by Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
One of the underrated parts of the All-Star Game festivities is the Futures Game, which will take place this year on Sunday at Target Field at 4 p.m.
The future of baseball will be on display.
Doubt that statement? Consider this list:
CC Sabathia, Chase Utley, Jose Reyes, Miguel Cabrera, Zack Greinke, Joe Mauer, Justin Verlander, Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Upton, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Xander Boegarts and Wil Meyers — all of them with strong Major League resumes, and all of them have played in a Futures Game.
In 2013, Twins prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton participated in the prospect extravaganza.
Sano went 0-for-2 with a walk and Buxton went 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts.
But as Twins GM Terry Ryan says, while you’d like to see your prospects shine in the game, it’s more about how they handle themselves.
“If they don’t look like they belong, stuff like that, people up here will take notice,” Ryan said. “So hopefully they’ll look like they belong.”
This year, he’s referring to pitching prospect Jose Berrios and first base/DH prospect Kennys Vargas, who will be on the World Team managed by Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, as well as pitching prospect Alex Meyer, who’ll be on the U.S. Team managed by Twins Hall of Famer Tom Kelly.
Berrios was the Twins first-round pick in 2012 and was just promoted to Double-A New Britain after putting up excellent numbers at High-A Fort Meyers.
He’s got an ERA of just 1.96, a walk rate of 2.1 per nine innings versus a strikeout rate of 10.2 per nine. He was named the Player of the Month for the Florida State League in June and started the FSL All-Star Game on June 14th.
Baseball America has him as the number five prospect in the Twins system and Baseball Prospectus had him at number 75 in all of baseball coming into this season.
Vargas was signed out of Puerto Rico in 2009 and is currently slugging in middle of the Rock Cats lineup.
Through Sunday’s game at Portland, Vargas was hitting .291/.365/.474 with 14 home runs and 13 doubles in his 302 at-bats.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is especially high on Vargas.
“I know Vargas came to Boston when we were there and it was fun to see him on the field,” Gardenhire said. “He’s working very hard. I’ve had great reports on him.”
Alex Meyer wasn’t originally slated to pitch in the game, but took the spot of fellow prospect Trevor May when he was unable to recover from a calf injury in time to participate.
Meyer was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB draft, but decided to go to the University of Kentucky instead of sign a professional contract. That decision worked in his favor as he became a first-round draft pick of the Washington Nationals in the 2011 draft.
He came to the Twins organization about a year and a half later when Minnesota — searching for pitching help — traded center fielder Denard Span to Washington in exchange for Meyer.
Meyer’s spent the entirety of his 2014 season at Triple-A Rochester and has had his ups and downs. He’ll string two or three solid starts together, followed by a hiccup or two.
Through his start on July 3, Meyer had an ERA of 3.46, a walk rate of 4.21 per nine innings, a strikeout rate of 10.04 per nine.
The ERA and walk rate don’t necessarily scream “promote me now,” but there’s no question that Meyer is a big part of the Twins’ future pitching plans.
Baseball America has him rated as the Twins’ #3 prospect and Baseball Prospectus had him rated as the #32 overall prospect in baseball coming into this season.
No matter how high they might or might not be on any given publication’s prospect list, playing in a Futures Game is an opportunity not just to shine on national television, but to experience what life in a big league ballpark is really like.
“There’ll be 30-some thousand here for [the Futures Game], probably,” Ryan said. “It’ll give them an opportunity to see the stadium, it’ll give them an opportunity to play in front of a big crowd. And usually when they’re introduced in this thing, they get a pretty nice ovation.”
Gardenhire echoed those thoughts.
“This is a good stepping stone,” Gardenhire said. “There’s a lot of publicity for it. There are a lot of people around. It’s a good way to kinda learn both sides of it — the baseball game and dealing with people when asking questions and all that stuff.”