Jason Parks highlights his favorite performances, and what he loves so much about the Futures Game.
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.
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Of all the prospects in the minors, Baez’s status might have the most volatility, with the skill set to blossom into a superstar and the deficiencies that could terminate the dream before it begins. With elite bat speed and the type of raw power that can find a home in the middle of any major-league lineup, Baez could end up as the top prospect in the game. But his one-speed-fits-all approach on both sides of the ball can be limiting: His aggressive, see-ball-hit-ball mentality at the plate often puts him behind in counts and vulnerable to offerings out of the zone, and his tendency to rush the actions and the throws makes him error prone despite his exquisite hands at shortstop. Baez is warming up and is a good candidate to explode this summer, with a chance to sneak into the top 10 prospects in the game. But the Double-A test is looming on the horizon, and without more nuance to his game and a more refined approach, Baez could take a big step back against better competition. The talent is extreme. The risk is just as extreme. —Jason Parks
The Cardinals dip into their Triple-A rotation to reinforce their depleted big-league staff.
The Situation: After logging only 73 2/3 minor-league innings, Michael Wacha will make his major league debut for the Cardinals against Kansas City today. The club currently has four starters on the disabled list, leaving them with few other options. In fact, three-fifths of the Triple-A Memphis rotation from just two weeks ago is now in the majors. One of those arms, lefty John Gast, landed on the big-league DL this week, creating the need for Wacha.
Background: Regarded as a polished college arm when he was selected 19th overall in last year’s draft, Wacha has moved more quickly than anyone could’ve expected. The Texas A&M product made brief cameos at three levels last summer, striking out 40 batters in 21 innings and rising to Double-A. An impressive performance in spring training, where his fastball touched 98 miles per hour in short bursts, earned him an aggressive Triple-A assignment out of camp. Wacha has been equal to the challenge, posting a 2.05 ERA through nine starts. In 52 2/3 innings, he has yielded just 35 hits, walked 15, and struck out 34.
Even a "polished" teenage prospect has years of crucial neurological development ahead of him.
In my most recent chat here at BP, a subscriber asked me about Cubs prospect Albert Almora, whom he called "polished" for an 18-year-old. I know very little about who's who among prospects, so I'll assume that Almora really is "polished"(he did get a taste of low-A ball last year), and as a former Lakeview resident, I should be overly excited about him. History has shown over and over that this will certainly end well for the Cubs.
If you think about it, the Royals and Rays, the two teams that completed a massive prospects-for-pitchers trade on Sunday, are a lot alike. Both teams are among the have-nots of the American League, competing with payrolls in the mid-60-millions (last season). Neither one draws well—in the Royals’ case, because of all the losing and because Kansas City is small, and in the Rays’ case, because of all the past losing, the newness of the franchise, and the ugliness and location of the ballpark, where it’s almost impossible to catch a foul ball without some painfuland/orembarrassing consequence. To compensate for the lack of revenue, both teams try to draft, develop, and extend homegrown players as an alternative to paying for wins from free agents, and both have had among the finest farm systems in baseball for the past few seasons.
Bryce Harper's presence and early contributions gives the Nationals a happy glimpse into the future.
The Weekend Takeaway
During a weekend series highlighted by Matt Kemp’s 10th-inning walk-off homer in Saturday’s 4-3 Dodgers victory, the Nationals got a glimpse into their future—a future that likely will not include many more sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers.
Top prospect Bryce Harper arrived with a bang on Saturday, and while Kemp ultimately stole the show, the 19-year-old phenom immediately displayed the tools that will soon make him a superstar. Harper rocketed a high Chad Billingsley fastball over Kemp’s head to straightaway center for a double, fired an 80-grade bullet home from left field, and drove in the go-ahead run with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly that would have won the game if not for a Henry Rodriguez meltdown in the bottom half of the frame.
Parks dishes pessimism on Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, and more.
Prospect #1: C Gary Sanchez Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources. Who: Sanchez, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic for a cool $3 million, is one of the most promising offensive prospects in the minors. He has precocious in-game power, a projectable and playable hit tool, and a game plan at the plate that goes beyond “grip the bat and swing as hard as possible.” Sanchez was only 18 years old when he made his full-season debut in 2011, but he managed to slug .485 against much older competition in the prospect-heavy Sally League. His work behind the plate wasn’t as attractive, and there are already whispers of a future position switch. The arm is plenty strong and the necessary athleticism is present to handle the physical demands of the position, but his receiving ability is immature and will require years of additional development. The catch here is that Sanchez’s bat is setting an accelerated timetable that his glove development won’t be able to match strides with.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Sanchez is a hitter who seems to see the ball very well; he tracks and diagnoses pitches like a much more experienced player. In High-A, the young right-hander will no doubt face a more advanced secondary sequence, and despite the good pitch-recognition skills, the characteristics of his swing could limit his ability to make contact against such offerings. Like most power hitters, Sanchez has a leveraged swing with length and loft, making him susceptible to inner-half velocity and off-speed stuff that will require barrel manipulation to stay on. Sanchez has a good feel for hitting, but I don’t think the hit tool can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the power, which should end up as an easy 70 on the 20/80 scale, and possibly a legit 80 at the top of his developmental arc. The explosion that occurs on contact is loud and violent and sexy and people will pay money to see it and the skies will turn red with the blood of his enemies, but the hitchy trigger and the lengthy path to the ball make exploitation possible. However, it should be noted that Sanchez’s offensive game doesn’t have the glaring weaknesses that scar the faces of most prospects his age. This is a minor nitpick. Sanchez could be very special at the plate. I want to have a son and name him Gary.
Addison Reed is joined by the cast of Real Genius, who collectively probably have a higher upside than Chicago's actual system.
Prospect #1: C Chris Knight Background with Player: Video analysis. Who: Catcher Chris Knight, the former top pick in the draft who many consider the best prospect in recent memory, has let his off-field issues and indiscretions affect his on-field focus. As a result, his overall production hasn’t lived up to his enormous ceiling. His raw tools are so electric that boredom has become an intrinsic byproduct; the developmental staff takes the brunt of Knight’s ennui, which usually forces the former prodigy to seek attention through histrionics. When he’s on point, there isn’t a prospect that can match his combination of tools and feel for the game.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Professor Jerry Hathaway, director of player development and de facto mentor to the future star, has been adamant that Chris Knight won’t graduate to the majors until he finishes what he started in the minors. Knight lacks the motivation to achieve for the reductive sake of achievement, so the extra pressure being applied to the promising backstop will either propel the prospect to the heights his tools suggest are possible, or the immature talent will withdraw from the forced responsibility, and instead choose to live in the frenzied moments of his own arrested development.
The Rangers have a burgeoning farm system, but what could be some stumbling blocks for their top prospects?
Prospect #1: SS JuricksonProfar Background with Player: My eyes Who: This highly-touted prospect comes from Curacao. Many saw the former Little League World Series star as a pitcher because of his already promising fastball and ability to spin what projected to be a quality breaking ball. Signed as a position player for a bonus of $1.55 million in 2009, Profar exploded in his full-season debut in 2011, showing an advanced feel for all aspects of the game and emerging as a premier prospect in all of baseball.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Not that Profar is all polish and no projection, but unlike most teenaged prospects, the gap between his representational present and his abstract future isn’t as wide. As such, Profar isn’t going to continue his physical tool-based ascent at the same accelerated pace. That isn’t to say his status isn’t legit; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Profar is a rare breed of prospect, one that combines all the physical characteristics of a future first-division major-league starter, with the intense desire to not only reach those heights, but to ultimately eclipse them. This might seem like an odd thing to criticize, but the intense desire to be the best might end up being a hindrance in the short term, even if the #want makes him a better player in the long term.