With baseball's All-Star Game only a few days away, the hype machine is in full gear. While "This Time it Counts" is firmly entrenched in my addled Gen-Xer brain -- along with other slogans such as "Where's the Beef?" -- the actual All-Star Game is no longer the game that I look forward to the most in mid-July. For my money, the All-Star Futures Game is the must-watch game of the week.
Conceived by MLB executive Jimmie Lee Solomon, the Futures Game gives the average fan the opportunity to see some of baseball's future stars for the very first time. Many of today's top young stars, like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria, were first seen there by a national audience. So naturally, when people watch the 2010 Futures Game, there will be a lot of speculation as to which players on the field will become baseball's future stars.
Picking which prospects will become future MVPs and Cy Young winners has always been one of the most difficult tasks that any organization faces. Teams devote a large amount of resources to evaluating minor-league players, but even the best run organizations in baseball will have a large number of prospects never pan out. In the 1990s, Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus coined the term "There is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect" or TINSTAAPP, as it's commonly known in acronym form. While a bit of hyperbole, there's a strong underlying truth -- most prospects, especially pitching prospects, are unlikely to match the most favorable predictions.
Even given all the caveats, some of the best players of the 2010s will be stepping onto the field Sunday for the Futures Game. Using BTF's resident projection system, ZiPS, which has a database of minor league performance going back to the 1970s, let's see who looks the best in the crystal ball.
For each player I'll give a ZiPS "best guess" for how they are likely to do in the majors if called up in 2011, and for what their peak season could look like, assuming that they play for their current parent team. Projection systems tend to be fairly conservative given the uncertainty of events years down the road, but they also present a dose of reality for much-hyped players such as Cameron Maybin of the Florida Marlins. The chart below features the top 15 pitchers in the Futures Game, as ranked by projected 2011 ERA.
On the pitching side, Jeremy Hellickson looks to be the most MLB-ready pitcher. Tampa Bay's 4th-round pick in 2005 has an 11-2 record, a 2.21 ERA, and a strikeout an inning for Durham. Generally overshadowed by the flashier Wade Davis, Hellickson should be joining Davis in the rotation in the near future and helping make some of the team's off-season payroll-cutting decisions a bit less painful.
Tanner Scheppers fell to the 2nd-round in the 2008 draft due to concerns about the health of his shoulder. Scheppers didn't sign with the Pirates and ended up playing for the St. Paul Saints. Signed by the Rangers with the 44th pick in last year's draft, Scheppers has been dominating the Pacific Coast League. Texas's scouts are on a roll in that sense, as he's one of several talented arms in their deep prospect pool.
Brave prospect Julio Teheran is the pitcher I'm most looking forward to seeing this weekend. Teheran was one of Keith Law's sleeper picks going into this season and the numbers love Teheran's performance this season as much as the scouts love his fastball. I unfortunately just missed going to Teheran's 14-strikeout game against the Frederick Keys back in May, so I'm traitorously hoping to get to see Teheran strike out several Americans.
Now let's move to the hitters. The chart below features the top 15 hitters in the Futures Game, as ranked by projected 2011 OPS.
The Marlins suddenly find themselves with a surplus at first base, a good thing considering the organization's attitude toward the term "arbitration-eligible." Gaby Sanchez is hitting .301/.367/.467 which has allowed Logan Morrison to get time for Triple-A New Orleans. Morrison's hit .324/.434/.511 and looks to be the new version of Nick Johnson, both for the high OBP and the injury history. Florida's trying to get Morrison to the point at which he's adequate defensively in left as Sanchez and his minor-league .906 fielding percentage at 3rd will not be manning the hot corner anytime soon.
In order for the Phillies to land Roy Hallday from the Jays last season, they had to decide which of their top prospect outfielders -- Domonic Brown or Michael Taylor -- they would hang onto. They chose to keep Brown and so far, with Taylor only putting up a .707 OPS for Sacramento, it's looking like they made the right decision. Brown's extremely important to the Phils given that Raul Ibanez has aged very fast and Jayson Werth is currently unsigned. With Brown hitting .331/.396/.617 with 19 home runs combined in the minors this season, it looks like he won't be a "futures" for long.
While I still disagree with many of Royals General Manager Dayton Moore's decisions, two formerly disappointing prospects, Mike Moustakas (.718 OPS for Wilmington in 2009) and Eric Hosmer (.695 OPS for Wilmington and NW Arkansas in 2009), have both turned things around and have earned their places in the Futures Game. Moustakas has to be one of the more improbable turnarounds in recent years and has already hit 21 home runs (.705 slugging percentage!) for Northwest Arkansas. Hosmer, after a disappointing full-season debut last year, is hitting .353/.429/.546 for single-A Wilmington.
No doubt some of these players will fail to meet their potential, whether due to injuries, flaws in their game or the inability to handle more difficult competition as they climb the organizational ladder. But I guarantee that quite a few of them will be appearing in regular All-Star games. Don't believe me? Let's turn the clock back 10 years and see how the best of the 2000 Futures alumni have fared.
By my count, that's 28 All-Star appearances and a lot of the players are still in their prime. Other players that played in the 2000 Futures Game and went on to be significant contributors in the majors include Jack Cust, Tomo Ohka, Miguel Olivo, Ramon Ortiz, Corey Patterson, Carlos Silva and Brad Wilkerson.
So, when watching the All-Star festivities over the next several days, make sure to set aside some time for the Futures Game (6 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN2) and get a rare peek at the future of MLB.
Dan Szymborski is the editor in chief of Baseball Think Factory.