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July 13, 2009

Future Shock

Futures Game Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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After providing a Futures Game viewers' guide yesterday, let's do a little something different with the Ten Pack and provide a guide for those that recorded the game. I wrote that sentence before the four-hour rain delay. Let's faced it, it you recorded the game and then walked away, all you have now is the 2008 Futures Game (in standard definition, no less), and a good chuck of last year's home-run contest. Do people really want to see those again? So instead of ten things to go back and watch again, here's ten things you may have missed.

This Game really should have never happened. The delay was ridiculous, but the field's condition was really the issue. If I ran some team's farm system, and my best prospect was supposed to play the outfield on that field, I would have made a call and pulled him from the game. People kept talking about how you refund people who bought tickets that cover all three days, but if that's my prospect out there, refunds are your problem, not mine. I bet the Giants in the end were glad that Buster Posey was still in California, and that Madison Bumgarner didn't pitch after warming up before things got wet.

Chris Tillman was way better than his line looked. The top prospect in the Orioles system gave up a pair of runs before the rain came, but it really wasn't that bad. He had some struggles with the command of his fastball, but that was really the only issue, as his fastball sat at 92-94 mph, touched 96, and he dropped some really nice breaking balls into the strike zone without giving up a hard-hit ball. I'm looking forward to seeing him in the bigs.

The biggest addition to the Rangers down the stretch might be Neftali Feliz. While walking one and striking out two in his scoreless inning, Feliz was pumping gas at 97-98 mph while touching triple digits on numerous occasions. The Rangers need help in the bullpen, and the good news is that they don't need to make a trade to alter the long-term plan. Feliz will not only help, he might be closing by September.

Is Tyson Gilles for real? He really just might be. When scouts and farm people talk about game-changing speed, this is what they are talking about, as Gillies basically created his own run in the third inning with a drag-bunt single and two stolen bases before scoring on a double play. His .327/.435/.472 line can be easily written off as a High Desert mirage, but High Desert doesn't play into his game, which involves keeping the ball on the ground. Only 20 years old and in his first full season, he deserved more attention than he got before today.

The third inning proved that velocity readings alone are a horrible way to evaluate a prospect. Francisco Samuel of the Cardinals and Leyson Septimo of the Diamondbacks both have high-velocity arms, with Samuel touching 97 from the right side, and Septimo equaling that velocity from the left. The thing is, neither have a clue as to where the pitch is going, nor do they with their high-octane sliders. If you can't throw strikes, it doesn't matter what the radar guns say, and if, when you throw strikes, you throw upper-90s heat over the plate with no movement, even guys like Eric Young Jr. can hit them 400 feet.

Mat Latos might have been the most impressive pitcher out there. His scoreless inning doesn't look especially dominating, but if you were there, you certainly saw dominating, as the Padres' top prospect needed just eight pitches for a one-two-three frame, with his heat sitting in the mid-90s with plenty of sink and downright outstanding location. His straight up-and-down delivery is easy, repeatable, and has a bit of deception, and now the only question is whether we see him this year, or do the hapless Padres delay starting his service clock?

One can easily understand now why Pedro Alvarez confuses the hell out of scouts. After striking out in his first at-bat, the Pirates' third-base prospect seemed to be well on his way to a second whiff against Septimo, as he employed a bail-and-wail approach early on against the power lefty. But then he made adjustments, not only in the at-bat but on an individual pitch, as he adjusted his barrel on an inside-edge fastball and rocketed a ground ball to right side for a base hit. It was anything but the hardest-hit ball or anything, but it was one among the nicer pieces of hitting on the night, and the fact that he can look so bad and so good in the same at-bat is what makes it so hard to really get a feel for what he is yet.

Casey Kelly's swan song on the mound was impressive. Kelly's one-two-three sixth inning represented the end of his season. Sure, he's heading to Florida and going to actually finish the year as a shortstop, but what realistically does he have to do in order to become an everyday player instead of a pitcher? Bat .400? He needed just nine pitches to retire three pretty damn good Double-A hitters, throwing nothing but hi 92-94 mph sinker before using his plus curveball when he got ahead of Nick Weglarz. He didn't look like a 19-year-old out there, he looked like a far more advanced prospect than that. One the one hand, it's a shame that his season ended, but if you want to be a glass half full kind of person, at least his arm is being saved.

Scott Sizemore is the US team's version of Tyson Gilles. Not that the Tigers second baseman has tools anything like Gilles, but just in the sense that he might be a bit underappreciated. His hard, clean single in the fifth was just a nice piece of hitting, identifying the pitch and doing what he can do with it. That's been his modus operandi all year, as he's now batting .300/.392/.508 between Double- and Triple-A this year. I'd certainly take him over Placido Polanco right now.

Do the Brewers need to make a trade, or do they just need to start playing Alcides Escobar every day? Escobar was the only player with a multi-hit game on Sunday, but to be fair, he also was one of just four players to get four plate appearances. His contact-hitting skills, speed, and fielding all impressed observers, and one can't help but wondering if Escobar playing shortstop every day in Milwaukee gives the Brewers a much better chance at a playoff slot than the slumping J.J. Hardy, whose on-base percentage is mired below .300. The only thing Hardy does better at this point is hit for power, but Escobar's overall game far outweighs that.

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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