All-Star Futures Game previews some of majors’ coming attractions
Prospect hounds are different than most baseball lovers. Most of them couldn’t care less who leads the league in homers, whether Manager X made the right move to go to the lefty in the seventh last night, or what a raw deal Player Y received when he was left off the All-Star roster. They may be floored by the notion that Marlon Byrd is still wearing a big-league uniform, let alone that there’s a debate about whether the Mets should trade the resurgent slugger for minor-league talent (as I discovered while hanging out among some on Saturday). They’re focused on What’s Next, and the Futures Game is their midsummer classic, a chance to see the majors’ far-flung coming attractions gathered for a showcase on one field for one afternoon.
On Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, the results of the Futures Game — a 4-2 victory for the U.S. Team over the World one — mattered less than the opportunity to absorb the sight of so many young players who have yet to hit the national stage. From last year’s game alone, 19 players have seen major-league service this year, including Gerrit Cole, Manny Machado, Wil Myers, Jean Segura and Zack Wheeler. What follows is a look at a handful who either made impressions at the game, or stood out in a few conversations I had with industry folks leading up to it. You’ll be hearing about these guys again soon; by this time next year, they could be all over this very blog.
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS
Who he is: A 20-year-old shortstop from Aruba, Bogaerts is a top-shelf prospect who cracked the midseason top fives of both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, and after a recent promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, became the youngest player in the International League. At the two stops, he’s hitting a combined .294/.390/.489 with 13 homers. Scouts see him as a future middle-of-the-lineup stud, a potential .300 hitter with 30 homers, though he has yet to tap fully the power potential. He should arrive in the majors later this year, and though he may not stick at shortstop in the long-term due to limited range — with third base the more likely destination — he could be Boston’s starter next year, and could even help the Red Sox down the stretch this year.
What he did on Sunday: Batting third for the World team, Bogaerts singled off Noah Syndergaard in the first inning but was thrown out stealing second. He singled off Anthony Ranaudo in the fourth, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jordan Lennerton. He struck out and walked in his other two plate appearances.
Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks RHP
Who he is: A 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pounder who was the seventh pick of the 2011 draft out of an Oklahoma high school, Bradley has ranked number 25 on Baseball America’s lists in each of the past two years. Thanks to improved control, he’s raised his stock considerably — sixth on BA’s midseason list, fifth on that of BP — with his performance this year. In fact, with Dylan Bundy undergoing Tommy John surgery, Bradley now rates as the top pitcher in the minors. He began the year dominating the California League (High-A), and has pitched well since being promoted to the Southern League (Double-A); thus far, he has a 2.06 ERA with 9.9 strikeouts and 3.8 walks per nine in 18 starts. Bradley’s got an explosive mid-90s fastball, a knee-bending curve and a changeup that has plus potential as well. He could reach the majors later this year, at the very least adding a power arm to the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, if not patching up their banged-up rotation.
What he did on Sunday: Bradley impressed in throwing a scoreless third inning, overpowering hitters with a fastball in the 94-98 range (remember, for one-inning stints, pitchers can generally boost their velocity) and showing off a curve that Baseball America’s Ben Badler described as “a low-80s hammer with power and depth. Filthy.”
Byron Buxton, Twins CF
Who he is: The second pick of last year’s draft out of a Georgia high school, Bradley got just 189 plate appearances in rookie ball last year, but scouts saw enough to push him into the top 10 on both BA and BP lists. This year, as a 19-year-old at two levels of A-ball, he’s raking at a .333/.418/.533 clip, and turning so many heads that he topped both organizations’ midseason lists, and stands a good chance of going into next year as the consensus Numero Uno. He’s got elite, 80-grade speed, an outstanding arm and good power potential. As Jason Parks put it in BP’s midseason list, “Buxton has the most exciting tool collection in the minors, which is why he ranks ahead of [injured Cardinals prospect Oscar] Taveras as the premier prospect in the game … This is a special talent. You buy tickets to watch this kid play.”
What he did on Sunday: Due to his lack of seniority, Buxton started the game on the bench while speedy Billy Hamilton got the call as leadoff hitter and centerfielder. Entering the game in the fifth inning, he struck out swinging twice, but battled for a total of 11 pitches against Rafael De Paula and Miguel Almonte.
Matt Davidson, Diamondbacks 3B
Who he is: A supplemental first-round pick back in 2009, Davidson has spent three years in the lower reaches of top 100 lists. As BP’s Zack Mortimer summarized, the 22-year-old has “a classic third-base profile with plus power potential and a plus arm.” Currently hitting .291/.354/.500 with 14 homers at Triple-A Reno, he’s a candidate to help the big club later this year, given incumbent third baseman Martin Prado’s combination of struggles at the plate (.253/.304/.366) and versatility afield.
What he did on Sunday: With a monster two-run homer off the A’s Michael Ynoa in the fourth inning — a shot that traveled over 400 feet to right-center — Davidson gave the U.S. Team a lead it didn’t relinquish, earning him MVP honors.
Joc Pederson, Dodgers LF
Who he is: The Dodgers’ top positional prospect coming into the year, Pederson is an outstanding natural athlete and a grinder with a high baseball IQ. While none of his tools are well above average, all five have the potential to be average or better; he’s got a compact stroke with legitimate power, and an advanced approach at the plate that translates into on-base ability. Scouts are split as to whether he can stay in center due to the limitations of his speed and arm, but he may be able to fulfill the offensive profile needed in left field. Ranked 85th on Baseball America’s list coming into the year, he’s risen to 35th on their midseason list thanks to a strong showing at Double-A (.296/.386/.516 with 14 homers and 26 steals in 29 attempts). His future in the Dodgers’ organization is cloudy due to their expensive four-player logjam; Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig are all under contract through at least 2017. He represents a significant trade chip if they need to acquire an impact player at the deadline, though.
What he did on Sunday: After showing off his raw power during batting practice, Pederson got on base in both trips to the plate, lining a single in the second inning and coming around to score, then walking in the fourth and going first-to-third on a single to center. He also showed off his arm with a strong throw that nearly nailed Bogaerts at the plate on a sacrifice fly.
Miguel Sano, Twins 3B
Who he is: A strapping Dominican signed to a $3.15 million bonus at age 16 in 2009, Sano continues to climb prospect lists thanks to his elite raw power. Ranked ninth on BA’s list and 21st on BP’s list coming into the year, he tore up the Florida State League, hitting .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games. Since being promoted to Double-A New Britain a month ago, he’s struggled somewhat, hitting .205/.305/.500 with six homers, as pitchers have exploited his long swing to strike him out 29 percent of the time. Even so, improved glovework has convinced the right people that he can stay at third base; BA recently ranked him third on their midseason list, and BP ranked him sixth. Expect to see him in the majors sometime next year.
What he did on Sunday: Sano set spectators abuzz by showing off his power in batting practice, with five homers in one six-swing span. With a groundout, a walk and a hit-by-pitch, his plate appearances were quieter, but he did shine in the field with a couple of nice plays. Via Twitter, Badler observed, “He’s a big boy, but he should be able to stay there for a while.”
Noah Syndergaard, Mets RHP
Who he is: A name that should be familiar to Strike Zone readers, Syndergaard was a key piece in the R.A. Dickey deal, a 6-foot-6, 21-year-old righty whose ceiling is as a future number-two-type starter, ideally as part of a big three that includes Matt Harvey and the aforementioned Wheeler. He came into the year ranked 28th on the Baseball Prospectus list, 54th on that of Baseball America, and rose to 23rd on both midseason lists thanks to a much-improved curveball. Syndergaard normally throws his fastball in the mid-90s but can work in the low 90s, as well as touching 100 MPH. The heater comes in on a steep plane and has heavy sink and boring action. His curve and changeup have the potential to be plus pitches as well.
What he did on Sunday: The starter for the U.S. team opposite fellow Mets organization righty Rafael Montero, Syndergaard looked sharp while pitching a scoreless first inning. He allowed a single to Bogaerts but struck out second baseman Arismendy Alcantara on some 96 MPH high cheese, and worked an easy 95-96 with just about every fastball, with an 83-84 MPH curve as a second pitch.
Henry Urrutia, Orioles RF
Who he is: A 26-year-old Cuban defector in his first stateside season, Urrutia tore up Double-A Bowie (.365/.433/.550 with seven homers) before recently being promoted to Triple-A Norfolk, where after a slow start he’s now in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak during which he’s 19-for-46. A 6-foot-5 lefty, Urriuta is unpolished in the field — not playing competitive baseball for two full years will do that — but the man can hit, and the Orioles’ brass sees him as a potential second-half contributor, particularly given the combined .199/.263/.385 performance of their designated hitters thus far. “It looks like he has a lot of natural ability with the bat, so after the Futures Game, I think that’s something we can keep an eye on very closely,” said general managerDan Duquette earlier this week.
What he did on Sunday: Urrutia had a very undistinguished day, going 0-for-3 with three infield grounders, one of which produced an inning-ending double play. Even so, he may well be the first of this bunch to reach the majors.