Youth sports is a multibillion-dollar industry—one that many parents simply cannot afford. Between equipment, team membership fees, showcases, private training lessons and tournaments, thousands of dollars are being spent on young athletes. Families skip out on vacations to travel for weekend tournaments. Kids miss out on birthday parties and outings with friends to attend sports practices and games. With over 60 million participants, youth sports has become an incredibly large and competitive industry.
The motivation for many players is being recruited to play college-level sports, and with that, receiving high-ticket scholarships as well as the opportunity to one day play professionally. NCAA schools give $3 billion in scholarships, and only 2 percent of high school athletes go on to play at the highest level of college athletics. These statistics show just how competitive and selective college athletic teams are.
Craig Maddox, ’07 and Joel Hartman, ’06 know what it’s like to start out as student-athletes with dreams of one day playing professional baseball. Coming from the professional leagues to help young athletes in the junior leagues, Craig and Joel saw a need within the baseball community and filled that need with Prospect Dugout. Their goal is to give tools, exposure, and resources to young athletes who want to take their skills to the next level, whether that is playing college or professional baseball.
“Our background in baseball helped us to identify the need in the market and we did independent research online to learn social media strategy. Having a partnership with someone who really picks up where your weaknesses are has been so beneficial to Joel and me,” says Craig.
Craig and Joel both played baseball for the SEU Fire. Craig was one of the first Southeastern baseball players to land a professional contract after college, and Joel played professionally as well. The two reconnected at a Southeastern alumni baseball game which led to the founding of Prospect Dugout.
Connections are Key
Craig and Joel saw that many young athletes lack connections because they cannot afford to attend expensive tournaments and showcases. As a solution, they created Prospect Dugout, a free online space featuring young talent. Craig and Joel built the platform to reach mass amounts of people quickly. Their posts reach over one million people each month, giving widespread exposure to the highlighted players.
“We have maintained the account for four years, and we have reached over 320,000 followers now. Our activity and engagement rates are off the charts,” says Craig.
Athletes of any age or skill level can send photos and videos to Prospect Dugout in hopes of being featured on their Instagram page. Many college coaches and recruiters follow the page, as well as some professional athletes.
At the beginning of 2020, former New York Yankees player Nick Swisher reached out to Prospect Dugout to team up with their work in helping young athletes achieve success. In March of 2020, the three began their partnership with a live virtual call-in show. The partnership has grown as Swisher has become an active participant in Prospect Dugout, interacting with players and working as a business partner with Craig and Joel.
Prospect Dugout is an online community network where players can create a profile to interact with fellow players, as well as upload their own contact and be discovered by college programs across the country.
Craig and Joel launched their first version of the Prospect Dugout app in 2018, amassing over 20,000 downloads on iOS. This summer, they released an updated Prospect Dugout app with more forward-thinking integrations relevant to the current social media climate, along with an Android version.
The main feature of the Prospect Dugout app is its Player Database featuring an advanced search function where coaches and scouts can find specific players to recruit based on position, skill level, location, and more. The app also includes rankings, game and showcase stat records, a social news feed called the Dugout, messaging, and a Prospect Planner for college coaches/scouts.
Players can upload their game schedules to make sure recruiters know which events to attend and where to find them on the field. They aim to keep their services affordable in order to give every athlete the opportunity to be a part of their community and have access to their resources.
“Essentially, the player’s Prospect Dugout profile becomes an online resume to send to coaches and recruiters,” says Craig.
Craig and Joel are also making strides to extend Prospect Dugout’s influence beyond the online community. In October of 2018, Prospect Dugout landed a contract with the Atlantic League Player Showcase, one of the top independent leagues in the country. Under this contract, Prospect Dugout hosts and runs player showcase weekends in Florida.
From Online to in the Field
The first player showcase was held in March of 2019 at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. The showcase hosted 300 professionally qualified players, and 12 of them had earned professional contracts by the end of the day. Over the course of 2019, 41 players from their first annual showcase went on to sign professional contracts.
In March of 2020, Prospect Dugout hosted another showcase, helping a number of players become recruited and recognized by collegiate and high-level teams.
Prospect Dugout celebrates dozens of success stories, which all began with their first Instagram post that featured Joey Erace. After being featured on Prospect Dugout, the then eight-year-old increased his social media presence and quickly gained followers by posting photos and videos from games and practices. Two years after his debut on Prospect Dugout, Joey was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in 2017. He credits Prospect Dugout with helping him create his online brand and grow a large following. “It was kind of a full-circle moment that took us back to our roots,” recalls Craig.
Both Craig’s and Joel’s experience at Southeastern had a large impact on their decision to start Prospect Dugout, and it is the reason they formed a partnership together.
“My time at Southeastern allowed me to meet so many people and introduced me to many different cultures and individual belief systems. Being in this environment I was able to try new things and better shape who I am today as a person. I met lifelong friends and made lifelong memories,” says Joel.
Joel is currently living in Bradenton, Florida, with his son, Lucas, who will be playing D1 baseball at Western Carolina University. In his free time, he enjoys crossfit and spending time with his family. Craig is living in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Caitlin (Santo), ’08, and two daughters. He spends his days off teaching baseball to youth and high school players in his community.
Craig and Joel continue to use Prospect Dugout to help young athletes achieve their goals through social media exposure, information, and instruction. The duo keeps moving forward and working hard to further their influence to help others.