The Futures Game has been held during All-Star weekend since 1999. No one really paid attention to it at first, and tickets to it now can be easily had for just a couple bucks. However, when rosters were released on Thursday afternoon, “Futures Game” became a trending topic on Twitter, so more people are getting interested. This is great for Minor League Baseball which has also seen an increase in attendance in recent years, and more fans enjoying baseball can’t be a bad thing.
I’ve personally been into the Futures Game the last three years or so, and to me this might be the most impressive roster lists yet. Players drop out due to promotions to the majors, injuries and per team requests, but right now there is so much talent slated to play, and it’s a must see part of All-Star weekend. I’ll offer an early preview of the game by talking about each player. Prospects are split into U.S.A. and World (including Puerto Rico) teams with 25 players each, and for now organizations are limited to two players being selected.
RHP Jarred Cosart, Philadelphia (A+ Clearwater)- Cosart has great stuff including a mid 90′s fastball. He’s battled injury problems throughout his career, and has already set a career high in IP this season. Cosart came into the season as the Phillies’ 4th best prospect according to Baseball America, and his stock is probably about the same halfway through 2011.
RHP Kyle Gibson, Minnesota (AAA Rochester)- While Cosart is known for his great stuff, Gibson relies on command and control to get batters out. His fastball isn’t overwhelming at all, but thanks to his polish, he’s considered to be Minnesota’s best prospect. He hasn’t made his major league debut yet, but he has to be close to ready if the Twins come calling.
RHP Matt Harvey, New York Mets (AA Binghamton)- Harvey was a bit of a disappointment early in his career at North Carolina, but he obviously turned it around in time to be drafted in the top 10 by the Mets. He dominated the Florida State League to start the season, and he was recently bumped up to the Eastern League for a new challenge.
RHP Shelby Miller, St. Louis (AA Springfield)- Like Harvey, Miller started the season in the FSL, but he was just so good that the Cardinals had to move him up. Some say he might even be the best pitching prospect in the minors now, and statistically it’s easy to make a case for that. Someone named Shelby has to be uncomfortable in a town called Springfield though…
LHP Matt Moore, Tampa Bay (AA Montgomery)- It’s possible that no pitching prospect has improved his (already high) stock this season than Matt Moore. He’s led the minors in strikeouts each of the last two seasons, but it always came with the caveat that he has almost no command. This year, his BB/9 is below 3.0, and he threw a no hitter last week.
RHP Brad Peacock, Washington (AA Harrisburg)- Peacock signed with Washington out of high school in the 41st round in 2006, certainly a rarity. After several seasons of posting nondescript results in the lower minors for the Nats, he got some major helium this season in the Eastern League. He has 108 strikeouts in 80.1 IP and just 17 walks.
LHP Drew Pomeranz, Cleveland (A+ Kinston)- Pomeranz was an absolute workhorse at Ole Miss, and that’s what the Indians had in mind when they chose him 5th overall in 2010. He didn’t make his pro debut until this season, and so far it’s been worth the wait. In 60.2 Carolina League innings, Pomeranz has 77 strikeouts and a WHIP just north of 1.00.
LHP Tyler Skaggs, Arizona (A+ Visalia)- Many complained about Arizona’s return in the Dan Haren trade, but they consider Skaggs to be the big catch in the deal. He started the California-Carolina League All-Star Game a few days ago, and it’s not surprising considering that he has 102 strikeouts in 83 innings and trying to prove that maybe the trade wasn’t so bad after all.
RHP Tyler Thornburg, Milwaukee (A+ Brevard County)- After acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum this offseason, Milwaukee’s farm system was left barren, unanimously considered to be the worst in the league. After a dominant start to the season in the Midwest League, Thornburg was promoted to the FSL to prove himself at a higher level.
RHP Jacob Turner, Detroit (AA Erie)- Turner has a great fastball and curveball combination, but he doesn’t strike out as many batters as fans might expect. Nevertheless, he’s a great prospect and quickly progressing through the Detroit system. His ERA is just under .300 for the season, and somehow in 15 starts, he’s only accumulated three decisions with a 2-1 roster.
C Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati (AAA Louisville)- Mesoraco was drafted 15th overall by the Reds in 2007, and for the first couple years of his career, it appeared to be a mistake. In the 2009 offseason, he worked really hard, and he had a breakout season in 2010. He hit 26 home runs over three levels, and even if he’s never great defensively, it looks like he’ll be a very good offensive catcher.
C Austin Romine, New York Yankees (AA Trenton)- Romine may not be as heralded as fellow Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero, but he’s more likely to stay behind the plate. He doesn’t hit nearly as well, but he has better defensive skills. There were a number of catchers Baseball America could’ve gone with for this spot, but Romine is solid across the board.
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona (AA Mobile)- After Goldschmidt destroyed the Cal League in the second half of 2010, people were skeptical and rightfully so about this bat-only player. He needed to prove himself at a higher level, and on Opening Day this year, he did just that, slugging two home runs and then a 3rd homer the following game.
2B Jason Kipnis, Cleveland (AAA Columbus)- The Indians have a deep farm system with players that don’t project to be stars, but solid to very good major leaguers. Kipnis is at the top of that list for position players. Since being drafted in 2009, Kipnis has done nothing but hit, and he’s knocking on the door of the majors now. It probably won’t be long until he’s in the majors.
2B/SS Chase d’Arnaud, Pittsburgh (MLB)- As I’m writing this, D’Arnaud is making his ML debut with the Pirates at 3B. If he’s still in the majors come the All-Star break, he’ll be replaced on the roster. His younger brother Travis in the Toronto organization has a higher ceiling, but that won’t stop Chase from being a solid major league player, but it probably won’t be at SS.
SS Grant Green, Oakland (AA Midland)- Green was in this game last year and held his own, and he’s back again. It’s been a bit of a down year so far for Green, but as we saw last year, he may just be a better second half player. He may not be able to stick at short in the majors, but if his power comes back, he should hit enough to change defensive positions in the future.
SS Manny Machado, Baltimore (A+ Frederick)- After Bryce Harper, Machado was the second hitter drafted in 2010, and he was actually promoted to high-A before Harper. He started the season on fire, but a knee injury sidelined him for a bit, and he hasn’t been the same since. He could be a big time hitter, and although his defense isn’t great, he should be an ML shortstop.
3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado (A+ Modesto)- In 2010, Arenado was one of the more prolific doubles hitters in the minors. He got off to a slow start in 2011, and his power still isn’t really there. This season, he is crushing left handed pitching, and he’ll need to improve that split moving forward. One positive note is that his defense is better compared to previous seasons.
3B James Darnell, San Diego (AA San Antonio)- After a down 2010 season, Darnell burst out of the gates this year as one of the minors’ hottest hitters in April. He was a part of a deep San Antonio lineup that was crushing every pitcher they saw, and he’s continued to have a good season to this date. He needs to improve his defense, but the Padres just need bats in the future.
3B Will Middlebrooks, Boston (AA Portland)- Middlebrooks has been improving steadily in his few years in the Red Sox system, and if that keeps up, he’ll be ready for a role in the big leagues soon. He strikes out a lot and could stand to walk more, but he has a nice all-around skillset including his defensive ability. He’ll probably set a career high in homers this season.
OF Gary Brown, San Francisco (A+ San Jose)- Brown got off to a great start for the Giants, got even hotter in May, but a June slump may have delayed a promotion to AA. He’s one of the most exciting players in the minors with incredible speed and great defense. He’s even shown a little power, and his patience at the plate has improved since college which adds even more value.
OF Bryce Harper, Washington (A Hagerstown)- Here’s the big name a lot of people are interested in. Even with all of the premature hype from Sports Illustrated and the media, Harper has somehow beat expectations, and he has to be the #1 prospect in baseball right now. He has big time power, and his other skills are proving to be better than previously believed. If he shows improved maturity, he could finally be promoted to high-A.
OF Matt Szczur, Chicago Cubs (A Peoria)- The Cubs love them some former football players, and Szczur was a standout offensive player on the Villanova Wildcats football team. He’s a really good athlete, and although there’s some debate about how good he can eventually be, he’s definitely performing well this year. Like a lot of solid college players, he’ll need to prove himself at higher levels where he isn’t one of the most experienced players on the field every night.
OF Mike Trout, Anaheim (AA Arkansas)- If Gary Brown is one of the most exciting players in the minors, Trout is like Brown on steroids. It’s pretty safe to say that he’s a five tool player, and he could reach the majors by the end of this season. At the plate, he really has it all. He has a nice hit tool, shows power, has some of the best speed in baseball, and his plate approach is good.
RHP Henderson Alvarez, Toronto (AA New Hampshire)- Prior to this season, the career of Alvarez could be best described as mediocre. His command has been good, but he hasn’t gotten as many strikeouts as expected, and he’s given up his fair share of hits. This season, it’s come together for him with a 2.30 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00 in the Eastern League with big fastball velocity.
RHP Liam Hendriks, Minnesota (AA New Britain)- Readers of this site should already be familiar with Hendriks after Brian did a nice Q&A with him earlier in the season. He certainly has one of the more interesting backgrounds in this game, and he’s had a great minor league career to this point. He’s one of Minnesota’s top 10 prospects.
RHP Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City (AA Northwest Arkansas)- For all the talk about the Royals’ incredibly deep system, a little known reliever named Kelvin Herrera is their representative in this game. He had trouble getting out of the lower levels of the system with elbow problems, but he moved to the bullpen and he’s been pitching like his hair is on fire in the Texas League.
RHP Gregory Infante, Chicago White Sox (AAA Charlotte)- Infante has some big league experience already, but with his 1.81 WHIP with Charlotte this year, it’s obvious he needs some more seasoning. The White Sox hope he can harness his incredible fastball velocity that can be in the high 90′s and help improve a beleaguered bullpen that really struggled to start this season.
RHP Jhan Martinez, Florida (AA Jacksonville)- Martinez is another pitcher on this roster with big velocity. Notice a trend? Like Infante, Martinez also has some big league experience. It was brief and for good reason. He has some control issues, and it’s gotten worse this year with 21 walks in just 28.2 IP. This needs to improve for him to get an extended look with the Marlins.
RHP Carlos Martinez, St. Louis (A Quad Cities)- Despite having more names (previously known as Carlos Matias) than seasons pitched in the U.S. (just 2011), Martinez has received a lot of warranted hype. He has great velocity with potential for nice offspeed pitches. The Red Sox originally signed him, but after a suspension due to identity issues, the Cardinals scooped him up.
LHP James Paxton, Seattle (A Clinton)- Paxton finally made his much anticipated professional debut this season after a long journey that took him from college to an indy league through a long holdout thanks to agent Scott Boras. He’s piled up some of the most impressive strikeout numbers in the minors this year, and Seattle probably feels he was worth the wait.
LHP Martin Perez, Texas (AA Frisco)- Perez has frequented top prospect lists recently, and after a rough 2010 season, many wondered why. His bounceback campaign this season is why. In his second year in the Texas League, his ERA is down nearly 3 runs, his walks are down significantly, and he’s still one of the youngest pitchers in AA.
RHP Julio Teheran, Atlanta (AAA Gwinnett)- Coming into the season, Teheran was considered to be the #1 pitching prospect in baseball. He made his ML debut earlier this year (which I wrote about,) but he’s back in the minors where he belongs for now. He’s probably not ML ready yet, but he’ll probably impress against fellow minor leaguers in Arizona.
RHP Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta (AA Mississippi)- Teheran will be joined by fellow farmhand Arodys Vizcaino in the Futures Game, and if the Braves could have three guys in this game, Randall Delgado would probably be here too. The Braves stole Vizcaino in the Javier Vazquez trade with the Yankees, and that trade could pay off if he can manage to stay healthy.
C Wilin Rosario, Colorado (AA Tulsa)- Rosario could be one of the best catching prospects in the minors despite a somewhat disappointing season so far. It’s important to keep in mind that he’s coming back from a torn knee ligament late last year, and by all accounts he got back on the field sooner than expected. He’ll need to improve on his sub-.300 OBP before moving up the ladder.
C Sebastian Valle, Philadelphia (A+ Clearwater)- Like Rosario, Valle brings an incredibly aggressive approach to the plate and may not even know what a walk is. He’s making great contact in the Florida State League, and he has some power in his bat too. If he improves his defense and maybe gets a little more patient, he could become the Phillies’ top position player prospect.
1B Yonder Alonso, Cincinnati (AAA Louisville)- The Reds desperately want Alonso to be able to play LF. They used a high draft pick on him a few years ago, but they have a 1B that I’d say is pretty solid already, and obviously they can’t have Alonso DH. Ultimately, he may end up as trade bait, but for now he’ll hit in AAA and attempt to learn how to play the outfield.
2B Jose Altuve, Houston (AA Corpus Christi)- Thanks to the Baseball Prospectus podcast, Altuve has earned a cult following as he tries to hit his way to Houston. What’s so special about him? He’s listed at 5’7, and he’s probably even shorter than that. Despite his stature, he can really hit and hit for power too. He’ll always be questioned due to his size, but at some point, everyone has to acknowledge that production is production, right?
SS Hak-Ju Lee, Tampa Bay (A+ Charlotte)- Chris Archer was considered to be the top prospect received in the Matt Garza trade, but at this point, it’s probably Lee. He’s cooled significantly since a hot start, but his offensive numbers are still really good. He can field his position, and with Tim Beckham making strides in AA, suddenly the Rays have some nice depth at shortstop.
SS Jurickson Profar, Texas (A Hickory)- Profar is the youngest player in this game even with all of the incredible talent that will be on display. He’s just a mature player at his age with a very good plate approach, and he’s solid across the board in all tools. The Rangers have focused on the international market lately, and they could be rewarded with Profar rising up prospect rankings.
SS Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore (A+ Frederick)- Schoop’s teammate at Delmarva and now Frederick, Manny Machado, may get all the attention, but Schoop is a solid player in his own right. Machado has even pushed him off shortstop, but Schoop is capable of playing all the infield positions. He showed some nice power in the South Atlantic League, but he hasn’t hit too well in a few weeks up in the Carolina League. Maybe the Orioles are finally improving.
3B Alex Liddi, Seattle (AAA Tacoma)- It seems like Liddi is in this game every year, doesn’t it? He burst onto the scene with a huge offensive year at High Desert like a lot of players, but he has sustained success since then. He strikes out way too much, but Liddi does have power. For a team desperate for runs, Seattle could learn to live with his low average and strikeouts.
3B Jefry Marte, New York Mets (A+ St. Lucie)- The Mets seem to have a pattern with amateur players. They don’t spend on the draft, but they do dip into the international market frequently. When they get a guy they like, they aggressively promote him and wonder what went wrong. Marte took a couple tries to get out of the SAL, but he’s having a solid season in the Florida State League.
3B Francisco Martinez, Detroit (AA Erie)- Martinez is another player that has been promoted aggressively by a chronic overpromoting organization, but he’s enjoying his best season as a pro in AA. He’s not very patient at the plate, but the Tigers think he’ll develop some power in his bat. It’s an organization that could use some young position players at the ML level for sure.
OF Chih-Hsein Chiang, Boston (AA Portland)- Chiang has a .962 OPS this season in the Eastern League, and I have to admit that I didn’t know much about him. That’s because he hasn’t put up numbers anything like this in previous seasons. His previous career high in OPS was .797, and that was as a member of the Lancaster JetHawks. We all know what playing there does to offensive numbers.
OF Reymond Fuentes, San Diego (A+ Lake Elsinore)- So far, the Padres are satisfied with their return for Adrian Gonzalez. Anthony Rizzo is in the majors, and now Fuentes will appear on the biggest national stage for prospects before they reach the majors. His bat still has a long way to go, but with his speed and defense, he can be a major asset patrolling CF at Petco Park.
OF Starling Marte, Pittsburgh (AA Altoona)- Soon, teenagers that have never seen the Pirates have a winning season will be allowed to legally purchase cigarettes, but those days could be coming to an end with depth and talent accumulating in the minors. Marte can play a nice CF, and he’s been a very good hitter in his minor league carer with an aggressive plate approach.
OF Alfred Silverio, Los Angeles (AA Chattanooga)- Silverio spent most of last season in the Cal League, and I thought he was just a solid player, but here he is in the Futures Game one year later. He’s crushing AA pitching, nearly slugging .600 with 22 doubles and 11 home runs on the season. Like a number of players on the World roster, he could stand to walk a little bit more.
OF Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox (AAA Charlotte)- Viciedo received a lot of hype as an amateur out of Cuba, and he hasn’t quite lived up to it yet. He should be able to hit as a major leaguer, but as a clumsy, big bodied player, he hasn’t been able to find a defensive home yet. The White Sox are trying him out in the outfield which he should be able to eventually handle.
If I was managing both teams with these current rosters, these are the lineups I’d go with:
It should be a very exciting game. On paper, I think I like the U.S. team a little more. Most years, it seems like the U.S. team has more depth while they’ll have comparable top level talent. However, as we all know in baseball, anything can happen in one game. The worst team can beat the best team probably 25-30% of the time, and of course the talent difference between these two isn’t anywhere near that huge. The U.S. won big last year, but the World has had more success lately. When pitchers are fired up and only throwing one inning, the flamethrowers each team can put out there can really limit offense. Whoever wins, the final score isn’t as important as simply watching the talent that will be on display, so on July 10th, tune in and enjoy.