Ryan Brewer is the co-owner of the Albuquerque Baseball Academy, which offers developmental programs, teams, training and recruiting guidance for players in and around New Mexico. ABA teams have become well-known for player development throughout the country. Here’s how they did it:
Inside Pitch: How and why did you start ABA?
After I got done playing pro ball I really wanted to be a Division I coach. After coaching at Texas Tech and New Mexico, I decided that raising a family and being able to sleep in my own bed was pretty important. I am still on the road quite a bit now, but I can at least pick and choose when I am gone. While in Albuquerque, I met my business partner Mike Foote, who played at New Mexico and professionally. He had a couple of quality teams out of Albuquerque and was trying to figure out ways to help his son and other kids in the area. We built a friendship and the next thing you know, the Albuquerque Baseball Academy was formed.
IP: Who were the players who ‘paved the way’ for ABA?
We started with doing lessons for all ages and running one 15 year old team. Recruiting at that time was a slower process, our first real guy was a kid by the name of Max Walla. As Max entered his junior year it was apparent he was a BIG TIME DI guy and a possible high draft pick, so I started to call my buddies and contacts about him. It was a cold start until I finally convinced them to come out and see him play. Long story short, Max committed to Oklahoma State but ended up signing with the Brewers in the second round. After Max, I didn't have to call as many guys in the years after that... they were calling me! My next response was "I have this skinny switch hitter who is a freak of an athlete named Blake Swihart and a little squirt that can REALLY play named Alex Bregman."
IP: How have you gone about developing younger players?
In 2010, we started our younger developmental teams named the "Sluggers.” Our high school program was established, our players were committing to schools all over the country. The process had started to change, with schools recruiting kids younger and younger. Some other big programs like DBAT out of Dallas had been fielding younger teams for a couple of years, and we were having a hard time competing with the ‘big boys’ at 15U. We were really having to teach the game and play catch up, whereas DBAT could roll out more of finished product, with kids who had already been their program for 3-4 years.
The Sluggers are there for development only. We are not ring chasers. We try to get them 3-4 practices a week and get them prepared for today’s showcase/tournament world as they get older.
IP: What would your recruiting advice be to current high school players?
Never feel rushed to commit anywhere, unless it’s your dream school. Trust me...head coaches and recruiting coordinators will always find money for the kid that is late on the scene, especially if they’re going to be a difference-maker in their programs.
GO WHERE YOU CAN PLAY. My junior year at Texas Tech I didn't get an opportunity to pitch very much because of a "dead arm" situation (and the pitching staff was LOADED). Even though we were ranked #2 in the country going into the NCAA Regional at Wichita State, it was one of the worst years I ever had mentally; it wasn't fun not being able to be a major contributor to the team.
Do not discount Junior College baseball. That is where I learned to absolutely compete my butt off. I played for Gary Benton at Hill Junior College in beautiful Hillsboro, Texas. We had no trainer, no field crew, no strength coach...all we had was Gary Benton and a young assistant by the name of Tim Tadlock – two of the most competitive guys I had ever met. Some guys couldn't take the old dorms, the bad cafeteria food, the-15 passenger van that broke down every road trip, or the downright dangerous (at times) fields. But it became very obvious that the guys that loved playing baseball could care less when, where and who they were playing against...they just wanted to WIN. Those were the guys that moved on to four year schools or got drafted. I think everyone should play at least a year of Junior College to find out how much you really love this game.
IP: What would you change with the recruiting process?
From what it is looking like and the possible changes coming in the recruiting scene, I am hoping that the recruiting process starts a little later. Kids need to get varsity high school experience before committing to college. We have had a few players who have committed to a NCAA Div. I school before they ever step on a varsity field. I would like to see 14-16 year old kids just playing the game to have fun and get better – not worry about who’s in the stands or the guys in their grade that have already committed.
IP: If you could get one message across to all amateur baseball players, what would it be?
Don't believe everything you read on the internet. It’s okay if your mom brings a water to the dugout because you ran out in the 6th inning of a summer game in Arizona and it's 115 degrees outside. Play with emotion...it's ok to slam your glove on the bench if you had a bad inning on the mound. Let your teammates know about it if they aren't getting after it. Get ticked off if you don't do your job by not getting a runner to third with nobody out. When I recruited, I wanted to see kids who played with emotion and hated to lose. PLAY WITH EMOTION BUT DO IT THE RIGHT WAY!