Futures Game preview
U.S. boasts powerful outfield; World has elite arms
Posted: Friday July 6, 2007 1:46PM; Updated: Friday July 6, 2007 4:09PM
In eight years, the Futures Game has gone from being an All-Star weekend publicity stunt to a rite of passage for top-level prospects. More than 100 major-league regulars have played in the Futures Game, and 14 members of this season's National League All-Star team once played in the game.
As robust in talent as the Futures Game has become, it also has been diluted by MLB's insistence that every team and as many countries as possible are represented. This means that while the game has been chock full of future stars such as Jose Reyes and Alfonso Soriano in the past, less-talented players like Anderson Gomes and Giuseppe Chiaramonte also get to make the trip. Let's take a look through the American and World rosters from this year's Futures Game, the ninth installment of the event, and separate the worthy from the undeserving.
All the talk about the American team rightfully focuses on the outfield -- the Futures Game has never seen such a conglomeration of talent at a single position. Leading the pack is Justin Upton, the true star of his family (brother B.J. is hitting .300 for the Devil Rays) who has planted himself as the game's top prospect. The five-tool stud might be Arizona's best possible midseason acquisition -- he had mild success against big league pitching as early as the 2006 Cactus League.
The game's most powerful outfielder is Jay Bruce, a rough-around-the-edges phenom with the prototype skills set for a right fielder, and probably the game's most likely future home run champion. Rounding out the starting group is Cameron Maybin, whose raw power is untapped yet but who could eventually out-triple Curtis Granderson. Coming off the bench will be Colby Rasmus, a sweet-swinging, make-it-look-easy type destined to be a Jim Edmonds successor in St. Louis. Scouts have compared Rasmus to everyone from Grady Sizemore to Jacque Jones, but his quick success in Double-A has left St. Louis' expectations on the high end.
The rest of the offensive crop is light with the possible exception of Tampa infielder Evan Longoria, the third overall pick in last year's draft. Longoria could play both second and third base in the major leagues, and at either position his bat will succeed.
The American pitching staff is another strength for the team, led by a trio of starters from big market organizations. Boston starter Clay Buchholz has been great in Double-A and could likely fill the Red Sox fifth spot effectively, as he's thrown three-plus pitches for strikes all season. The only member of the staff with bigger star potential is Clayton Kershaw, a Dodgers lefty having unrivaled success for a teenager in full-season ball. Finally, as Philip Hughes returns from the Yankees and sheds himself of prospect status, the next phenom for the Big Apple hype machine becomes Joba Chamberlain. A big-bodied pitcher from Nebraska, Joba has reached Double-A this season on a big fastball and commanding breaking pitches.
The pitching staff is loaded, headlined by local NoCal lefty Chuck Lofgren, an Indians prospect with fantastic athleticism and good stuff. Last year's first overall pick, Luke Hochevar, is struggling in Double-A but still showing power movement on his arsenal. Jeff Niemann, the Devil Rays' 6-foot-9 pitcher, has yet to fulfill his collegiate promise but still intimidates many hitters. Finally, last year's top pick for the Mets, Kevin Mulvey, has been good in Double-A and could close out their 2008 rotation.
Catcher Bryan Anderson has really broke out this season, and his good contact skills and solid defense have some Cardinal fans calling for Yadier Molina's mask. Adrian Cardenas is one of the game's youngest players, and while years removed from contributing to Philadelphia, he has all the tools to be successful there. Chris Coghlan is an offensive-minded second baseman for the Marlins with the game's best pitch selection. Shortstop Brent Lillibridge, one of two Braves shortstops in the game, does everything well and nothing spectacular up the middle. Two third baseman, Ian Stewart and John Whittleman, are both repeating levels this season and having performances that better mirror what their power suggests.
Collin Balester, rhp, Nationals: Always solid stuff but not striking out enough hitters.