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July 17, 2013

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Futures Game Recap: On the Surface of the Sun

by Jason Parks


After nearly two weeks on the baseball road, which included stops in the Eastern League, Carolina League, and Sally League, I finally found myself back home in New York, weary from the travel and homesick for my home, but alive inside because of the events taking place in the borough to my immediate north. The Futures Game is the core of our molecular cloud, the thermonuclear fusion that makes us shine. We stand in the collective glow of their futures, and watch them inch toward the realities their skill sets suggest; major leaguers of tomorrow gathered on one field, the preface of a book yet unwritten. Simply put, this is the best day of the prospect year, a grand celebration of what is present and what is plausible. It’s awesome to witness the birth of a star.

The sun was intense at Citi Field, appropriate heat given the intensity of the event and our proximity to the source of the heat. I arrived early, already beaten down by transit. I love the G train. It’s the friend you never wanted who shows up late, drinks too much, doesn’t pay his tab, and then vomits on your girlfriend in an awkward attempt to kick game. The inconsistency is remarkably consistent.

It was a big day for Baseball Prospectus. I was meeting fellow prospect bandmates Jason Cole, Chris Mellen, and Zach Mortimer at the field, along with our editor-in-chief Ben Lindbergh and captain of the ship, Joe Hamrahi, the man behind the upward momentum of the Baseball Prospectus brand. With a healthy crew beneath a hearty sun, we stood on the field and watched the day unfold, expelling liquid wonderment from our pores in reaction to the view. We have become spectators to the spectacle, and the environmental complaints are muted by the exceptionalism on display a few feet from our oven-fresh bodies. We break through the boundaries set by our senses, and explore the totality of the scene. I think Francisco Lindor smells like fresh cookies. Gregory Polanco’s swing sounds like unicorns mating. I think the sun might be closer to the earth than originally thought.

The game died a death that was too soon, and the nine-inning affair felt more like a snapshot simulation than anything of substance. I wouldn’t say the scouting was poor, because the talent on the field was significant and satisfying, but the context produced Polaroids and not paintings. Max-effort outings are quite pleasing to the eye, and if you enjoy velocity it can be pleasing to other organs as well, but power vs. power is an unsustainable pleasure, one that offers a bright flame but one that plays coy with the oxygen necessary for survival. The prospect air was sucked out of Citi Field shortly before 5, and we all returned to our normal planets. Tepid experiences, compared to the surface of the prospect sun. I miss it already.

I’ll spare you the tedium of an overwrought recap of a short-burst affair, but I do want to highlight a few prospects whose performances caught my eye and/or tickled my over-sensitized fancy.

*Austin Hedges, Catcher, San Diego Padres
This is the best defensive catcher I’ve ever seen at the minor-league level, which is both a product of my experience (~eight years) and the qualities and characteristics of the defensive skill set. From a receiving standpoint, you won’t find a better glove; Hedges is very strong and centered at the plate, and his soft hands allow him to receive velocity without showing a pronounced drift to either side. His catch-and-throw skills are of major-league quality already, with routine pops in the ~1.85 range, including a ~1.85 in the game to nail a would-be theft of second. My favorite Hedges moment from the game happened early on, as a runner on first took one step too many after the pitch, and without a throw, Hedges triggered a phantom back pick that forced the runner to retreat with max effort. How many catchers are looking to back pick a guy off first in an exhibition game? He had command of his craft, which is probably the best way to describe his overall game. He commands it, from receiving to game calling to controlling the running game.

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Pitcher Profile: Speed... (07/17)
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