Scouting the Futures Game for deals

The 13th anniversary of the XM All-Star Futures Game this weekend in Phoenix is a unique opportunity for general managers, assistant GMs, scouting directors, scouts and top evaluators to see the best major league prospects in baseball in one game. During my years as a GM, I always sent at least two of my top evaluators to the game and made it a must-watch for myself for the years I attended the games, starting with the first Futures Game in 1999 at Fenway Park in Boston. Last year, a record 38 All-Stars were alumni of the Futures Game. Seven players who have appeared in this special game were part of an AL or NL All-Star team the next year, including players like Jason Heyward, Evan Longoria and Neftali Feliz.

This game is also an opportunity for “sellers” to scout key players for the trade deadline, which is just three weeks away. The media and fans always tend to focus on the players who could be traded at the deadline from the major league level, like this year’s rumors that surround the Padres’ Heath Bell, the Mets’ Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez or the Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez. However, those teams are hoping to acquire in return future major league All-Star-caliber players who might be one to four years from playing in the major leagues.

During my 15-year career as a general manager, I experienced both sides of being a buyer, like acquiring David Wells from the Detroit Tigers for our first-round pick the previous year, C.J. Nitkowski, and a player to be named later (who, after the season ended, became Mark Lewis). As a seller I traded Jeff Shaw, a Rolaids Relief Award winner, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor leaguer Paul Konerko, and sent 15-game winner John Smiley to Cleveland for a package including Danny Graves.

Of course, I’m limiting my examples to my best deals as a buyer or seller, because it’s my blog and I can. For general managers and their teams it can be just as rewarding on both sides, one for the short term and the other for the long term. Remember, deals are supposed to work for both teams.

Here is a look at five top prospects playing in this year’s XM All-Star Futures Game who could be traded, but unlikely by this year’s trade deadline of July 31:

CF Gary Brown, San Francisco Giants

Brown, 22, was the Giants’ first-round selection in the June 2010 free-agent draft out of Cal State Fullerton. Brown can fly and is one of the fastest players in professional baseball -- he’s been timed at less than 3.7 seconds to first base on a bunt from the right side! He projects as a game-changing leadoff hitter. He’s also an above-average defender with the potential to develop into a Gold Glove candidate. The best parts of his game are his passion and electrifying style of play. He crashes into walls and dives for baseballs, and his uniform is normally dirty before the national anthem. The Mets have to be scouting Brown in the Futures Game, hoping to get him in a deal for Carlos Beltran. However, like the Giants’ other top minor league prospect, pitcher Zach Wheeler, it is unlikely that general manager Brian Sabean will include him in any deal at this year’s deadline.

RHP Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Martinez, 19, has one of the best fastballs in minor league baseball. His velocity will sit at 95-97 and touch 100 mph with cutting action. He also throws a curveball and changeup, both of which show above-average potential. He misses bats at a high rate, but the Cardinals want him to throw the two-seamer more often so that he can get quicker outs. His command and control are impressive for a teenager. He is the Cardinals’ second-best pitching prospect behind Shelby Miller and has a chance to be a No. 1 starter or impact closer, but he’s two or three years away. The Padres have asked for him in a Heath Bell deal and have been turned down. The Cardinals don’t intend to trade him, but if you’re the Astros with Wandy Rodriguez to dangle in front of you at the deadline, you’d have to at least think about it. The Astros and Padres have to be scouting him Sunday at the Futures Game.

3B Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox

Middlebrooks, 22, is starting to put it together for the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s Double-A affiliate. Last year he was voted by the managers in the Carolina League to be the circuit’s best defensive third baseman and to have its strongest infield arm. He strikes out once out of four times up, but his raw power is finally coming, as he’s on pace for a 20-homer season. He has a 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame, and he’s gifted with terrific bat speed. Middlebrooks was taken by the Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2007 draft out of Liberty-Eylau High School out of Texarkana, Texas. On the surface, it looks as though the Red Sox farm system is not deep enough in position players to be able to part with Middlebrooks. However, with All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez at first and Kevin Youkilis at third base, if the Red Sox can acquire a long-term solution for right field or acquire a legitimate, proven 15-game winner, they will have to consider parting with Middlebrooks. Several scouting departments will evaluate Middlebrooks today, because the inventory of third basemen at all levels of professional baseball is remarkably low right now, and he’s a piece the Red Sox could have the luxury of including in the right deal.

SS Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers

Profar, 18, is the Rangers’ best position player prospect, and with their future set for the long-term with Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Profar is the player whom most “sellers” are asking for in exchange for bullpen help. The New York Mets (in discussions for Francisco Rodriguez) and San Diego Padres (in a potential deal for Heath Bell) have asked for him. Profar is a potential five-tool shortstop and is gifted with soft hands, good first-step quickness and phenomenal instincts. He has a gun for an arm, and it’s accurate. At the plate, he’s a switch-hitter with a level swing from both sides, but he has better bat speed from the right side; he projects to have 15-20 home run power. I doubt the Rangers would deal him for a short-term addition of a top reliever, but that won’t stop teams from holding out for him in hopes that Texas’ depth at the shortstop position and the fact that he is three to four years away would persuade the Rangers to move him in the right blockbuster.

RHP Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves

Vizcaino, 20, has tremendous stuff: a 93-96 mph fastball with a wipeout curve ball that he throws with command and control, while his changeup is improving. Vizcaino has become the Braves’ second-best pitching prospect behind Julio Teheran. Considering the Braves’ starting rotation and bullpen depth at the major league level and that they have Teheran already on the way, Vizcaino could be included in the second major trade of his career. (He was packaged in the five-player transaction in December 2009, coming to the Braves with outfielder Melky Cabrera and reliever Mike Dunn in exchange for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.) Dunn already has been traded to the Marlins for Dan Uggla -- Vizcaino could be next. The Braves are in need of a leadoff hitter and have been linked to trade discussions with the Twins (possibly for Denard Span or Ben Revere) and the Astros (possibly for Michael Bourn). Vizcaino could be ready for the major leagues as early as next year and could develop into a topof-the-rotation starter. He’s a definite potential trade piece for Braves GM Frank Wren at the deadline.

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