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July 14, 2008

Future Shock

Futures Game Log

by Kevin Goldstein

12:27: ESPN shows car auctions? That's sports?

12:30: I understand that I have to be told that the best prospects in the game are here, but what they're telling me just isn't true. Rosters seemingly get worse every year, and this year is no exception. With MLB using the US roster as an Olympic warm-up and the limitations on the number of players allowed to represent each team, there are tons of excellent prospects missing from the roster who should be here. The team is undeniably good, but in the end, I can't help but be disappointed. No David Price, no Travis Snider, no Rick Porcello, no Matt Wieters, no Neftali Feliz, no Jason Heyward, and the list goes on.

12:38: The fact that Clayton Richard is starting this game illustrates my point. He's a decent prospect for the White Sox who's having a very good season, but as the starting pitcher in the minor league All-Star game? That does not speak well of the selection process.

12:43: World takes a 1-0 lead on an RBI groundout that was nearly turned into a double play. The US team's defensive lineup is a bit of a hasty assemblage, and may have led to the run. They have two shortstops up the middle, but Cliff Pennington, the superior defensive player, is playing second base, while Jason Donald is at short. I don't get that.

12:46: Here again, World starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco is a fine prospect, far superior to Richard even, but he also has a 4.09 ERA and has allowed a hit per inning. Scouts see him as solid mid-rotation filler type, but that's not exactly stud material. Nonetheless, he cruises through the first inning, striking out Pennington with his best pitch-a nasty changeup with plenty of depth and fade.

12:50: It seems like eons ago that Jaime D'Antona was part of the "Three Amigos" teams in the Arizona system, playing and progressing alongside Connor Jackson and Carlos Quentin, and often putting up numbers right there with the other two. What went wrong for him? Well, first, he remained a below-average defensive player, and second, his approach never adjusted, as shown by him swinging at a way-high upper-80s fastball for strike three. In a non-Olympic year, D'Antona would never be in the Futures Game.

12:56: Trevor Cahill begins the second inning impressively by striking out a pair, including Gorkys Hernandez, who looks exactly like a player in a 3-for-32 slump. Cahill showed good sink on his fastball, and primarily used his curve as a chase pitch. It all looked pretty good. He's the best pitching prospect on the staff, so why didn't he get the start? Why do I even care?

1:05: ESPN reminds me that up next is World's Strongest Man. My Sunday is complete!

1:07: Polin Trinidad opens the second inning on the mound for the World Team. He's another player who doesn't belong here-a fringy lefty with a relief profile-but nonetheless, he starts the inning with a strikeout of Nate Schierholtz, who still has a very long swing and who still looks like a Four-A guy to anyone with eyes.

1:09: While being interviewed, Yankees GM Brian Cashman becomes the first Yankee to admit that Jesus Montero is not a good defensive catcher. He does say that he's improved fifty percent defensively, which means he's gone from a 20 on the scouting scale to a 30. Sure can hit though, and I look forward to seeing him here. ESPN's Steve Phillips calls Montero a 20-year-old, Cashman refers to him as 19, and they needed someone else to chime in, because he's actually 18.

1:13: Brett Anderson pitches the third inning for the US team. I really wish people could see a picture of him from last year in the Midwest League (where he was outstanding) and see the physical transformation that has taken place here. He was a good 30-plus pounds heavier than he is now-and downright doughy. The new, lighter version doesn't even look like the same person.

1:16: Dexter Fowler makes the first sweet defensive play of the game, tracking down a fly ball from Ivan DeJesus that was hit very hard. Scouts love center fielders with a long stride, and the six-foot-five Fowler has just that.

1:18: Anderson is struggling a bit, first walking Elvis Andrus, picking him off first base, and then giving up a single to Wilkin Ramirez, who he also picks off. (Amazing.) Ramirez has just missed making the Ten Pack about four times this year, and he's one Detroit prospect who's really taken off. The Tigers have always loved his tools, but they rarely translated into any sort of production until this year, as he's batting .304/.373/.547 at Double-A. Much of the credit goes to better plate discipline, although he already has over 100 strikeouts, so there is still a lot of swing-and-miss in him.

1:22: Hecton Rondon begins the third for the World Team. Although probably not a well-known name, he's one of the better sleepers in the Cleveland system. On the mound, he has very clean arm action, much-improved secondary stuff, and a projectable frame-he's raw, but there's plenty to like there.

1:28: Anyone wondering about Andrew McCutchen's raw power shouldn't be, after he missed an upper-deck home run that went foul by about ten feet.

1:32: Jess Todd is on to pitch for the US in the fourth, and is one of the players here that people should really want to see. He went from good college arm to a very good one when he whiffed 17 in an SEC tournament game last spring, which moved him all the way up to the second round. That start made many thousands of dollars, and he's been nothing short of amazing this year. He's already up in Double-A with a 2.13 ERA in 19 games, giving up just 69 hits in 101 1/3 innings. He's small and doesn't have a ton of velocity, but his slider is truly nasty, sitting in the low 80s with nice speed separation from his fastball. Scouts aren't convinced he's a star, but he's definitely a big-leaguer.

1:40: When did Eduardo Morlan become Eddie? When did he start throwing a plus changeup? And when did he stop throwing really hard? So many questions here, but his numbers at Double-A have been disappointing enough to raise them. Still, he's getting outs with his secondary stuff, and that's a good sign.

1:52: Will Inman pitches the fifth for the US, and you can see how his motion makes him harder to hit; with a weird pause in it, then a drop in his arm angle to a low-low three-quarters delivery. It lets him miss a lot of bats, but scouts tend to hate low arm slots because of the platoon splits they can create. As a case in point, this year righties are hitting .190/.279/.286 against Inman, while lefties are at .263/.368/.404.

1:54: Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin talks about how Mat Gamel can stay at third base. It's impossible for ESPN to find someone to talk about other team's players here, and this game is certainly an overwhelmingly positive celebration with many positive evaluations, but these kinds of interviews lead to a lot of misinformation. Not that Melvin should be saying anything different-he's certainly doing the right thing-but how about some alternate perspectives?

1:58: Julio Pimentel takes the mound in the fifth for the World team. He has a 5.84 ERA at Double-A, so why is he here? ESPN has already shown us all of the great players in last year's game more than a few times, and maybe they should stop, because there's no comparison to be made between what we're watching now and last year's contest, at least not one that doesn't end with disappointment.

2:04: Jason Donald hits a two-out single to give the US their first rally of the game. That brings up Greg Golson in a pinch-hitting role, and he does what he often does, missing a breaking ball by a mile and a half for strike three. I realize this diary has been pitching-heavy so far, but the teams are a combined 5-for-31 at the plate with no extra-base hits. The hardest-hit ball so far was McCutchen's foul home run, and those don't count.

2:08: Jake Arrieta comes out throwing bullets in the sixth, sitting at 92-94 mph and touching 96. He has a solid inning and some help, when Taylor Teagarden nails Ivan DeJesus on a stolen base attempt. Teagarden has been one of the highlights of the game. As many have expected, he's struggling at the plate in the upper levels of the minors, but his catch-and-throw skills are among the best around.

2:14: The number of scouts I've seen in the stands who've been quoted in Baseball Prospectus this year: four.

2:18: Jesus Delgado pitches the sixth inning for the World Team. His ERA is 5.40. What is going on here? He's a guy who throws hard, and that's the sum of his skills. I can't believe that the US team can't get anything going off of this very un-prospecty pitching staff.

2:20: Yankee farmhand Ramiro Pena makes a couple of nice plays at short, but defense really is his calling card. Pro Tip for evaluating Pena: When a guy is in his fourth year at Double-A and has a 704 OPS, he's not a prospect and he doesn't belong in this game. Thinking about all of the players who should be here just annoys me.

2:22: Ryan Mattheus now pitching the seventh for the US, a good pick for the Olympic team, but hardly one of the better prospects in the game. Yes, I realize I'm a broken record here, but I'm beginning to think that trying to figure out who should have been at this game would be a good idea for a piece later this week.

2:27: We have a new hardest-hit ball of the day, as Che-Hsuan Lin hammers the first pitch he sees to left field on a line for the first home run of the game. He has just five home runs in 319 at-bats this year at Low-A Greenville, but scouts think he could grow into 15-20 home-run power down the road. He was the eleventh-ranked prospect in a strong Red Sox system coming into the season, and he's loaded with tools.

2:33: Fernando Salas starts the seventh for the World Team, and he's a guy who's been generating some buzz because of his huge strikeout rate. That said, he's only sitting 88-91 mph with his fastball, but the curveball is very real and very good. He also shows he can reach back for more when he strikes out Matt LaPorta with high heat at 93 mph, then shows off a surprisingly solid changeup to get ahead of the count against Dexter Fowler.

2:38: Casey Weathers pitches for the US team in the eighth, and if you're wondering what nasty looks like, here it is. He's got a mid- to upper-80s slider with big tilt, and he whiffs Gorkys Herrnandez on a 97 mph fastball. He follows that by showing why he's still in Double-A, walking Ivan Dejesus and Pena back-to-back with a few pitches that aren't even close. In the next at-bat he starts Gerardo Parra off with arguably the best slider we've seen all day, but then gives up a single to load the bases. This shows the inadequacies of one-game looks and small sample-size. Weathers is in big trouble here, but he's also shown the best stuff of the day. Angel Villalona strikes out on an inside fastball after missing some sliders badly. I'm guessing Villalona has never seen anything like Weathers' stuff in the Sally League. That said, Weathers does tip the slider a bit with a shorter arm action, and that needs to be corrected. He blows away Juan Francisco with a 96 mph fastball to finish up one of the messiest (33 pitches) but most dominant innings of the game.

2:57: The World team counters in the eighth with their best arm-strength guy in Henry Rodriguez. He starts the inning by walking Bryan Anderson (not an easy task) on four pitches, the last of which is clocked at 98 mph, but as is often the case with Rodriguez, when it's not a strike, it doesn't matter. He then shows why he's so frustrating, as he pounds Chris Valaika with fastballs, then strikes him out on a slider that almost works as a changeup-at 84 mph it's 14 mph slower than his best fastball.

3:03: Greg Golson plus Henry Rodriguez just has to equal strikeout, and it does on a 97 mph heater. Rodriguez hits 100 mph, then strikes out Chris Getz (also not an easy task) with a 91 mph fastball that looks like a two-seam splitter. If that's a new weapon and he starts throwing strikes, he could be very scary, but most still see him as a reliever in the end, albeit a dominant one.

3:09: Kevin Pucetas comes on for the US team in the ninth. No more exciting velocity, as Pucetas is more of an 87-91 guy with command and location. He gets into a bit of a bind on a Lin blooper and a nicely-executed hard-hit single to right by Jesus Montero. A minor league pitcher not at the game chimes in to tell me via IM that Pucetas will get a double play here, and sure enough, he does.

3:15: Shairon Martis comes in to put it away, and starts off by giving up a double to Wes Hodges, who's had a nice year at Double-A to move his stock up a bit. From there, the US continues their inept hitting for the day, as D'Antona and Schierholtz made quick outs. LaPorta drew a walk to bring up Fowler with the tying run on, and he hit a rocket down the right-field line, which Angel Villalona made a nice play on to end the game. Now USA baseball has to go figure out their roster and try to imagine where the runs are going to come from.

All in all it was not an exciting game, nor did it feature the kind of star power that has ben present in previous year's events. There were some things I'll remember however:

  • Henry Rodriguez' velocity
  • Casey Weathers' slider
  • Jake Arrieta throwing harder than expected
  • Taylor Teagarden's catch-and-throw skills
  • Jesus Montero's impressive bat (for his age), but lack of catch-and-throw skills
  • Dexter Fowler's loping strides in the outfield
  • Will Inman's funkadelic throwing motion

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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