Singleton aims for a ‘Breakthrough’ career

By Michael Schwartz
Updated: July 29, 2008

COMPTON, Calif. — Jonathan Singleton was one of the first players to show up for the Urban Youth Academy when it opened in May of 2006.

When Singleton graduates from high school in May of 2009, he will likely be leaving Compton for a Division I scholarship or a professional baseball contract.

“To us, that’s what it’s all about,” said Darrell Miller, the director of the Academy. “We’re here to improve your ability to be signed, we’re here to improve your Draft status, we’re here to improve your ability to be seen and to possibly have a chance to go to college and to refine your skills.”

Although Miller said that Singleton, a first baseman, already had a background in baseball when he arrived at the Academy, the instructors have turned a talented youngster, nicknamed “The Kid” for his raw ability, into a balanced power hitter who has faced top competition.

Two years ago, as a 15-year-old entering his sophomore year, he opposed the competitive Koshien All-Star Team, which featured pitchers who threw in the 90s. Miller said that he “handled his own” and has improved greatly since that day.

Two years of instruction later, Singleton dominated the competition at this week’s inaugural Breakthrough Series at the Urban Youth Academy.

The slugger went 3-for-4 with six walks, five RBIs, five runs, a homer and three doubles — including two last Thursday — putting into play everything he’s learned this week and the last two years.

“I did well today,” Singleton said.

In particular, Academy hitting instructor Kenny Landreaux, a former Dodger and Angel from Compton, has worked with Singleton on hitting the ball to the opposite field. That has made him a complete hitter who Baseball America ranks as a four-star prospect, which means that he’s projected to be either a top 10 Draft pick or a college cornerstone.

Landreaux said that Singleton used to pull everything in high school, something he could get away with against high school pitchers, because he has strong hands and good bat speed.

“But at the next level, there’s guys that know how to pitch on the outer half of the plate,” Landreaux said.

Singleton flashed his power with his homer, but he showed his maturity as a hitter during an at-bat on Thursday with the bases loaded and no outs, his first at-bat after being walked four times the previous day.

The first baseman ran the count to 3-2 before driving an outside pitch up the middle for an RBI single. Singleton said he was trying to stay short and not hit a homer, a mindset rare for a young cleanup hitter.

“This is not brain surgery,” Miller said, “but a lot of kids, especially when they’re strong, they’re trying to go around the ball, they’re trying to hook everything, and we’re just trying to get our guys using wood, staying inside the ball, even if they get jammed, so what, and getting their hands started and keeping their head still, and really establishing a good, balanced starting hitting position. Those are the little things that he’ll have a leg up on the other competition.”

Besides the lefty Landreaux, Singleton has also worked with left-handed-hitting Hall of Famer Rod Carew, former big leaguers he has been more than happy to learn from.

Landreaux, who played Little League ball with Singleton’s father, could see Singleton reaching the Majors if he keeps progressing, while Miller took that praise a step further by calling the 6-foor-2, 215-pound Singleton the second coming of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.

“It is high praise, but, if he reaches his full potential, that’s who he can be,” Miller said.

Singleton said that participating in the Academy has made for a very tiring week, as the players have received instruction from former Major League stars Frank Robinson, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis and Carew, as well as current Angels Gary Matthews, Maicer Izturis and Ryan Budde.

Last week, the participants from urban areas throughout the country, who may not have otherwise had such exposure to college coaches and scouts, took part in games.

Miller said he was pleased with the turnout from such coaches and scouts and, all the while, has been thinking about how to improve the event in every area to make it more efficient and effective.

“It’s been a whirlwind, it’s almost surreal, because we’ve been dreaming it up for a while, trying to see how it could work, how it could happen,” Miller said. “This being the first time out of the box, we did very well.”

After the exposure of this showcase that Singleton dominated, the young power hitter said he’s leaning toward attending college and putting off a potential professional career.

But just being in the position to choose between a college scholarship and the Draft proves the success of the Academy.

“He’s made some big strides, and obviously played in some big-time tournaments for us and put himself in a position to, Lord willing, get a college scholarship or, Lord willing, be treated well in the Draft,” Miller said.