Who to watch in Sunday's Futures Game
Scouting reports on the top U.S. and World team players
One of the greatest things about the XM All-Star Futures Game, coming up this Sunday, is the chance to see all these great prospects live and in the flesh (or on TV, courtesy of ESPN2, ESPNHD and MLB.TV).
It used to be that the Futures Game was likely the first time any fan outside of those in Minor League markets got to see many of these future stars perform. Video of their exploits are more readily found nowadays, but the All-Star weekend showcase still provides a rare opportunity to see all of this great young talent on one field at the same time.
Each year, players wow fans with their bats, their speed, their gloves and their arms. Just last year, hitters like Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton created a buzz during batting practice, Tyson Gillies excited with his baserunning and Neftali Feliz lit up the radar gun from the mound. It should come as no surprise that three of those players are in the big leagues already, and two -- Heyward and Feliz -- were named to the Major League All-Star Game on Tuesday.
This year will be no different, with many young players sure to thrill with their on-field exploits. Using a combination of scouting reports and statistics, here's an in-depth look at who to watch from both rosters on Sunday.
LIGHTING UP THE RADAR
He's being eased into a starting role now, but at the Futures Game, U.S. pitcher Tanner Scheppers (Rangers) will get to rear back and let loose in a one-inning outing. As a reliever this year, Scheppers has struck out 46 in 30 innings pitched. His fastball has been clocked as high as 99 mph, and of all the pitchers on the U.S. staff, he's the only one whose fastball is projected to eventually be an eight on the scouting scale (It's a 2-8 scale, with eight being the highest a player can get in any given skill).
Scheppers will be joined by fellow 2009 first-round picks Zack Wheeler (Giants) and Shelby Miller (Cardinals). Both may have been pitching in high school just over a year ago, but they can crank their fastballs into the upper-90s, Miller to 97 thus far this year, with Wheeler touching 98.
Canadian Phillippe Valiquette (Reds) might have the best chance to create a Feliz-like buzz for the World team. With an eight fastball from the left side, Valiquette has hit 98 mph on radar guns this season. The Mets' Jeurys Familia isn't far behind, with a fastball that's a seven now and could be an eight down the road. He's gotten his fastball up to 97 mph this season. A few others can get it into the mid-90s, and all have above-average or better life to their heaters, so look for some serious swings and misses.
MORE FILTHY STUFF
A fastball alone does not a pitcher make. Rest assured, Futures pitchers will try to make hitters look silly with some pretty nasty secondary stuff. Jordan Lyles (Astros) brings three offerings to the U.S. pitching staff. His changeup has the chance to be a plus pitch down the road, and his slider will be an above-average pitch. Braves 2009 first-round pick Mike Minor has a changeup that has a future grade of seven and misses a lot of bats. And Scheppers has a nasty power curve to go along with that plus fastball.
The World Team's secondary stuff does not grade out as well as the U.S. repertoire, though that's not to say there's nothing beyond live fastballs with this bunch. While Julio Teheran (Braves) can run his fastball up to 96 mph, he's also got a curve that can be above-average and at least an average changeup to give him a very nice three-pitch mix. Stolmy Pimentel (Red Sox) has a curve to back up his good fastball that has the chance to be a plus breaking pitch.
BATTING PRACTICE DISPLAY
The Royals' Mike Moustakas is coming home for the Futures Game (he's from Los Angeles), so folks there might know plenty about his bat speed. It's what helped him set a California high school home run record. Clearly not just a metal bat thing, Moustakas leads the Double-A Texas League in homers (21) and slugging percentage (.705). Coming to a Triple-A Pacific Coast League park near you, as a promotion awaits him after the Futures Game.
No one else approaches Moustakas' current or future power, but that doesn't mean it won't be worth watching Domonic Brown (Phillies) and his future power grade of six, or Moustakas' organization-mate Eric Hosmer, who also has future power rated at six and might be one of the better pure hitters on the U.S. roster. Angels fans certainly will want to watch ultra-talented 2009 first-rounder Mike Trout in the cage as well. He's got the chance to have average power and gets plus grades for his future overall hitting ability.
Italian third baseman Alex Liddi (Mariners) grades out to have above-average power, the highest grade on the World roster. The Mariners' Carlos Peguero has a slightly lower grade, but he did hit 31 homers in 2009 (albeit in High Desert) and has 15 so far this year.
There are plenty of fantastic hitters to watch on the World side as well, including Brett Lawrie of the Brewers and Ozzie Martinez of the Marlins, both of whom have received sixes for future hitting ability.
BURNING UP THE BASEPATHS
The U.S. team has some serious speed at its disposal. Trout gets an eight for his run tool, but he also has great instincts on the bases. He tops the Midwest League with 42 steals in 50 attempts. Twins outfielder Ben Revere and Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon both get sevens for their speed. Revere's swiped 24 bags this year; Gordon has 31. Drew Cumberland (Padres), the Rays' Desmond Jennings and the Phillies' Brown also have above-average wheels.
The other Peguero on the World Team, the Giants' Francisco, has the speed in the "family." The outfielder is above-average and has 27 steals in 68 games thus far this season. Eury Perez (Nationals) is adjusting to his first taste of full-season ball, but the speed plays. His 25 steals are tied for seventh in the South Atlantic League.
FLASHING THE LEATHER
Enough about the offense; How about some defensive ability? Once again, Trout stands out here, with a future plus grade as an outfielder with plus range. Jennings gets high marks for fielding and range as well. If he and Trout are in the outfield at the same time, good luck to the World offense trying to find a gap.
It might be a good idea to watch the World Team middle infield. Pedro Ciriaco (Diamondbacks) is an above-average fielder with very good range at shortstop. Hak Ju-Lee (Cubs) grades out the same at the same position, and the Brewers' Martinez does, too. Three-time Futures Gamer Gorkys Hernandez (Pirates) has outstanding skills in the outfield.
SHOWING OFF THE ARM
Just catching the ball isn't enough, of course. Making the throw is just as important, especially behind the plate. U.S. catcher Austin Romine (Yankees) not only is an above-average defender with good range, he's got an excellent arm. Somewhat unusually, perhaps the two best arms after Romine's on the U.S. side are at first base. Both Logan Morrison (Marlins) and Hosmer have outstanding arms.
World catcher Wilin Rosario (Rockies) might have the best cannon on either team. His arm strength gets a seven from some scouts. So does Ciriaco's arm from shortstop, while Martinez is above-average up the middle. In terms of cannons from the outfield, the best bet is Francisco Peguero, who's graded out as a 6.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.