Sunday, July 10, 2011

Your Guide to the 2011 Futures Game

On Tuesday night, the 2011 All Star game will take place. Of course, it’s supposed to be a battle of the biggest stars of the sport, and for the most part, it is. I’ll leave my reservations about the voting process for another day. MLB has done a great job advertising the Home Run Derby, which takes place the night before the Midsummer Classic. Of course, it’s a fun event, but it’s glorified batting practice. The most exciting event of the week, at least for the real baseball nerds such as myself, takes place a day before the Derby, as the future of the game is on display in the All-Star Futures Game.

Many of these players will go on to great careers. Looking at the MVPs of past futures games shows that these special prospects are just a step away from being special big-leaguers. Four of the six Larry Doby Award winners from 1999 to 2004 eventually made appearances in the MLB All-Star game, including Alfonso Soriano, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore, and Aaron Hill. Since then, emerging stars such as Billy Butler and Hank Conger have earned MVP honors, and the remainder of the rosters feature many budding superstars as well. This year’s rosters are no different, as several of the players in the 2011 Futures Game will be hoping to return to future midsummer exhibitions representing their respective Major League clubs. Listed here are just a few of the top prospects to watch on Sunday night.

USA Roster:

Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals
Miller has been dominant in both High-A and in Double-A, a level to which he was recently promoted. Miller, 20, has struck out 124 batters in 95.2 innings. Miller was ranked as Baseball America’s 13th best prospect in baseball before the season, and moved up to 7 in the recent midseason top 50. He features a mid-high 90s fastball with life, a big curveball, and a developing changeup that looks like it will be a weapon for him in the future, although he hasn’t been throwing it for long. Like many top pitchers, he didn’t need a changeup in high school, but he’s been working on the pitch and it should be a strong part of Miller’s repertoire by the time he’s ready for the majors, likely sometime next season.

Matt Moore, LHP, Rays
Moore was ranked as the 15th best prospect in baseball before this season, and his performance as a 22-year-old for Double-A Montgomery has moved him up to the 3 slot, as the best pitching prospect in baseball. Moore has rung up 125 batters in 96.2 innings at the level, and he’s also done a great job curtailing some of the control problems that held him back early in his career. After walking 5.1 batters per nine innings in 2009 and 3.8 in 2010, he’s now down to an impressive 2.4 BB/9. A steal in the 8th round of the 2007 MLB draft, he led the minors in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons, using mostly his mid-90s fastball, low 90s two-seamer, and a sharp, late-breaking slider. Like Miller, he’s working on his changeup, which is behind his other three pitches in terms of their development but should be another solid piece of his arsenal.

Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Indians
Pomeranz’s first big-league season is making it clear why the Indians tabbed him with the fifth overall selection of the 2010 draft, as he’s jumped all the way from 61 on Baseball America’s preseason list to 14 on the midseason rankings. Pomeranz has been tearing up High-A, striking out 95 and walking only 32 in 77 innings. He features a low-90s fastball with a ton of life and a nasty curve that is really his calling card. The 22-year-old Pomeranz could be due for a promotion soon. It’ll be interesting to see how he attacks some of the more polished World hitters, who will represent the best competition he’s seen thus far.

Jacob Turner, RHP, Tigers
At 20 years of age, Turner is one of the youngest players in Double-A, but he’s been dominating hitters several years his senior. Possibly the most polished 20-year-old pitcher in the minors (although he does still have some work to do in refining his command), Turner has notched 79 strikeouts against just 29 walks in 100.2 innings. He’s dealt with some injury issues, but when he’s on the mound, he’s looked nasty. He’s got a mid-to high 90s four-seam fastball with run, a low 90s two-seamer with a sinking action, and fairly well developed secondary stuff with a nasty curve and plus changeup, especially considering his age.

Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds
The 23-year-old is the reason the Reds may feel comfortable moving Ramon Hernandez at the deadline, as his replacement has looked ready for the bigs in Triple-A. Mesoraco has jumped from a preseason ranking of 64 in BA’s top prospects all the way to 15 in the midseason rankings. Mesoraco has a .303/.378/.510 line this year, showcasing a solid eye and powerful bat, and his defense has improved by leaps and bounds since he entered the Reds’ system in 2007, as he’s now a lock to stick behind the plate.

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles
Machado, the third overall pick of the 2010 draft, has been living up to the expectations that come with that high a selection. Rated 14th preseason and fifth in the most recent BA update, Machado’s .263/.369/.458 line at A and High-A shows impressive power and discipline for a shortstop, and he contributes on both sides of the ball with a strong glove. Only 19, he may not make it to Baltimore until the 2014 season, but when he does he’ll be an impact player at short.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
The consensus top prospect in baseball, Harper was recently promoted to Double-A. The 18-year-old might be ready for the majors today, but the Nationals figure to take their time letting him develop, as the future of their franchise rides on his bat and Stephen Strasburg’s arm. Harper is in the upper echelon of top prospects, as his incredible polish and abilities at his young age rank him alongside A-Rod and Griffey as one of the best prospects of all time.

Wil Myers, OF, Royals
Myers fell slightly from his top-10 BA ranking preseason to 17 in the midseason update, largely due to his move from behind the plate into the outfield. Myers wasn’t much of a defensive catcher, and his bat will certainly play in right. His trademark power hasn’t shown up in Double-A this season, as he’s slugging .385 after putting up a .506 mark between A and High-A last year. Nevertheless, Myers is only 20, extremely young for the level, and he’s on track to follow the rest of the impressive Royals prospects to the majors next season.

A quick note: Angels centerfielder Mike Trout was originally selected for the game but was called up last week when Peter Bourjos hit the DL. Trout won’t play in the Futures game, but he’s certainly the future of the Angels franchise, and it would be something of a surprise if he didn’t make it back to the All-Star festivities in the future.

The top prospects for the World team:

Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals
Martinez will oppose his future rotation-mate, Shelby Miller, and they’ll likely be pitching together on the Cardinals’ staff by the 2013 season. Only 19, Martinez recently earned a promotion to high-A by striking out 50 while walking only 14 in 38.2 innings in A ball. A native of the Dominican, Martinez’s fastball routinely hits the high 90s with cutting action. He’s working on his secondary stuff, which will be the key to his moving up the organization ladder, but several sources say his fastball is big-league ready now.

Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers
The 20-year-old Perez has been on the prospect radar for some time, as he was BA’s number 17 prospect before the 2010 season, ranked 24th before 2011, and is up to sixth in the midseason update. The Venezuelan is one of the youngest players in Double-A, but that hasn’t stopped him from striking out 83 in 88.1 innings, while walking 36. He’s got great command of his 93-mph fastball, a pitch that has some nasty tailing and sinking action. He’s still working on commanding his curveball, but it’s got some nasty break and should be a plus pitch for him, and he also features a changeup that will likely be serviceable for him.

Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves
A Colombian native, Teheran was rated the 5th best prospect in baseball before the season, and moved up to fourth in the midseason update. The 20-year-old actually made his major league debut earlier this year in an emergency spot start, but he’s been dominant in Triple-A despite being the youngest player at the level by more than a year. He features a strong mid-90s fastball, a biting curve, and a developing change. He’s working on his command and consistency, but he’s got a long way to go before he’s a finished, polished prospect, as he still can’t buy a beer.

Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Braves
Also 20, Vizcaino has taken a big step forward this year that earned him a midseason promotion to Double-A. He’s put up an impressive 83 strikeouts compared to 24 walks in 84 innings combined between his two levels this season, earning him the 16 spot on BA’s midseason update. He’s got a mid-90s curveball, but it doesn’t have enough movement to really be considered major league ready at this point. However, he’s working on commanding an advanced curve that looks to be a solid out pitch, and also features a changeup with impressive potential. Vizcaino is a native of the Dominican and was acquired from the Yankees in the 2009 Javier Vazquez deal.

Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
The Dominican Rosario is having a down year, possibly related to a knee injury sustained last August that required him to undergo surgery. After hitting an impressive .285/,342/.552 as a 21-year-old in Double-A last season, he’s managed only a .249/.286/.439 in the first half of 2011. Regardless, he’s got impressive power for a catcher, and flashes great defense and a solid arm behind the plate, and his skills were still strong enough to land him at 28 on BA’s midseason update.

Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Rays
Along with pitcher Chris Archer, Lee was a prize return in the offseason Matt Garza trade. A native of Korea, he’s having a great year at High-A in his first season in Tampa’s system, and the 20-year-old’s .330/.399/.458 line catapulted him from a preseason ranking of 92 to the 22 spot on BA’s midseason update. Lee plays solid defense at short and provides impressive offense from an up-the-middle position.

Jurickson Profar, SS, Rangers
Profar is the youngest player in this year’s Futures Game, as he only recently turned 18. Destined to become one of only a few MLBers from Curacao (others include Andruw Jones and Jair Jurrjens), Profar is incredibly polished for his age, with solid plate discipline, the ability to hit for some power, and potential Gold Glove defense. He’s currently the youngest player in any full season league, and his .270/.380/.488 earns him the 12 slot in BA’s midseason update.

Many of the players in the Futures Game will go on to long and productive big-league careers. While the All-Star game may have the names and the Derby has the flash, for many hardcore baseball fans the most important and exciting event of the All-Star festivities is the chance to see the sport’s best prospects sharing the stage.

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