By Eric Longenhagen
The Futures Game is the Scout-and-Prospect Nerd Super Bowl. It is a marketing showcase to be sure, but it's also a rare opportunity to see a few dozen of the game's top talents in one place at one time. It is the crown jewel of All-Star weekend and deserves your attention. What follows are brief reports on every player appearing in this year's game. Not all of these players are great prospects, and some were selected to the squad because they met various criteria of positional need and nationality. But regardless of their eventual careers, each of these players offers a different, important look into the process of amateur talent acquisition and development.
Christian Binford, Royals -- A 30th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Binford boats a fastball that will run up to 94 mph and a solid-average slider that sits in the low 80s. Expect a heavy dose of both on Sunday. The massive righty has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter, if he can throw a few more strikes and his changeup comes along.
Lucas Giolito, Nationals -- Giolito was a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft before suffering an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. The Nationals snagged him at No. 16 overall, and Giolito has turned into one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He'll show you near-triple-digit velocity at times, though the fastball projects to settle in the 93-96 mph range once Giolito has to bear a 200-inning workload. The curveball projects to plus-plus, and the changeup could miss some bats as well. A repertoire this vicious -- wrapped in a hulking, 6-foot-6, 255-lbs. frame that looks like it's going to eat a ton of innings -- gives Giolito an ace ceiling, a term I don't throw around lightly.
Alex Meyer, Twins -- Acquired from the Nationals in exchange for Denard Span, Meyer was the first of many arms the Twinkies have brought on that juxtapose the vanilla-armed, strike-thrower philosophy they held in the late 2000s. The 6'-9" Meyer will touch 97 mph and shows a plus slider, and he has the arm speed and hand size to dream on a changeup. It may take him a little longer to gain full control over his limbs and throw enough strikes to start.
Hunter Harvey, Orioles -- The O's first round selection in 2013, the slender Harvey has exploded into full-season ball after a strong New York-Penn League showing last year. Harvey's fastball can touch the mid-90s, and he may one day sit in that range as he fills out and gets stronger. His meal ticket right now is an upper-70s curveball that has impressive vertical depth. He's coasted on those two pitches so far and will have to see the changeup develop, if he hopes to continue this kind of success at higher levels.
Daniel Norris, Blue Jays -- The Jays have had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to minor league arms over the past several seasons. Norris has sort of taken a back seat to the likes of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and since-traded Noah Syndergaard, but he's a terrific prospect in his own right. He sports a four-pitch mix headlined by a fastball that touches 97 and a late-breaking slider.
Henry Owens, Red Sox -- The big 6-foot-6 lefty has a loose, easy arm and generates above-average velocity, but the real weapon here is the changeup which has everything you're looking for in a quality change. Owens maintains his fastball arm speed, locates the pitch well and spins the ball enough to get arm-side run. The curveball has nice depth to it, but it might be too slow and loopy to do damage at the upper levels.
Braden Shipley, Diamondbacks -- A converted shortstop, Shipley is a fascinating developmental triumph. The 6-foot-3 righty will show upper-90s velocity, a plus changeup and some feel for a below-average curveball that scouts think has room to grow, as Shipley continues to familiarize himself with the mound. He's a natural arm talent with a fresh cannon attached to his shoulder. Proponents dream on what Shipley might be able to do as he continues to gain experience. Pessimists see an unpolished 22-year-old still in Single A. Both views are valid.
Robert Stephenson, Reds -- Big-time fastball velocity and a big breaking curveball that garners some 70-grade projections have Stephenson rocketing through the minors. He's starting to feel some developmental growing pains, as hitters at Double A start to exploit his below-average command and lack of a viable third pitch. Don't expect Stephenson, who has ascended through four levels of the minors in just 53 starts, to continue his rise at this pace. He'll likely need more time to hone his craft at the upper levels. Even if it takes him the next three seasons to adjust to Double A and Triple A hitters, he'll only just be turning 24, so don't sleep on Stephenson if the dominance goes away shortly. He's got time to develop physically and tactically.
Noah Syndergaard, Mets -- Part of the return for R.A. Dickey, Syndergaard was sitting 97-99 mph and touching 100 when I saw him during last year's Eastern League playoffs. Thor, as he's called, is a leviathan and looks the part of a 200+ inning eater. He complements that 80-grade fastball with a curveball that's already a consistent, above-average pitch and projects to plus. The changeup has projection as well and might end up being his most useful offering when the cement dries. Syndergaard's biggest issue is command and an overreliance on getting whiffs by elevating the fastball.
Jake Thompson, Tigers -- Thompson doesn't have the kind of upside that the other Team USA arms do, but the 20-year-old righty has a good feel for both a mid-80s slider and a slower curveball to go along with an above-average fastball. All of Thompson's growth is going to have to be tactical, as his body is pretty much maxed out at a listed 235 lbs. The changeup is a work in progress.
Kevin Plawecki, Mets -- Plawecki doesn't have a plus tool, and a ton of his ultimate value is going to be wrapped up in his ability to draw walks and get on base. Some scouts aren't sold that he can catch, which would torpedo his value. I haven't been as big on Plawecki as others due to mechanical variations in his swing and footwork. I think he's a second-division regular.
Justin O'Conner, Rays -- I'm not sure O'Conner is ever going to hit. I'm not a fan of the bat path, and I have questions about the bat speed, but there's some power here, and he has the athleticism and arm strength to catch in spades. Depending on how his receiving develops, he could still merit an everyday spot based on his ability to play a premium defensive position well.
Kris Bryant, Cubs -- He might not have the most raw power in the minors but he probably has the most power utility, with plus-plus pop and a swing path to tap into it despite some swing and miss. I'm not sure how long he stays at third given the Cubs' situation on the infield and Bryant's skillset, but he's going to be an impact bat wherever he plays.
J.P. Crawford, Phillies -- Crawford is a no-doubt shortstop with supreme control over his body, terrific reactions, hands and an arm for the left side of the infield. His precocious eye for the strike zone, bat to ball ability and burgeoning wrist strength and bat control might allow him to have some offensive impact as well. He's showing power in BP but unless some mechanical tweaks are made to his in-game stroke I can't see it playing. He might provide All-Star caliber value based on his defense and on-base skills at maturity.
Sean Coyle, Red Sox -- Schools from the mid-Atlantic like Virginia and North Carolina do a great job of poaching talent from eastern Pennsylvania which, if not for its lack of prominent college baseball programs, is otherwise a utopia. The Red Sox signed Coyle away from Chapel Hill with a seven-figure bonus in 2010 and he had been just okay, repeating the Carolina League in 2013. This year's he's exploded, putting up video game numbers at Double-A. He's always had bat speed and useful legs but this year he seems to have quieted some of the unnecessary noise in his swing. It's paying dividends.
Joey Gallo, Rangers -- Gallo's elite raw power, the best in the minors, has always been held back by bountiful swinging and missing. This year, he's quieted some things down in his swing and has improved his approach. The results? He has 30 home runs before the All-Star break. Not every scout is sold on his future at third base, though it'd be a terrible waste of elite arm strength if he has to move across the diamond to first.
Micah Johnson, White Sox -- The second baseman can absolutely fly and make some contact but he isn't a great defender at second base, and doesn't quite have the power to profile as a first-division regular there.
Peter O'Brien, Yankees -- O'Brien has a big, aggressive stride and weight transfer that helps him generate plus power. Thanks to a clunky, unathletic swing, scouts wonder if he can tap into it at upper levels. That lack of athleticism carries over to the defensive end of things where O'Brien has the arm strength to catch (as he has for most of his career) but not the movement skills. The Yankees gave him a look at third base last year but 2014 has seen O'Brien at first base, right field and designated hitter. The much higher offensive standard at those positions make for a tough profile.
D.J. Peterson, Mariners -- I'll admit that I wasn't big on Peterson coming out of the draft last year. I didn't think he could stick at third base and didn't think there would be enough power here to profile as a first-division regular at first. He's almost a sure thing to move to first base eventually, but there might be more juice in the bat than I thought. Peterson is short to the ball, generates terrific torque and gets great extension which culminates in plus power.
Corey Seager, Dodgers -- Seager is a mammoth shortstop at 6-foot-4, 215 lbs., and projects to move off of short and over to third. I have some issues with the way Seager compromises his lower half during his swing but the bat speed he's operating with is undeniable. There's plus power projection here as a result, though I'm a little less optimistic about Seager's future ability to hit than most others.
Josh Bell, Pirates -- He was the best pure hitter in the 2011 draft not named Anthony Rendon but the switch-hitting Bell lasted all the way to pick #61 thanks to a strong commitment to Texas. The Pirates bought him out of school with a whopping $5 million bonus. Bell is corner outfielder all the way but his bat has above-average everyday potential. Bell doesn't incorporate his lower half into his swing, especially from the left side, but the bat speed and wrist strength are so incredible that he generates above average power anyway.
James Ramsey, Cardinals -- Another bottom of the first round college guy scooped up by the Cardinals who does nothing but produce. Ramsey really first started opening eyes in last year's Arizona Fall League and has continued to pulverize pitching at Double-A this year. He tracks the baseball very well out of the pitcher's hand and has a contact oriented, up-the-middle approach to hitting. Most of his extra-base hits come from line shots fired just over corner infielders rather than big, booming gapers. I'm not sure there's first-division power here but he looks like a useful big leaguer.
Hunter Renfroe, Padres -- After Bryant and Gallo, Renfroe has the most raw power on this roster, grading out at a 65 on the 20-80 scale. His stroke is simple, albeit a little stiff, but I think it plays in the big leagues. He's no great shakes in right field and his body projects to thicken up and slow down, making him below average out there. His plus arm should help negate some of his ills.
Michael Taylor, Nationals -- Taylor swings and misses an awful lot but has really impressive power to all fields in BP and in games when he gets a hold of one. He's got the wheels for center field and this sort of up-the-middle defensive profile does not often pair itself with plus raw power. Taylor likely has more development left than your typical player at Double-A and might not figure things out until he gets into his mid-20s. But if he does, look out.
Jesse Winker, Reds -- Winker needs to be more consistent with his swing but when he grooves it, it's one of the more beautiful strokes in the minors. His frame doesn't lend itself to much projection for strength and so he probably won't ever have more than fringe-average power, but the bat to ball and eye for the strike zone are intriguing.
Alfonso Alcantara, Angels -- A mid-90s fastball that will run up to 99, Alcantara is more thrower than pitcher at this point. While the arm strength is unquestioned, the secondary pitches leave something to be desired and the command and control are erratic. He's a likely reliever.
Jose Berrios, Twins -- He might have the best arm speed in the entire showcase. It allows the diminutive Berrios to pump in plus heat but also makes it nearly impossible to identify his changeup out of his hand. I think his changeup has plus-plus projection. The curveball is a bit behind and a tad slurvy and probably only gets to fringe-average. The curveball might improve if Berrios was a little more flexible with his lower half during delivery, taking a bigger stride and finishing out over his front side more than his current, cut-off style. But his presently upright finish helps mitigate his lack of height. Berrios is small at just 6-foot-0, but the more I scout and learn from scouts, the less I think that matters.
Edwin Escobar, Giants -- Escobar might not have the most unbridled velocity in this game but his fastball plays up because of how much it moves. The slider has a good amount of break to it but starts its descent a little early to net consistent whiffs, so it's only an average pitch, with the changeup casting in a half grade below that. Escobar is already at Triple-A at age 22, so there's time to wait and see if those come along enough to consider Escobar a long term option for the rotation, even if he's just a No. 4.
Michael Feliz, Astros -- A big boy with big arm strength, the righty Feliz will show you a heavy 94-96 mph fastball and flash a plus breaking ball. He doesn't sport the most athletic delivery and his changeup is so far behind his other pitches (he can spin it but he slows his arm) that he screams "reliever" to me, but I hate to put an arm this lively in that box so soon. While his delivery is a little odd, I like the way his arm works and think you let him start until he proves he can't.
Domingo German, Marlins -- German spent five seasons in either complex league or short season ball and has kind of been off the radar until this year as a result. He'll pump in the fastball in the low 90s and touch 95 with a below-average changeup and slider, though the changeup flashes better. In a game stereotypically filled with power arms who struggle to throw strikes, German is a sniper. He's walked just 15 hitters in 14 starts this year.
Tayron Guerrero, Padres -- Big Tay is built like an NBA small forward and is probably the most physically projectable arm you'll see in Minneapolis this weekend despite the fact that he's already 23. At 6-foot-7, 190 lbs., he dials the fastball into the mid to upper 90s with ease. Baseball Prospectus' Ron Shah had him up to 98 mph this week. If he's a little bit of a late physical bloomer, it's possible there's more velo in there somewhere. Now it's just a matter of getting Tayron and his limbs headed toward the plate enough that he can throw strikes. If he can do that and continue to polish his slider up to average, he'll be a solid reliever.
Jorge Lopez, Brewers -- Sinker ball guys don't typically pop up in these games, but Lopez has a pretty good one in the 89-92 mph range. He compliments it with a true four-seamer that will touch 94 as well as a developing change and upper 70s curveball. He has some physical projection but is already in control of his extremities and throwing plenty of strikes. He projects as a back of the rotation starter.
Enny Romero, Rays -- It's the Dominincan lefty's third trip to the Futures Game. He still has a plus fastball that will touch 95 mph, he still has a solid average slider that he doesn't always finish, he still doesn't have a good change and he still has an unathletic delivery that prevents him from throwing strikes with consistency. I still think he's a reliever, and a damn fine one when all is said and done. Can it be said and done soon? Please?
Luis Severino, Yankees -- He's small but his stuff is huge as Severino will touch 97 mph, flash a plus changeup and I'm bigger on his slider than the rest of the industry is. I'm a little concerned about the pacing of the delivery and actually prefer the way his arms works from the stretch. Regardless, three average or better pitches give Severino an upscale No. 3 starter's ceiling if he can throw them all for strikes. Be careful not to drink the ace Kool-aid with Severino just because he has the NY on his cap and is going to be discussed ad nauseum as a result.
Julio Urias, Dodgers -- Urias is the age of most high school juniors, but he's pitching on a huge stage this weekend because of mid-90s heat that he'll cut at times and an already average curveball that projects to plus. At just 5-foot-11, Urias offers less projection than most arms his age, but he can still become a No. 2 starter if the fastball velocity sticks as his workload increases and his changeup comes along.
Jorge Alfaro, Rangers -- You don't often see catchers as tooled-up as Alfaro, who perhaps has the highest ceiling of any non-shortstop position player in the minors. Alfaro has 80 arm strength and projects as a plus receiver and defender at peak thanks to his athleticism. He's also a plus runner though he'll likely slow down as he ages and all that crouching begins to erode his explosion from the waist down. The important stuff is the bat. While there's enough bat speed to project for at least plus power, Alfaro is still swinging at too many pitches out of the zone. But the no doubt ability to catch with this tool profile is tantalizing.
Kennys Vargas, Twins -- The World team's first baseman is usually a tough find because most of the international talent we see is of the up-the-middle variety. The crop this year is much better than usual as Vargas sports a few plus tools in his power and, some would argue, his arm strength. He's a little old for his level and will have to keep his weight down to be able to play first base (Vargas tips the scales at 275, and he's actually lost weight) but he's an old-school three true outcomes prospect.
Maikel Franco, Phillies -- He's split time between third base and first base this year and despite his classification as the latter for this game I actually think he's fine at the hot corner, using terrific hands and plus-plus arm strength to make up for his mobility ills. I've been told by a scout that Franco has the best bat speed of anyone he's seen since Gary Sheffield and while I tend to think that's a bit hyperbolic, he certainly can whip it. He has approach issues and, predictably, has had his growing pains at Triple-A this year and he'll have them again at the next level. But despite the risk that his approach presents to his future I think Franco is a solid average regular who has an All Star game or two in him at peak.
Jose Peraza, Braves -- Peraza has the talent to play up the middle, showing the range, actions and fluidity to play shortstop or second base. Some scouts aren't sold that the arm strength is enough for the left side of the infield. The Braves moved him to second base this year but it's unclear if it was due to their views of Peraza's defensive profile or if they're priming him to take over the big job since Andrelton Simmons isn't going anywhere. Atlanta continued their organizational style of aggressive promotion by sending Peraza to Double-A where he's almost 5 years younger than his average peer in the league. He might not hit for enough power to profile as a first-division player at second base.
Jose Rondon, Angels -- I caught a glimpse of Rondon while he was rehabbing in the AZL a few weeks ago and his skillset is delectable. A terrific athlete, Rondon will make some incredible plays at short, especially on balls in on the grass, and features a plus arm. He still requires polish and will boot some easy plays but he projects as an above-average-to-plus defender there. Rondon is also physically strong enough to do some damage with the bat by swatting balls into gaps and traversing the bases. I'm not sure he'll ever hit for more than 30 grade power but the defense should carry him to the majors.
Javier Baez, Cubs -- Bat speed is unteachable, but it's the key to hard contact and Baez has perhaps the best in all of the minors. However, like Maikel Franco, his big swing approach is being exploited by the wily vets at Triple-A. Despite his struggles, you can probably count the number of shortstops we've ever seen with 80-grade power on one hand and Baez is one of them. His upside is scary, as is the risk associated with betting on it. His ultimate future may be at third base with superior defender Addison Russell now in the organization.
Francisco Lindor, Indians -- There's a shortstop renaissance on the horizon and Lindor is my favorite. He doesn't have the explosive offensive upside of Baez, Russell or Carlos Correa, but he's a no-doubt, plus-plus defender at the position and should be a plus hitter with time. Lindor's explosion toward balls in the 5.5 hole is breathtaking, as he digs his cleats into the dirt and ignites his massive thighs into action, getting to balls I've never seen anyone get to. Lindor also employs a sneaky-good approach and might walk more than he strikes out in the big leagues.
Rosell Herrera, Rockies -- I first laid eyes on Herrera during South Atlantic League play last season and was smitten with his projectable frame and power, which I think will be plus with time. Unfortunately with that physical growth and power development will come the need to move off of shortstop and maybe even out of the infield entirely. Despite struggles this year, one scout told me he'd bet on Herrera's bat profiling even if he had to move to an outfield corner.
Renato Nunez, Athletics -- A big-time international signee from way back in 2010, the now 20 year old Nunez has the skillset scouts projected for him when he came over from Venezuela, thanks to big raw power and a pretty right-handed swing to tap into it. While you'd hate to see him take a value hit and his arm strength wasted over at first base, it seems somewhat inevitable for the lead-footed Nunez who struggled with efficient routes at third. The bat should carry him, however. It's quite special.
Dariel Alvarez, Orioles -- Like Henry Urrutia last year, the 25-year-old Alvarez is the elder statesman of the Futures Game and, unless you squint really hard, projects as a bench outfielder in the big leagues. He has interesting bat control and plays solid defense in right field but features mostly fringe-average or below tools.
Domingo Santana, Astros -- Santana's skillset in right field is as classic as a good Chicken Pot Pie (the homemade kind, not that frozen garbage). Plus power, solid average run, plus-plus arm, tons of swinging and missing. It might be too much swing and miss as Santana's 6'5" and long levers create natural holes in his swing and those are compounded by less than stellar pitch tracking ability. But Santana's power with those Crawford Boxes in Houston should make for terrific theater.
Gabby Guerrero, Mariners -- Stop me if you've heard this before about a Guerrero. Impressive raw power with an overly aggressive approach but makes such angry contact that it just might work anyway, and has an absolute howitzer attached to his shoulder. Yes Gabby has a similar skillset to his likely Hall of Fame-worthy uncle (no, not Wilton), and while he doesn't have Vlad's hand-eye coordination, there's still a nice tool package here and a good amount of physical development left. He's hitting pretty well for his age in the offense-friendly Cal League. His first real test will be next year in Double-A when we'll learn a whole lot more about whether or not Gabby's tools will play.
Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays -- Pompey was drafted all the way back in 2010, but was just 17 at the time and won't turn 22 until December. He's a legitimate leadoff, switch-hitter type of prospect who plays average defense in center field. Pompey makes contact, has a solid approach, has enough pop that he won't be smothered in the majors and is 26 of 28 in stolen base attempts this year. He also has a very unique, leg-twist stride as a right handed hitter that I can't recall seeing before. He'd be at the top of my list of guys to watch take BP this weekend in effort to evaluate his swing from both sides of the plate.
Steven Moya, Tigers -- Injuries have slowed Moya's development and the soon-to-be 23 year old isn't having a great year at Double-A. But there's plus power here and if he can make enough contact to tap into, maybe he finds a home in a platoon. I'm not optimistic about that occurring.
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Eric Longenhagen hails from Catasauqua, Penn. and has been working in various baseball capacities since his freshman year of college in 2007, including work in the minor leagues, at Baseball Info Solutions and most recently scouting and writing for CrashburnAlley.com and ProspectInsider.com.