The annual Futures Game has become one of the biggest events of the prospect world. It’s still has yet to become completely mainstream as the game is played on Sunday afternoon while major league games are played and is billed as the lead-up to the celebrity softball game featuring actor James Denton and rapper Fat Joe. Like I said, it’s not yet completely mainstream…
This year the rosters were not as stacked with major league ready prospects as in previous years. In fact, the rosters featured several low-A and High-A players that are likely two, maybe even three years away.
As is tradition, power was on display. Joey Gallo wowed the onlookers with his 80-grade power in batting practice, hitting a 450-foot bomb that damaged the front window of a car past the right-field bleachers. While no pitcher hit triple digits, several pitchers hit 98 including Cincinnati right-hander Robert Stephenson.
We’ve written capsules about some of the more notable performances on the afternoon and when these players might see the major leagues.
Joey Gallo (3B, Tex)
Not only did Joey Gallo win the MVP award for the game, he was clearly the star. His batting practice bombs were breathtaking, showing more raw power than fellow home runs leaders Kris Bryant and Pete O’Brien. His sixth inning home run off Michael Feliz was a true bomb that was estimated to travel 450 feet. He showed the leverage and accompanying torque that his swing induces. He also showed the length in his stroke that will always produce swings and misses. While his game showed improvement in the first half in High-A, his strikeout rate has returned to the scary territory in Double-A. In 101 at-bats, he has struck out 49 times. Yeah, he’s also hit 10 home runs, but a 50% strikeout rate in Double-A is a little frightening
Timing to the Majors: Based on his performance, there will be fan cries for Gallo to be promoted in the second half to Texas. However, at nearly a 50% strikeout rate, he’s not ready. In fact, he’s a long way off. Could he see a September call-up? Perhaps, but don’t be surprised if he pulls a Domingo Santana and strikeouts 11 out of 13 times, but of course could hit two tape measure bombs.
Jose Berrios (RHP, Min)
Jose Berrios got the nod to start the game for the World team and showed the velocity and polish that should have gotten the Twins faithful excited. At 6-feet tall, he doesn’t get a lot of plane on his pitches and will therefore be more of a fly ball pitcher, but as Phil Hughes has proven, that’ll work in Minnesota. The arsenal has a nice base of a three pitch mix with the ability to throw strikes. During the game, his fastball sat 95-96 MPH with two promising secondary pitches in his 81 MPH curveball and a harder 86 MPH change-up. He only threw two change-ups, one bad but one very deceptive offering that showed that the pitch is there.
Timing to the Majors: Berrios will likely spend the remainder of 2014 in Double-A and could even start the 2015 season back in New Britain. While there’s a chance he sees Minnesota in the second half of 2015, he’s more likely to be called up in 2016.
Daniel Norris (LHP, Tor)
When the Blue Jays looked like legitimate playoff contenders in June, the speculation was that Aaron Sanchez would be the trade target of most suitors. However, I believed Norris had the higher upside and would in fact be the player that teams would target. While we’ll never know as it looks like injuries are taking their toll on the Jays, Norris continues to move into the elite territory of pitchers. During the Futures game, he flashed what everyone is excited about. His fastball reached 95 MPH with a hard curve that hit 82 MPH with a change-up that looked promising. The delivery has been cleaned up since he was drafted, although he does still fall off to the third base side.
Timing to the Majors: Norris should remain in Double-A for the rest of 2014 with a promotion to Triple-A to start the 2015 season. If he continues to show improvement, a mid-season promotion to Toronto could be in the cards.
Kris Bryant (3B, CHC)
Kris Bryant went 0-3, including two strikeouts with a walk but people, including myself kept waiting for something to happen. The guy is just a presence on the field with size, raw strength, and bat speed. Plus, he looked lose in the dugout and had that presence that said “Big Man on Campus Here”. It was also interesting to see him high-five Javier Baez on his home run trot as he rounded third. He’s the total package, albeit with some swing and miss. He’s going to be special.
Timing to the Majors: Everyone wants Bryant to be promoted to Chicago in 2014. I just don’t see it. He’s not on the 40-man roster and it just doesn’t make sense for the Cubs to start his clock now, even as a September callup. However, 2015 will be a different story as he could easily follow the George Springer path and be called up in late April to ensure seven years of control with a worse case scenario of a mid-June arrival.
Javier Baez (SS, CHC)
The year started off very slowly for Javier Baez as he batted .223 with a 62% contact rate in April and May. However, since June 1st, he’s batted .260 with a 67% contact rate. Those are not Hall of Fame numbers by any stretch, but it’s an improvement.
Cubs fans got a chance to see the crazy bat speed and subsequent power that Baez has in his 34 ounce weapon. On a hanging curve ball from Lucas Giolito, Baez flicked his wrist and hit an oppo home run that just cleared the right-field fence. It showed the amazing bat speed and wrist strength that few have. Of course, he struck out in his only other at-bat.
Timing to the Majors: I honestly don’t know when Javier Baez will see Chicago. The approach needs to improve and if gets called up too soon, it could be ugly. Maybe that’s what he needs? Remember, he’s still the youngest full-time player in the Pacific Coast League.
Dalton Pompey (OF, Tor)
Dalton Pompey led off for the World team and went 2 for 4 and looked very good in center field. He’s been one of the break out players in 2014 with good overall tools with speed and his glove being his two most impressive tools. He does have good bat speed and projects to have at least average future power. He’s also makes good contact and has very good plate awareness. Once established as a major leaguer, a stat line of .270 with 30 plus stolen bases and 10 home runs batting leadoff could be a reasonable ceiling for the 21-year-old Canadian.
Timing to the Majors: Pompey has struggled upon his promotion to Double-A and will likely stay in the Eastern League for the balance of 2014. A promotion to Triple-A to start to 2015 seems reasonable with a potential second half promotion to Toronto.
Jesse Winker (OF, Cin)
Much like Dalton Pomey, Jesse Winker was not well known in prospects circles entering 2014, but has quickly proven that he has a plus hit tool with an approach that will take him straight to the majors. Winker showed his plus hitting ability by taking an 89 MPH fastball down and away from Edwin Escobar for a double off the left field wall. At 20-years-old, Winker is also very young for Double-A and is in fact the fourth youngest player in the Southern League. While he’s only batting .213, he does have a 20K/13BB strikeout-to-walk ratio with a couple of home runs.
Timing to the Majors: Given his relative age, Winker will likely remain in Double-A for the rest of the season and start 2015 back in the Southern League. A promotion to Triple-A early in 2015 is likely and he could see some action in Cincinnati late in the year.
Luis Severino (RHP, NYY)
At 6-foot and 195 pounds, Luis Severino has one of the fastest arms on either team and lit up the radar gun by hitting 96 MPH on a pitch to Joey Gallo. He also struck him out on a hard 81 MPH curve ball that had nice downward action. He did give up a double to D.J. Peterson but otherwise was untouched after only 12 pitches. That’s pretty good for a 20-year-old kid with 20 innings above Low-A. While the Yankees will surely be hyping Severino as Pedro-Deux, his size and the effort in his delivery profile more as a reliever than a top-of-the-rotation starter. Even as a reliever though, the fastball/hard curve will play nicely.
Timing to the Majors: Severino and Gary Sanchez are the top prospects now in the Yankees farm system and teams are inquiring about both. Does Severino see the Bronx? Not likely, but he’ll make a name for himself in a block buster trade over the next couple of years.
Julio Urias (LHP, LAD)
Most 17-years-olds are spending their summer staying up late, playing video games, and planning their senior year pranks. Julio Urias pitched in the Futures Game in front of 30,000 people – and did quite well; pitching a clean inning while striking out one. He sat 92-93 while topping out at 95 with a hard 81 MPH curve ball. The delivery was clean and simple and he was also able to get on top of his pitches better than Jose Berrios and therefore will not be as fly ball prone. This is proving true in his 52.1 innings in High-A where he has a 2.21 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.
Timing to the Majors: If it weren’t for injuries slowing Urias this year, he might already be in Double-A. Both his arsenal and pitchability are advanced enough for him to be pitching against more advanced hitters and that should happen in the second half. There’s an outside chance that Urias sees time in the majors in 2015 as an 18-year-old but if not, he should make his debut in 2016.
Renato Nunez (3B, Oak)
The Oakland A’s traded away their prize chip in Addison Russell and while their system is down, it’s clearly not out. One of the reasons is Renato Nunez. At 20-years-old, he’s playing very well in Stockton where he is slashing .284/.349/.553. He’s got nice bat speed that was evident on Sunday when he turned on a Noah Syndergaard 98 MPH fastball for a solid single to left. While I like the bat, he’s not uber-athletic and will therefore not provide much speed in his game. However, the bat will play with the plus future power projection.
Timing to the Majors: I expect Nunez to be promoted to Double-A in the second half with a chance to see Oakland in 2015. Then again, Billy Beene appears to have determined that the new market inefficiency is teams overvaluing prospects and if he can leverage Nunez to help his big league club, he’ll likely do it.
Quick and to the point
Hunter Renfroe (OF, SD)
Hunter Renfroe went 1 for 2 with a nice hard hit single off an Edwin Escobar 92 MPH fastball. However, his 4th inning throw from deep right-field to nearly catch Kennys Vargas for stretching a single into a double showed his plus arm and was the highlight for me. Renfroe has plus future power projection but is an aggressive hitter with swing and miss in his game.
Hunter Harvey (RHP, Bal)
The Futures game had a number of young Low-A players who were rewarded for their outstanding season and Hunter Harvey was clearly a deserving candidate. While he didn’t have great command on Sunday, the fastball scraped 95 MPH and he reeled off several nasty 76 MPH curveballs to strikeout both Francisco Lindor and Jose Peraza.
Michael Taylor (OF, Was)
One of the big breakouts of the 2014 season has been Washington center fielder Michael Taylor. He led off for the US team, going 1 for 4 with two strikeouts. He’s big and athletic with tools to spare, but I’m not yet sold on his hit-tool. The swing is very long and that in combination with a very large wing-span of his 6-foot-3 frame is naturally going to have him produce a lot of swings and misses.
Robert Stephenson (RHP, Cin)
Robert Stephenson unofficially won the highest velocity of the game, throwing two pitches that registered 98 MPH. He gave up one hit and struck out one in his inning of work and looked nearly big league ready. He has struggled with his control in 2014, walking 48 batters in 93 innings but is still producing a strikeout an inning. There’s a lot to like with Stephenson and if he’s not called up this year, you should definitely see him in 2015.
Gabby Guerreo (OF, Sea)
For those who have read our articles and listened to our podcast, know we have mentioned the spooky similarities between Gabby Guerrero and his famous uncle, Vladimir. The facial comparisons as well as the body are so similar that if you look too fast, you’ll swear it was Vlad playing on Sunday. Gabby also doesn’t wear gloves and has a similar long and aggressive swing. Is Gabby have the same talent as Vlad. It’s doubtful, but it’s clearly something to dream on.