Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Breaking down Futures Game rosters
By Keith Law
He was the No. 2 pick in 2012, now he's arguably the top prospect in baseball. He's Byron Buxton.
The 2013 MLB Futures Game will be shown on ESPN on July 14 at 2 p.m. ET and, as usual, it's the best place for you to get quick looks at most of the minors' top prospects from both leagues and all around the world. The first official rosters were released Wednesday -- they are subject to change if any players are promoted or injured before game day -- and here's my immediate reaction to the lists. (Click here for the U.S. roster and here for World roster.)
The key names are here, led by Minnesota outfielder Byron Buxton, who was just promoted to high Class A after tearing up the Midwest League; Arizona right-hander Archie Bradley, who'll bring that mid-90s fastball and hammer curve to Citi Field; and Oakland shortstop Addison Russell, whose .259/.338/.502 line as a 19-year-old in high Class A is extremely impressive, even more so given that he played hurt for parts of April and early May.
One thing that surprised me was how weak the U.S. pitching staff is relative to previous years. Two notable omissions are Pittsburgh's Jameson Taillon, who appeared in the game last year but doesn't appear here because the Pirates have two position players in the game; and Toronto's Aaron Sanchez, who just returned from the DL on June 21 but might be the best pitching prospect left in the minors. Houston's Mike Foltyniewicz will sniff triple digits as a starter and seems quite likely to do it in a one-inning stint, but the Astros' two spots are occupied by Delino DeShields Jr. and George Springer. Cincinnati's Robert Stephenson also had a good case to be here.
The staff also has just one left-hander, Philadelphia's Jesse Biddle; Boston's Henry Owens is probably the best lefty left off the roster, although I, too, would have taken Anthony Ranaudo over him, as an older and more advanced prospect, if I were to take someone else from Boston. The Marlins have only one player in the game, Christian Yelich, but lefty Andrew Heaney is pitching well in high Class A and should be a consideration if there's an opening (and if we want to at least treat this like a regular game, not just a showcase).
The U.S. team lost Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler (already a two-time FG participant) and Kevin Gausman to promotions and Dylan Bundy and Danny Hultzen to injury; they may also lose the Nationals' lone participant, Taylor Jordan, to promotion this week. If that happens, I'd love to see a new precedent set, where MLB takes the Nats' first overall pick from the 2013 draft, right-hander Jake Johansen, to fill Jordan's spot. Johansen has already signed and made his pro debut, and in a one-inning look should pump a few 98s and 99s. There isn't a clearly better candidate in the system, unless you want to buy into Matt Purke, who hasn't been fully healthy since 2010.
The offense is stronger with a great mix of high-upside guys who are a few years away and some lower-ceiling guys who'll debut in the next few months. Arizona's Chris Owings is the biggest omission among U.S. bats, with 124 hits already for Triple-A Reno, odd since the U.S. team has only two shortstops on it; he's not an elite prospect, but he's 21, performing well and plays a position of chronic need in this game. The Brewers have just one representative, back-end starter prospect Jimmy Nelson, but I might have called on outfielder Tyrone Taylor just to give them a second name in the game, even if he only were to get an at-bat and a few innings in the field.
The promotion of Mike Zunino and the 204th career injury to Travis d'Arnaud left the U.S. a little light on catching candidates, although defensive wizard Austin Hedges (San Diego) belongs here on merit and has the raw power to crush a mistake in this game. The same could be said of Texas' Joey Gallo, who has 80-grade power, an 80 arm at third ... and 117 strikeouts in 311 plate appearances in low Class A this year. If I were managing the U.S. team, I'd be concerned about the propensity of all of these hitters to strike out, but these are by and large the guys who belong in this game.
The World roster
Not a big bat, Francisco Lindor's glove already translates.
Again, the right names are here, all in the infield. That group is led by Boston's Xander Bogaerts (the lone representative from Aruba or Curacao this year), Cleveland's Francisco Lindor and Minnesota's Miguel Sano, the latter so famous there's a documentary called "Pelotero" about teams' courtship of him in 2009.
The World's catching is weak -- Christian Bethancourt has shown no development as a hitter for almost two years, although he can really throw, and A.J. Jimenez is more backup material than starter. Texas' Jorge Alfaro is the best catching prospect on the team, grading out very well on four of the traditional five tools, but showing very weak plate discipline even in his second year in the low Class A Sally League. Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez is an obvious omission, but the Yanks have been reluctant to push Sanchez, who's shown some immaturity on and off the field in the past, and probably declined any request for him to participate.
The World infield, on the other hand, is the most exciting part of the roster, with the three marquee names I mentioned above, as well as several exciting under-the-radar prospects in Philly's Maikel Franco, the Cubs' Arismendy Alcantara and Pittsburgh's Dilson Herrera. Carlos Correa is the biggest name missing, although he's just 18 and the Astros have lots of candidates for the game. Raul Mondesi (formerly Adalberto) also probably deserved a spot, but he's also very young, and the World team is loaded with shortstops, led by Lindor.
I assume the starting outfield will include Jorge Soler (Cubs), Oscar Taveras (St. Louis) and Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh), since the other two prospects on the roster aren't close to the caliber of those three. At 26, Baltimore's Henry Urrutia, one of those two reserve outfielders, is two-and-a-half years older than any other World position player, and is the oldest player on either roster. Taking him as Baltimore's second representative over third baseman Nick Delmonico might be the single worst decision on either roster, especially since the other blatant non-prospect in the game, Atlanta's Joey Terdoslavich, is occupying a spot that could have gone to Delmonico instead.
Minnesota's Max Kepler probably makes this game next year as the first German-born participant; he's played only five games this year, all in the past week, after missing two-plus months with an elbow injury; the Twins also have two top-10 prospects in Buxton and Miguel Sano, both of whom belong here over Kepler on merit. They probably also kept Puerto Rican second baseman Eddie Rosario off the roster.
The World pitching staff has less pure velocity than it normally does, with more command/feel guys than we usually get, including the Mets' Rafael Montero and the Royals' Miguel Almonte, both of whom fill up the strike zone. Baltimore's Eduardo Rodriguez, my 100th-ranked prospect coming into the season, also fits in this category, but has increased his strikeout rate over 2012 even though he moved up a level. And the world will get its first look at Oakland bonus baby Michael Ynoa, signed for a then-record $4.25 million in 2008, after which he had Tommy John surgery and became the best-compensated bat boy in Arizona Rookie League history. The A's chose to add him to their 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft and he's at least starting to show more potential, although his inclusion here is more for name value than track record.