This year's Futures Game returns to the pre-2008 format, in which there's at least an attempt to get the best prospects in the minors together in one stadium for a showcase game. Last year's game included the U.S. Olympic trial roster, which meant a lot of better American-born prospects were left off because their teams were unwilling to send them to Beijing if they made the club. Here's a quick preview of some of the top names in the game, both prospects for the long haul and players who could have an impact this season.
Prospects for the long term
• Junichi Tazawa and Casey Kelly, RHPs: The Red Sox dropped $10 million on these two pitchers last year, nabbing Kelly in the Rule 4 draft and signing Tazawa out of a Japanese industrial league, and both have had strong full-season debuts. Strong may understate Kelly's success this year, as he finished the spring pitching in high Class A at age 19 without finding any challenge from minor league hitters. He's on a low-innings cap for 2009, so the Futures Game represents his swan song for the year. Tazawa jumped directly to Double-A for his pro debut and hasn't had much more trouble than Kelly did, working with an above-average fastball and out-pitch splitter and showing very good control.
• Madison Bumgarner, LHP: Bumgarner throws an easy mid-90s fastball with a slider that has come a long way since his senior year of high school, when he started throwing it and it was at best an average pitch. He won't turn 20 until a month after Sunday's game, but has a sub-2.00 ERA in stops this year in the Cal League and the Eastern League. For a guy who throws from a low slot, he doesn't get the ground balls you'd expect.
• Jason Heyward, RF: Heyward was my No. 3 prospect coming into the year, and with No. 1 (Matt Wieters) and No. 2 (David Price) in the majors, he has ascended to the top spot. Heyward is an impact bat who should hit third in a big league lineup, with power, patience, and a plus glove and arm in right field.