Futures Game: Team USA thumbnails
Jeff Mathis, C, Angels
First-round pick (33rd overall) in 2001
A supplemental first-round pick in 2001, the 20-year-old Mathis, a converted high school shortstop and pitcher, is in just his third year behind the plate.
In 2000, he hit .300 between two rookie level leagues and followed up his rookie campaign with a strong showing in the lower level Class A Midwest League, hitting .287 and ranking second in the circuit with 41 doubles. He also knocked in 73 runs as the league's fifth-youngest hitter.
Evidenced by his 107 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings while on the mound in high school, Mathis' strong throwing arm is one of his biggest assets. He led all Midwest League catchers with a .9941 fielding percentage in 2001, edging Minnesota's Joe Mauer's .9937 mark.
Through July 8 of this season, Mathis was ninth in the advanced Class A California League with a .322 average. He scored a run in eight consecutive games from May 19-27 and hit safely in 11 straight June 8-19.
Joe Mauer, C, Twins
• First-round pick (first overall) in 2001
The now 20-year-old was named to SportsTicker's All-Teen team in 2002 after hitting .302 with four homers, 23 doubles and 62 RBIs for Quad City in the Midwest League, his first full season of professional baseball.
After striking out just once in his entire high school career, Mauer has produced a ratio of nearly 12 plate appearances per strikeout since turning pro.
Mauer began this season in the advanced Class A Florida State League and batted .335 with 44 RBIs and as many walks as strikeouts before getting the call to the Class AA Eastern League, where he assembled an 11-game hitting streak. Through July 8, he was second among all National Association catchers with a .332 average between the two levels.
Gifted defensively, he gunned down 65 percent of would-be basestealers while not committing an error in the Florida State League.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies
• Fifth-round pick in 2001
A product of Southwest Missouri State, Howard ranked third in the Class A South Atlantic League with 19 home runs and fourth with 87 RBIs in his first full professional season last year. He knocked in 25 runs last May and homered in three straight games in late August.
Playing in the advanced Class A Florida State League this season, the 23-year-old lefty swinger hit safely in 16 of his first 19 games and again homered in three straight games April 19-21.
The 6-4, 230-pounder clubbed a grand slam on May 9 and connected for a pair of solo homers two days later. His 15 home runs through July 6 were tied for most in his league.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves
• 29th-round pick in 2000
LaRoche has overachieved and steadily moved up the ladder in the Braves organization. He ranked fourth in the rookie-level Appalachian League with a .308 average after signing in 2000.
Last year, he hit .336 in the advanced Class A Carolina League to earn a midseason callup to Class AA. The Seminole Community College product reached base safely in 31 consecutive Southern League games July 20-August 22. He finished the season with a combined 13 homers and 72 RBIs.
Back in the Southern League to begin this season, LaRoche hit safely in his first 12 games and, with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs through June 10, he was promoted to the Class AAA International League. The 23-year-old LaRoche has already set a career high with 15 home runs through July 8.
Josh Barfield, 2B, Padres
• Fourth-round pick in 2001
Barfield, the son of former major league outfielder Jesse Barfield, is a three-year pro who has shown the ability to hit, hit for power and run. Barfield is taking more walks this season than in the past and was leading all minor leaguers with 121 hits and tied for the top spot with 79 RBIs through July 8. His 29 walks are already a career high.
Last season, Barfield led the lower-level Class A Midwest League with 164 hits, including five in two separate games, and ranked sixth with a .306 average. He hit .352 with 23 RBIs in June and owned a .373 mark in August.
The 20-year-old Barfield opened this season by hitting safely in each of his first nine advanced Class A California League games at a .415 clip. He drove in a run in 10 consecutive games May 3-11 and scored five runs -- one shy of the minor league season high -- on May 5. Barfield has hit at least .325 in each month this season and had two more five-hit games (April 16 and June 7).
Chris Burke, 2B, Astros
• First-round pick (10th overall) in 2001
Burke, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 2001 (.435, 20 HR, 49 SB) who broke most of Todd Helton's records at the University of Tennessee, hit .300 with 21 stolen bases in 56 games at Class A Michigan that summer in his pro debut.
Because the Astros did not have an advanced Class A affiliate in 2002, Burke was tested in the Class AA Texas League. He managed only a .264 average and just 30 extra-base hits in 136 games.
This season, the 23-year-old Burke got off to a blazing start in his second tour of duty in the Texas League, putting together a 15-game hitting streak en route to a .383 average in April.
Though he tailed off a bit in June, Burke has heated up again to start July. A top-of-the-order type, he was third in his league with a .322 average while leading in hits (118) through July 8.
Originally drafted as a shortstop, Burke has split time between the two middle infield positions. He has spent the bulk of his time this season at second but has seen more time at short recently.
Khalil Greene, SS, Padres
• First-round pick (13th overall) in 2002
Greene, the unanimous 2002 National Player of the Year in his final season at Clemson, has generated plenty of attention in his first full pro season.
A .317 hitter with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 46 Class A California League games after signing last summer, Greene debuted in the Class AA Southern League this season.
Despite only marginal success in 59 games there (.275, 3 HR, 20 RBIs), the 23-year-old was called up to the Class AAA Pacific Coast League due to a positional need. Greene responded by knocking in eight runs over his first three games and hitting .357 with 20 RBIs through 21 contests.
Originally a 14th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2001, Greene did not sign. Rewarded for his decision to return for his senior season, he was the recipient of the Dick Howser Award en route to his first-round selection last June.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers
• Second-round pick in 2001
Entering the season as the third-youngest player in the Class AA Southern League, Hardy opened with a 10-game hitting streak and produced his first career two-homer game on April 18. The 20-year-old Hardy belted two more homers on June 3. Selected to play in the league all-star game on July 8, he went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
One of the youngest players in advanced Class A California League a season ago, Hardy hit .293 and drove in 48 runs in 84 games before being promoted to the Southern League in mid July.
After managing just nine home runs in 625 career at-bats, Hardy worked tirelessly during the offseason on building up his strength. It has paid off as he already has matched that mark with nine this year.
Hardy, a Tucson, Arizona native, is a sure-handed defender as evidenced by only eight errors in 65 games through July 8.
Chad Tracy, 3B, Diamondbacks
• Seventh-round pick in 2001
Skipping over the advanced Class A level, Tracy was the Class AA Texas League's Player of the Year in 2002. He won the batting title with a .344 average, led the league in hits (177) and doubles (39) and owned the circuit's best SO/TPA ratio (1/11.06). His .406 average last May was third best in the National Association and he was hitting over .400 as late as June 8.
The 23-year-old Tracy began this season in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League and hit safely in his first eight games at a .500 clip (18-36). He scored a 2003 minor league season-high six runs in his third game. The left-handed-hitting Tracy hit safely in 10 straight games in May and turned in a 13-game hitting streak in June.
Through July 8, he was tied for second in his league with 64 runs and tied for third with 107 hits. His .322 average was fifth among all third basemen in the National Association.
Mainly a first baseman in his college days at East Carolina, Tracy has made the conversion across the diamond upon turning pro.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B, Red Sox
• Eighth-round pick in 2001
Youkilis, who entered the 2003 campaign with a .457 on-base percentage in three seasons since turning pro, has strung together 47 straight games reaching base safely by hit or walk through July 8. In fact, Youkilis has been held without a hit or a walk in just two games all season.
The 24-year-old, who posted a streak of 46 consecutive games reaching base in 2001 while in the New York-Penn League, was leading the National Association with a .477 on-base percentage through July 8.
Being in control in the batter's box, Youkilis has struck out half as often as he's walked this season and has whiffed only 129 times in 1,227 plate appearances since being drafted out of the University of Cincinnati.
On the basepaths and at the hot corner, Youkilis is much quicker and more athletic than his 6-1, 220-pound frame would lead to believe.
Laynce Nix, OF, Rangers
• Fourth-round pick in 2000
The advanced Class A Florida State League's MVP in 2002, Nix led the circuit with 110 RBIs, including a National Association-best 29 in July. He also finished second in home runs (21) and third in runs (86) while batting .285 in a league-leading 137 games. He also swiped 17 bases in 18 attempts.
Among his feats during the MVP campaign, Nix scored a run in 10 straight games in July, connected for a pair of grand slams, hit .340 against fellow lefties and batted .383 with runners in scoring position and two out.
Beginning this season in the Class AA Texas League, Nix had a respectable April before erupting for a .363 average, six home runs and 29 RBIs in May. He produced three four-hit games during the season's second month.
A star quarterback in high school, Nix has a strong throwing arm among his defensive tools in the outfield. He recorded 12 assists in the Class A South Atlantic League in 2001.
The 22-year-old Nix, whose brother Jayson plays in the Rockies organization, was tied for third in his league with 63 RBIs through July 8.
Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians
• Third-round pick in 2000
Acquired by the Indians along with with fellow prospects Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee in the trade that sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos last summer, Sizemore emerged as a member of SportsTicker's All-Teen Team in 2002.
Sizemore, who was the fifth-youngest player to begin last season in the advanced Class A Florida State League, hit .258 there prior to the deal. In 47 games in the Carolina League afterwards, he batted .343 with more walks (33) than strikeouts (30).
A former high school football star who signed a letter of intent to be a quarterback at the University of Washington, the 20-year-old Sizemore has already set a career-high with nine home runs. The youngest hitter to begin the season in the Eastern League, he was tied for fourth in the circuit with 100 hits through July 8.
Stephen Smitherman, OF, Reds
• 23rd-round pick in 2000
The 24-year-old Smitherman has put up solid offensive numbers since being a 23rd-round pick in the 2000 draft. This season, his first at the Class AA level, has been no different.
He had three hits, including a double and a homer, and three RBIs in his first Southern League game. He batted .320 in May and began June with a two-homer game and a 5-for-5 performance two days later. He earned league Player of the Week honors on June 6.
With a .318 average, 16 homers and 54 RBIs, Smitherman was promoted to the majors following a rash of injuries in the Reds outfield. After grounding out in his first at-bat, he was assigned to Class AAA Louisville.
Smitherman, who played collegiately at Arkansas, led the lower level Class A Midwest League in doubles (45) and extra-base hits in 2001 -- his first full professional season. Last year, he knocked in 99 runs and batted .313, good for second and third, respectively, in the advanced Class A California League.
Having decent speed for a big man, Smitherman has stolen 53 bases in 65 career attempts.
Dave Krynzel, OF, Brewers
• First-round pick (11th overall) in 2000
Krynzel, 6-1, 180, is a burner with solid centerfield skills and some pop from the leadoff spot in the lineup.
The 21-year-old began last season with High Desert of the advanced Class A California League. After hitting .268 and more than doubling his career home run total with 11, he was promoted to Huntsville where he finished the season. He swiped an organizational-best 42 bases between the two teams.
This year Krynzel has returned to Huntsville and has batting .314 -- fourth-best in the league -- with a league-best 30 steals. On May 24, Krynzel tied the minor-league high for the season with four stolen bases in a 13-9 triumph over West Tenn.
Royce Ring, LHP, Mets
• First-round pick (18th overall) in 2002
Ring was brought to the Mets in the trade that sent Roberto Alomar to the White Sox early this season. He throws a mid 90s fastball and compliments it with a curveball and a changeup.
He led the NCAA last season in saves last season and set career and season records for saves at San Diego State University. After he was drafted he was sent to the rookie level Arizona League. Five scoreless innings later, he was promoted to Winston-Salem of the advanced Class A Carolina League. In 21 apperances with the Warthogs he went 2-0 with 13 saves and a 3.91 ERA.
The 6-0, 220-pounder began the season with Birmingham of the Class AA Southern League. Ring went 1-4 with 19 saves and a 2.52 ERA before being dealt. He has since been assigned to Binghamton of the Eastern League.
Clint Nageotte, RHP, Mariners
• Fifth-round pick in 1999
The 22-year-old was an all-state basketball player at Brooklyn High School in Ohio. He decided to focus on just baseball and eventually dropped basketball.
In his first season as a professional Nageotte won the Championship game for the Mariners of the rookie-level Arizona League. He followed up a solid debut by going 11-8 with a 3.13 ERA and a league-best 187 strikeouts for Wisconsin of the lower Class A Midwest League in 2001.
Last season he led the minor leagues in strikeouts, racking up 214 while at San Bernardino of the high Class A California League. He uses one of the best slider in the minors as his out pitch and throws a fastball in the low to mid 90s to get ahead in the counts.
Nageotte, 6-3, 200, has gone 9-2 with a 2.76 ERA -- third best in the league -- and his 105 strikeouts were good for second in the Class AA Texas League through July 8. In his most recent start, Nageotte pitched a one-hit shutout, striking out a league season-high 14 batters over nine innings.
J.D. Durbisn, RHP, Twins
• Second-round pick in 2000
DuRBIsn emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins organization by going 13-4 with a 3.19 ERA in 27 starts last year. He led the lower level Class A Midwest League with 163 strikeouts, including 10 in four different starts. His five wins in June were tied for second most in the National Association.
This season, the 21-year-old Durbisn went 9-2 with a 3.09 ERA in 14 starts in the advanced Class A Florida State League before being called up to Class AA in June. He struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven scoreless innings on May 19 and went 6-0 with a 0.94 ERA over seven starts leading up to his promotion.
The 6-0, 190-pound Durbisn allowed two earned runs over seven innings in each of his first three starts in the Eastern League.
Gavin Floyd, RHP, Phillies
• First-round pick (fourth overall) in 2001
The 6-5, 210-pound Floyd produced excellent numbers in his first season as a professional in 2002. A member of SportsTicker's All-Teen Team, he ranked seventh in the lower level Class A South Atlantic League with a 2.77 ERA and ranked first among league starters with a .200 average against.
On July 24, Floyd pitched a nine-inning no-hitter with eight strikeouts, but an unearned run saddled him with a 1-0 loss. The no-hitter was one of his three complete games last season.
Playing in the advanced Class A Florida State League this season, Floyd rebounded from a slow start to go 6-2 with a 1.66 ERA in 11 starts April 28-July 4. He pitched his first professional shutout on June 10, a nine-inning, four-hitter against Dunedin. Floyd posted a 0.93 ERA in June.
With an excellent fastball/curveball combo, the 20-year-old Floyd has allowed just 210 hits through his first 268 career innings.
Zack Greinke, RHP, Royals
• First-round pick (sixth overall) in 2002
The fourth-youngest player to begin this season in the advanced Class A Carolina League, Greinke has been outstanding.
Entering the 2003 season with just 11 1/3 innings of pro experience, the 19-year-old Greinke won each of his first nine decisions, covering 11 starts. He pitched a four-hit shutout in the first game of a doubleheader on June 5 to post his second straight complete game and his fifth straight winning start.
After taking his first pro loss on June 10, Greinke won each of his next two starts without allowing a run to improve to 11-1 with a league-leading 1.14 ERA, earning a promotion to the Class AA Texas League.
Greinke, who was also a power-hitting third basemen in high school, harnesses a low to mid-90s fastball. His control has been impeccable as he has issued just 16 walks through his first 98 1/3 career innings.
Neal Cotts, LHP, White Sox
• Second-round pick in 2001
Traded to the White Sox along with Billy Koch in the deal that sent Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson and Joe Valentine to Oakland over the winter, Cotts has excelled in his first season with a new organization.
The 23-year-old won each of his first four Class AA starts in dominating fashion, allowing just two runs and 12 hits while striking out 30 in 21 innings. He fanned 12 batters over 6 1/3 innings on May 29 and was third in the Southern League with 99 strikeouts despite missing three starts with a sore shoulder. His 1.97 ERA was best in the circuit entering the Southern League All-Star game, which he started and tossed a scoreless inning.
Cotts, who has a low-90s fastball, a changeup and a developing curve, ranked fourth in the minors with 178 strikeouts in just 137 2/3 innings last season. He also ranked second in the advanced Class A California League with a ratio of 11.64 SO/IP and third with 12 wins.
Edwin Jackson, RHP, Dodgers
• Sixth-round pick in 2001
As the youngest pitcher in the Class AA Southern League at 19, Jackson entered the league's all-star break 4-6 with a 3.54 ERA in 17 starts. His 97 strikeouts were good for fifth in the circuit. He fanned one of the three batters he faced in the all-star game on July 8.
Jackson, a converted outfielder who hit .308 in 20 Gulf Coast League at-bats in 2001, was named the Dodgers' 2002 Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 5-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 19 lower-level Class A South Atlantic League starts. He ranked third among all league starters with a ratio of 10.15 baserunners/9 IP and second with a .206 average against.
The 6-3, 190-pounder is a superb athlete who throws a mid-90s fastball. He established a career high with nine strikeouts over four innings in his final start of 2002 and matched it with nine whiffs over six innings of two-hit ball on May 15 of this season.
John Maine, RHP, Orioles
• Sixth-round pick in 2002
Maine, in his first full season as a professional, dominated the lower-level Class A South Atlantic League this year. He went 7-3 with a 1.53 ERA in 14 starts, striking out 108 while issuing just 18 walks in 76 1/3 innings, before being promoted to the Carolina League. He reached double digits in whiffs four times, including a career-high 12 over six innings on June 6.
In just his second start in the advanced Class A Carolina League, Maine pitched a seven-inning no-hitter against Winston-Salem on July 3. The 22-year-old struck out eight and had just a fielding error by his first baseman come between him and perfection.
Between the two levels, the UNC-Charlotte product has posted a minor league-high 120 strikeouts. He has posted 180 strikeouts while allowing just 27 walks through his first 131 pro innings.
Chris Narveson, LHP, Cardinals
• Second-round pick in 2000
Narveson, who posted a 2.31 ERA in 19 starts over two Class A stops in 2001, has made a triumphant return this season following elbow surgery which limited him to 60 2/3 innings in 2002.
The 21-year-old began the season in the advanced Class A Florida State League and went 7-7 with a 2.86 ERA in 15 outings. He was named Palm Beach's Opening Day starter on April 3 and responded with seven innings of three-hit, scoreless ball to post the win.
Narveson gave up just five hits over his last two outings in June, a span of 12 1/3 innings, to earn a promotion to Class AA. In his Southern League debut on June 30, he worked seven scoreless innings, giving up five hits and striking out six, to pick up the win over the league's best hitting team, the Carolina Mudcats.
The 6-3, 180-pound Narveson began his career by ranking eighth in the rookie-level Appalachian League with a 3.27 ERA in 2000.
Preston Larrison, RHP, Tigers
• Second-round pick in 2001
Larrison emerged as a Class A Florida State League all star in 2001. The 6-4, 230-pounder went 10-5 and ranked second in the circuit with a 2.39 ERA. His .199 average against and ratio of 10.07 baserunners/9 IP both ranked best among league starters. He allowed one earned run or fewer in each of his final eight starts, including his first professional shutout on July 21.
The 22-year-old started strong this season, not allowing a run over his first two Class AA Eastern League starts, spanning 11 2/3 innings. He was the league's first Pitcher of the Week in 2003. Larrison allowed just one run and three hits over eight innings in a no-decision on June 6.
Larrison, who played collegiately at Evansville, went 4-2 with a 3.79 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 38 Cape Cod League innings between his sophomore and junior seasons.
John VanBenschoten, RHP, Pirates
• First-round pick (eighth overall) in 2001
A pitcher and power-hitting outfielder at Kent State University (led NCAA Division I with 31 HR in his junior season), VanBenschoten was a designated hitter in addition to making nine starts in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League after signing with the Pirates in 2001.
Possessing well above average speed in addition to great hitting and pitching ability, VanBenschoten was viewed as arguably the top all-around athlete in the 2001 draft. He became the first Kent State player selected in the first round since Dustin Hermanson in 1994.
Focusing strictly on pitching last year, the 6-4, 210-pounder went 11-4 and ranked 10th in the Class A South Atlantic League with a 2.80 ERA in 27 starts. He fanned 145 batters, including a career-high 10 over seven scoreless innings on July 13.
Beginning this season in the advanced Class A Carolina League, VanBenschoten went 3-0 with a 0.69 ERA in April. He proceeded to win all six of his decisions in Lynchburg to earn a promotion to the Class AA Eastern League, where he has won each of his first four decisions. Dating back to last season, the 23-year-old VanBenschoten has won his last 14 decisions.
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