Futures Game 2013, CitiField
Over the past year, largely due to a few deep dynasty leagues, I have become engrossed in Minor League Baseball. With the emergence of several young superstars already in the Majors, many are looking for who is going to be the next great talent. The All Star festivities being in New York this year afforded me the opportunity to attend the Futures Game, and it was something I did not want to miss. Included with admission was the Taco Bell Celebrity All Star game, but after a long day in 100 degree heat, it seemed to be more of an obligation than a bonus. The best part of the Celebrity game was watching my girlfriend try to muscle her way thru the crowd for a Rickey Henderson autograph between each inning. Although that proved to be unsuccessful, and he is among my all-time favorites, we were not there to see Rickey. We were there to see if there is potentially another Rickey. Before I come off trying to sound like a scout, let me just say I know I am not. These are just my personal thoughts from what I was able to see, live and first hand. There are many factors that go into judging a players potential talent, and I am not offering a grade, just a prediction. In the effort of time, and web space, I will limit my breakdowns to one pitcher and one hitter from each team. While there was a plethora of talent for both sides, these are the ones I feel made the biggest impact.
Guys that stood out from the US Team
Noah Syndergaard, NYM SP – When the Mets traded RA Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays in the off-season, many proclaimed the big fish in return was Catcher Travis d’Arnaud. While d’Arnaud is an accomplished prospect in his own right, I do not see him as elite and he already has had a lot of health concerns. It is a burly Texas teenager (now 20) named Noah Syndergaard, who will go down as the prize of the deal. Already having success in A-ball while still with Toronto, he was part of the three-headed monster of a rotation that also included top prospects Aaron Sanchez, and Justin Nicolino. He began this season with the Mets single A affiliate in Port St. Lucie, and was recently promoted to Double A Binghamton. With the Mets hosting the Futures Game, he was a natural selection to be included, and additionally he has the statistics to back it up. Standing at 6’6”, and weighing a healthy 240 pounds, he is an imposing figure on the mound. He can reach the mid to upper 90’s with regularity, but has a decent off speed selection as well, highlighted by his curveball. His wind up is slow and deliberate, but he repeats it well, and has command of his arsenal. Rules of the Futures Game limit a pitcher to only one inning of work, but Syndergaard made great use of it, pitching in what could be his future home park. Facing top prospects Reymond Fuentes OF (SD), Arismendy Alcantara SS/2B (CHC), Xander Bogaerts SS (BOS), and Miguel Sano 3B (MIN), he more than held his own. He allowed a single up the middle to Bogaerts, struck out Alcantara, induced Fuentes into a ground out, and battled Sano to a full count before Bogaerts was caught stealing to end the inning. On a grand stage, he gave lots of reasons to see a bright future. Now that Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler are pitching in the majors, he is easily the Mets top prospect. The only competition he currently has for that honor is fellow pitcher, and Futures Game competition, Rafael Montero. In dynasty leagues you may not be able to acquire him much longer. His stock will continue to rise as he could push for Triple A by seasons end, and may be in next year’s Top 10 Overall prospects list.
Joc Pederson, LAD OF – Beyond all of the Yasiel Puig hype, there is another talented young outfielder in Dodgertown. Currently playing for Double A Chattanooga, Joc Pederson is displaying all of the five sought after tools, and could prove to be a dynamic force in the near future as a corner outfielder. His fluid lefty swing was producing many bombs during batting practice, which caught quite a few people by surprise. During the US teams fielding drills he displayed a strong arm, but needs to work on his accuracy, specifically to home plate. His throws are slightly up the line in either direction, and this was evidenced in the game on a chance he had to throw out a runner at home. At the plate he had two at bats, resulting in a single to left showing he can hit to the opposite field, and he also drew a walk and scored one run. Pederson just turned 21 at the start of the season (4/21/92) and is showing similar results in now two different levels of the minors. His statistics show a .300 batter who hits over 25 home runs, will add over 75 runs batted in, and can steal in excess of 40 bases. While his defense could currently use slight improvement it certainly is not a weakness. He may be blocked in the big league by the Dodgers crowded outfield, but he makes others expendable by the asset he is becoming. Still not cracking many experts top 50 prospects list, Joc Pederson is someone you should be adding to your radar immediately. Don’t say I did not advise you, because he will be that good.
Guys that stood out from the World Team
Yordano Ventura, KC SP – For those of you wondering how a guy who only threw one pitch could make this list, I will admit I have a personal bias for him. However, to help my credibility, I did get to see him throw several warm up pitches in which he was going full throttle. Yordano Ventura was one of the pitchers I was most looking forward to seeing. The intrigue of Ventura should be fairly obvious; barely 5’10” and throws triple digit heat. He is the baseball equivalent of Nate Robinson, as a guy of average stature doing un-average things. In game action he threw just that one pitch, getting Diamondbacks SS Chris Owings to fly out, so I have to rely heavily on those warm up pitches. His mechanics are an oxymoron, for he clearly looks like he is throwing everything he has got, yet it looks so effortless at the same time. That one pitch he did throw registered at 99 mph on the score board, so yes he did indeed meet expectations. While it is presumed he will eventually become a closer, I believe he does still have a chance as a starter. Regardless of where he ends up, he will need to work on his secondary pitches, and/or some movement on his fastball. He was recently promoted to Triple A, after dominating in his second Double A stint. He has solid control of his pitches, but his prospect ranking may limit you in corralling him onto your roster. He is genuinely someone I would like to see make it to the Show, and he will be very exciting to watch when that happens. For now, for me, that lone pitch was definitely worth it.
Arismendy Alcantara, CHC SS/2B – If you read my recent article on the Major League Baseball trade deadline, and why the Chicago Cubs should consider trading their young star Shortstop Starlin Castro, then you would know I was already high on Alcantara (click for story). At 5’10” and a slim 160 pounds, the Dominican born Shortstop has received rave reviews for his defensive prowess. What has been a surprise is not his batting average or ability to steal a base, but rather his increased power production and his ability to hit home runs. While he is capable of playing Shortstop, he has been transitioning for the Cubs to second base, and that is where he started for the World Team. Though he only had one hit in his three Futures Game at bats, it was a towering fly ball that landed in the CitiField Pepsi Porch, also known as the Upper Deck. The home of the Mets has long been considered one of the hardest parks to hit home runs in, and that is for major league players. To see Alcantara do this showed me his short and compact swing is very much legit, and by no means a fluke. Combined with Javier Baez, who is another well regarded Shortstop in the Cubs system, only further enhances my belief Chicago should look into trading Castro while his value is high. Theo Epstein will have his team in contention within a few years, and while Baez is currently the bigger name, Alcantara can be just as productive. He more than likely will wind up at second, unless traded, but I highly recommend you keep him on your short list.
The Futures Game has certainly grown in popularity since its inception in 1999, as has the attention prospects receive. If you enjoyed my breakdowns and would like to ask questions about any other players, please do so on Twitter @PeoplezPen or leave a comment in the section below. I have opinions on all, from the guys you would expect played well (Buxton, Sano, Bogaerts, Russell) to some that disappointed (Polanco, Ranaudo, Ynoa, Depaula). There is a lot of premium young talent already in the Majors, and there is a lot more on the way. As a lifelong Baseball fan I can confidently say the sport is back, and I’m not sure any of the new knocks against it will be enough to bring it down. All in all it was a great day at the park, even without the Rickey autograph. Once again, please add me on your Twitter account @PeoplezPen