A once minor event, the Futures Game has erupted into a festival of pomp and circumstance, unrivaled on the prospect landscape. Part Mardi Gras, part NFL Combine, its national exposure has grown correspondingly with the increased focus on the prospect scene.
Much to the chagrin of talent evaluators across the league, the extra eyes that fall not only on this event, but the entire all-star weekend as a whole make the evaluation process exceedingly difficult. With a scouts section tucked off at a five o’clock angle and too high up in a section to identify breaking balls, the event has lost its scouting-friendly environment in favor of ticket sales and fan experience – just as it should.
Batting practice still allows for a fantastic display of raw power however, with Cincinnati serving as an ideal fit. The USA team was well equipped for the assignment, sending a barrage of pitches towards the outfield fences like the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill. With a rare Futures Game big-league veteran in Kyle Schwarber leading the way, the American squad put on a power display their world counterparts just couldn’t match.
While Schwarber may have been the ringleader, Nick Williams put on the most impressive performance of the morning session. The Rangers prospect, showing a fresh approach at the plate this season, displayed the best combination of pure hitting skill and raw power of anyone in an USA uniform, capping off the session with a statement blast halfway up the batter’s eye.
Aaron Judge did his typical large human thing, though his power doesn’t have the majestic quality one might expect. Instead it manifests itself in the form of line drives that don’t seem to descend at typical gravitational rates. Hometown mauler Kyle Waldrop showed off the raw power he’s flashed in games past. Matt Olson was as expected, flashing big power in BP and a patient approach, even on the big stage.
Most surprising was Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer, who is long and lean from body to swing. Perhaps a victim of my own expectations, I was left surprised at the pre-game power display that was an assault to all fields.
It wasn’t just the mashers that generated attention, however. The game needs leadoff hitters too, and we can feel confident about those roles being filled in the future by the likes of the well-refined J.P. Crawford, who displayed a compact swing and plus bat control; Trea Turner, whose swing has smoothed out since his college days; and Brandon Nimmo, whose bat speed issues have been vastly overrated.
This assault on the World team carried over into game action, where Josh Bell opened some eyes. Tall and resigned to the corners on defense, more power has always been projected for the Pirate. What used to be a set up with a wide stance and an approach designed more towards contact has been replaced with a larger load from both sides, helping to generate more power. He showed this in BP, but it was its in-game translation in the form of a home run to right-center field that showed promise for future production.
Merely beating the world team into submission wasn’t enough apparently, as the US coaches let Lucas Giolito throw two innings, which just seems mean. The normally refined righty showed some early nerves, but soon reigned in his erraticism and got back to his dynamic self. He sat 95-96 and left Ozhaino Albies still trying to identify what he saw.
By definition, it has to get easier after the game’s best pitching prospect, but you wouldn’t have known it. Mark Appel showed the stuff that made him the first-overall pick instead of the stuff that’s led to a 5.40 career ERA. Sean Newcomb showed command, which has thus far been the only hole in his repertoire, and C.J. Edwards, now going by Carl Jr. showed that predicting his eventual move to a bullpen was more about his ability to succeed there than it was a personal attack.