goal for these players.

Has ACE impacted how the organization goes about finding new talent and scouting prospects?

Sure. We are always looking for good players and always looking for athletic players. For me, the impact may not necessarily be at the high school level, but looking at a player like Corey Ray at the college level. Getting that athletic player who wasn't physically mature out of high school, getting him into a major program in their strength and development program. Now Corey is potentially going to be taken in the first round. That impacts what we do draft-wise tremendously.

With Nick Hostetler as the Director of Amateur Scouting, what changes should we expect?

Nick has tremendous, innovative ideas that he would like to incorporate into the scouting department. He has been a strong supporter of ACE and the Double Duty Classic. Yes, some things will stay the same, but he is really going to bring innovative ideas that hopefully enhance what we are doing. Our hope is the next draft is better than our last draft.

Has the philosophy changed at all in the types of players you're going after?

I don't know if the philosophy has changed. Nick has been very hands-on and aggressive in finding every bit of information about the players. Not that we didn't do that in the past, but we have a renewed vigor in leaving no stone unturned about any player in the country. Not settling into a type of player. Making sure we get the right player in each and every round.

Has ACE helped you become a better scout?

Yes. I've been fortunate to be a part of this program because it has allowed me to improve my craft. Going to a 12-year-old tryout and finding the first group of ACE players. To watch them progress as a teenager, physically and mentally, can help you improve as a scout learning that development arc from a player. Also helps to learn about players that come from diverse backgrounds, especially the South Side of Chicago.