MLB Futures Game Ramblings – The Pitchers

Sunday represented the 2014 Sirius/XM MLB Futures Games, the 16th annual edition of this game and easily the best part of All-Star Week festivities each summer. Baseball America selects the 25-man rosters and divides them into two teams, the US team with prospects born in the United States, and the World team, comprised of players born outside the country. Each organization must be represented with at least one prospect, and teams are extremely accommodating in allowing their best prospects to participate in the game.

The setup of this event typically favors the pitchers, as they pitch 1 inning or less and thus often only throw their best pitches and try to outdo each other with the highest readings on the radar gun. Nevertheless, this light-hearted exhibition gives scouts and prospect-nerds like myself a one-of-a-kind opportunity to watch the top pitching and hitting prospects compete against one another. In a well-played contest, the US team defeated the World team 3-2 in the 16th edition of this contest. These are some of my scouting notes on the top arms in this year’s game.

Lucas Giolito RHP Washington Nationals

Lucas Giolito
Lucas Giolito

Giolito was not his sharpest on Sunday in his 2/3 innings of work, struggling with the consistency of his delivery and looking rather nervous in front of the large crowd and television audience. Giolito could not command his 94-96mph fastball and lacked the feel for his 79-83mph curveball, hanging one to Javier Baez that he hit for a 2-run home run. Finally, Giolito did show a quality 82mph changeup with good arm action and movement. Even on a poor day for Giolito he showed three solid pitches and appeared to belong against some of the best prospects in baseball.

Hunter Harvey RHP Baltimore Orioles

Harvey entered for the US team in the 4th inning, and much like Giolito, he struggled a bit with his delivery and did not appear to ever get completely comfortable on the mound. Harvey has an excellent, projectable pitcher’s body and showed a solid 91-94mph fastball that he located to the outside of the plate well, in addition to a quality 75-79mph curveball, and an 81-82mph changeup that needs development. Harvey needs to continue to refine his delivery as he slows his momentum during the middle of his motion, but the repertoire and body are simply outstanding and Harvey projects as a strong #2 or #3 starter in a few seasons.

Alex Meyer RHP Minnesota Twins

I was eager to see Meyer pitch, as he was the Nationals 1st Round pick (23rd overall) in 2011 and the player the team parted with to acquire Denard Span from Minnesota two years ago. Impressively Meyer only needed 4 pitches to complete the 5th inning, utilizing a 97-98mph fastball to overwhelm the World team lineup.

Meyer is a large man with many moving parts in his motion, which will contribute to a higher than average walk rate in the future, but his strike out ability and outstanding repertoire should allow him to be a starter in the majors.

Robert Stephenson RHP Cincinnati Reds

After hearing the Baseball Prospectus gentleman mentioned him as a potential future Ace at their DC event last month, Stephenson was appointment television Sunday afternoon. A thick, well-built athlete, I was immediately impressed by the sheer physicality of this 21-year-old Cincinnati prospect.

Stephenson only needed 11 pitches to complete his inning of work, and he showed why he is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball with 95-98mph fastball with late life, a true hammer 82mph curveball, and a firm 88mph changeup with good sink. Stephenson still needs some polish to refine his delivery, but the raw stuff and physicality portend a future as a top-of-the-rotation starter if everything comes together. This is a monster prospect who deserves more attention.

Julio Urias LHP Los Angeles Dodgers

Still only 17-years-old, Urias became the youngest ever participant in the Futures Game Sunday, needing only 14 pitches to retire the side in the 5th inning. Urias featured a 92-95mph fastball which he located to both sides of the plate, along with a sweeping 11-5 79-81mph wipeout slider, and a noteworthy 82mph changeup with natural fading action.

The same age as many rising high school seniors, Urias still has a babyface, but his skills are far more mature than virtually any teenage pitcher in recent memory. Currently more than holding his own at High-A, Urias could reach the major leagues late in 2015 before his 19th birthday. He does not possess an Ace-caliber repertoire, but Urias should have a long career as a quality mid-rotation starting pitcher.

5 MLB Trades That Need to Happen This Month

The Major League Baseball Trade deadline is now less than three weeks away, and while there have been a few impressive trades in recent days, there is expected to be many more trades ahead of July 31st. Superstars such as Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, and David Price will receive much of the media attention when discussing potential deals, but many other solid veterans will change teams and potentially impact playoff races down the stretch.

In this piece I have tried to give a reasonable idea of the prospect costs involved in potentially acquiring these veterans, but try not to focus too closely (or harshly) at the players I mention. Nevertheless these are 5 trades that I believe these various contenders should make to improve their teams and help clinch a playoff berth this fall.

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The Washington Nationals Trade Prospects OF Rafael Bautista, LHP Hector Silvestre, and RHP Blake Treinen to Arizona for LHP Oliver Perez and SS Nick Ahmed

The Nationals roster currently is healthy, and the only places seemingly to easily upgrade the roster would be with a bench hitter or a left-handed relief specialist. Additionally, in recent days there have been rumors that Washington is looking to acquire a shortstop prospect to protect themselves in case Ian Desmond departs via free agency after 2015. This hypothetical trade allows the Nationals to get a left-handed specialist in Oliver Perez, a player the team reportedly had interest in last winter and whom is under contract for 2015, and Ahmed, a dynamic, near major league ready shortstop prospect.

In return the Diamondbacks receive a major league ready starting pitcher in Treinen, a groundball specialist who would be a good fit in Arizona’s home park, along with two emerging low-A prospects in Silvestre and Bautista. While it is difficult to envision this type of prospect-for-prospect type deal occurring midseason, this trade could benefit each team and the players involved both short and long-term.

The Baltimore Orioles Trade Prospects LHP Tim Berry and RHP Jimmy Yacabonis to Philadelphia for RHP A.J. Burnett

Warehouse

While Orioles fans are clamoring for a higher profile pitching acquisition, unless Baltimore wants to part with Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, or Hunter Harvey, they will need to set their sights a bit lower. The team, however, could use another reliable starter as they chase the AL East crown, and Phillies A.J. Burnett would be a terrific addition to their rotation.

Considering Burnett is making $15 million this season and has a mutual $15 million option for 2015, the Phillies may want to clear much of his remaining salary and turn the veteran pitcher into two young arms.

Kansas City Royals Acquire OF Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins for INF Cheslor Cuthbert and RHP Luis Santos

Although trades within the same division are difficult, the fit between Kansas City, who desperately needs a right-handed power hitter and Minnesota, who has Josh Willingham and continues to languish in the standings. Minnesota should not be interested in offering impending free agent Willingham arbitration, so they should look to convert this asset into 1-2 prospects. The Twins will not lack for suitors with Willingham, but the Royals have a deep farm system and should  trump other offers to acquire this slugger.

Milwaukee Brewers Receive 1B Kendrys Morales from Minnesota for RHP Ariel Pena

Minnesota signed Morales last month hoping he would ignite the Twins offense or serve as a possible trade chip this summer. He has started slowly but Morales has begun to shown signs of life at the plate, and could be a major upgrade offensively from the combination of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds. An impending free agent, the switch-hitting Morales should have plenty of teams looking to acquire him to bolster their roster ahead of the playoff chase.

The Atlanta Braves acquire OF Jonny Gomes and LHP Andrew Miller from Boston in exchange for RHPs Alec Grosser, Carlos Salazar, and a 3rd prospect

It is difficult to envision the World Champion Red Sox selling this summer, but currently in last place in the AL East and 10 games under .500, Boston will need quite a hot streak the next few weeks to avoid a massive sell-off.

Assuming they are sellers, two pieces that will interest contenders will be impending free agents Jonny Gomes, a notorious lefty masher, and Andrew Miller, a left-handed reliever currently enjoying a breakout season. These two players would fill Atlanta’s two biggest weaknesses, and their reasonable salaries could fit within their budget. Presently Atlanta does not have the strongest farm system but they have plenty of young pitchers to pique the interest the Red Sox.