Sunday represented the 14th annual Sirius/XM All-Star Futures Game, far and away my favorite part of the All-Star festivities each year; this exhibition game (a novel idea for the All-Star game, Commissioner Selig) has all 30 organizations represented and the majority of the top prospects in the minor leagues comprise the teams. Baseball America, the excellent prospect website, selects both 25-man rosters and divides them into the USA team (prospects born in the United States) and the World team (those born outside the States). The light-hearted atmosphere allows these talented young players to show off their talents against their peers and gives scouts and fans a chance to watch the best prospects in the minors leagues compete against each other. Although in previous years the pitchers seemed to hold an upper hand, the 2012 version of the Futures Game surprisingly saw an offensive explosion from the USA lineup, winning the contest with a final score of 17-5. Here are some of my notes from yesterday’s contest-
Dylan Bundy – The Orioles top selection (4th overall) last summer, the 19 year old Bundy has rapidly arrived at High-A Frederick after dominating in his 30 innings at Low-A Delmarva, allowing only 2 unearned runs and striking out 40 hitters. Since his promotion, Bundy has continued to impress with a 3.52 ERA and 34 strikeouts against 11 walks in 32.2 innings pitched. Bundy added to his growing reputation Sunday by pitching around 3 hits allowed in his one inning of work, flashing a 96mph fastball with some natural sinking action, a 76-77mph hammer curveball he struggled to locate down in the zone, and a tight, fluid pitching motion from his stocky, well-built pitcher’s frame. Bundy still needs maturation time in the minor leagues to improve his changeup and his ability to set up hitters, but the sky is the limit on his talent and he should arrive in Baltimore sometime in 2013 and be a mainstay in the Orioles rotation most of the rest of the decade. What an impressive talent the Orioles were fortunate enough to secure last summer.
Gerrit Cole – The top overall selection in last year’s draft, the Pirates Gerrit Cole flashed moments of brilliance in his appearance during the 2nd inning, flaunting his powerful downward 87mph slider before striking out Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts with a 99mph fastball he simply blew by him. Cole topped out at 100mph with the heater and flashed his above-average 88mph changeup with healthy sink as well; however he lost his release point midway through the inning (or began trying to show off a bit too much) and walked Jesus Aguilar before allowing Jae-Hoon Ha to homer on a 2-1 pitch over the opposite field fence. This outing is rather emblematic of my fears with Gerrit Cole, as he is a pitcher with ace-quality, dominating stuff who gives up far more hits and eventually runs than someone with his repertoire and talents should. Cole has a plus-plus fastball and curveball, and an above-average changeup, and the only thing keeping him in the minors is his need to prevent more runs from scoring.
Francisco Lindor – Cleveland’s top choice in the 2011 draft (8th overall), Lindor has done nothing but impress since being drafted last summer, holding his own this season as an 18 year old in the Midwest League at Lake County with a .263/.348/.372 with 4 home runs and 15 stolen bases while amazing scouts with his slick fielding at shortstop. Lindor faced top prospect Taijuan Walker in the 7th inning and immediately displayed his above-average to plus bat speed, turning on a good 95mph fastball and spanking it to right field. Lindor is farther away from the major leagues than most of the other participants in the Futures Game, but he should fill out as he matures and has All-Star level talent as a gold-glove defensive shortstop and 10-15 home run power with a .280-.300 batting average.
Alex Meyer – The lone Washington Nationals representative, Meyer was the Nats 1st Round Pick, #23rd overall, in the 2011 Draft from the University of Kentucky. Meyer entered the game in the 8th inning and needed only 6 pitches to retire the 2 hitters he faced, flashing a 98-99mph fastball and devastating 87mph slider combination. Meyer’s mammoth 6-9 height and below-average changeup work against him as he attempts to develop as a starter, but if he can harness his motion and develop his changeup, he has the potential of an elite #2-#3 starting pitcher. If not, as he showed Sunday, Meyer should carve out a significant major league career as a power fastball/slider relief pitcher.
Taijuan Walker – Walker, the 43rd overall selection by the Mariners in the 2010 draft, has quickly become a well-known name in prospect circles after rocketing through the Seattle system, reaching Double-A Jackson of the Southern League this season as a 19-year old. Walker has more than held his own against players 3-5 years older thus far in 2012, producing a 4.50 ERA with 71 strikeouts against 32 walks in 70 innings. Taijuan entered the game in the top of the 7th inning and made quick work of the World lineup, impressing with 95-97mph fastball with life, a 91mph changeup with good arm-side and sinking action, and a quiet, smooth delivery. His 78mph breaking ball needs further refinement, and like every young pitcher he needs to improve setting batters up, but Walker has everything you look for in a pitching prospect and there is little slowing his progress as he projects to join Seattle’s rotation sometime in 2013.
Cincinnati Reds representative Billy Hamilton flashed his jaw-dropping speed with an easy triple in the bottom of the 3rd off Dodgers LHP Chris Reed. Hamilton’s inconsistent throwing arm and plus-plus “80 grade” foot-speed might make him a better fit long-term in center field rather than the middle infield, but the speed is so prodigious (think Michael Johnson on the backstretch at the 1996 Summer Olympics) he can literally change a game with a routine groundball to shortstop, and projects as a dangerous leadoff man in the future…. The Miami Marlins 2011 1st Round pick Jose Fernandez may not have entered this season with the reputation of some of the other pitching prospects in his draft class, but he has been dominant thus far in 2012 (1.59 ERA, 99 strikeouts in 79 innings at Low-A) and continued his impressive ways in the bottom of the 2nd inning. Fernandez featured a plus 97-99mph fastball and plus 83-85mph slider with serious downward movement that struck out Rangers advanced hitting prospect Mike Olt. Turning only 20 years old later this month, Fernandez still needs development time in the minors to improve his changeup, his only hindrance between becoming an impressive upper-half of the rotation starter, or a career as a high-leverage reliever. Fernandez is yet another solid find by the Marlins scouting department… The 2nd overall selection last summer, Seattle Mariners prospect LHP Danny Hultzen, the pride of Bethesda, MD and the University of Virginia, appeared in the 3rd inning and showed his 94mph fastball, a 78-79mph slider, and an 85mph changeup while being hit hard by the World team lineup. Although not an appearance for the highlight reel (3 hits and an earned run in 1 IP), Hultzen flashed the polished stuff and moxie of a reliable mid-rotation starter, and his permanent arrival in Seattle could occur before the end of this season.
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