Mayo offers Futures Game wish list
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Part of the fun of any All-Star Game at any level is playing the old "Who should be on the team?" game.
Everyone loves to look at the Major League All-Star rosters, for instance, and dissect which guys have been snubbed. Sometimes, it seems, being snubbed is a better honor than being named because there's fan outrage to boost a player's ego.
Every year since the Futures Game was created back in 1999, it's been easy -- but maybe not quite as popular -- to play the same game at the Minor League level. When the 50 best prospects in the game are assembled for the All-Star Sunday exhibition (still the best part of the weekend, in my estimation), there are always questions and debate over why certain guys are not on the U.S. or World Team rosters. I get many emails every year at this time asking those kinds of questions.
There are a few variables that do need to be discussed before entering the fray on this topic. First, and this is something most fans don't know, Major League clubs must give the go-ahead for a player to be considered. The reasons can vary, from age to injury concern to lack of pro experience, but in many cases the players who fans email about weren't even on the preliminary consideration list.
Second, just like with the MLB game, all 30 organizations have to be represented. While there's no Mark Redman (I guess Matt Lindstrom from the Mets is the closest) in this year's Futures Game, teams with really deep farm systems don't get to send all deserving players to the game every year.
Finally, there is an attempt made to get as many countries represented on the World Team as possible. In the past, there were some very large reaches made (E.J. t'Hoen from the Netherlands is the biggest example back in 1999), but now everything is done within reason to make sure that the World Team is multi-national with legitimate prospects.
OK, now we're ready to jump in. Without divulging any state secrets -- like which teams wouldn't let which players be considered, here's a wish list of prospects I'd love to see in the Futures Game this year. I tried to include only players who haven't yet appeared in a Futures Game.
1B Steven Pearce, Pirates: Got to have another Pirate rep, no? Besides, he's got 19 homers and a .557 SLG across two levels. He's this year's version of Brad Eldred, with better plate discipline.
2B Eric Young Jr., Rockies: I have the need, the need for speed. EY Jr. leads the Minor Leagues with 57 steals (so he's been caught 19 times...nobody's perfect). He's off to a red-hot start in July for Asheville, as if in anticipation of being named to this list.
SS Reid Brignac, Devil Rays: Yes, I know it's in the California League, a hitting haven, but Brignac is just 20 and is in the top seven in the Triple Crown categories after hitting .398 in June. Anytime you have a shortstop with a .564 SLG, I don't care what the league is, you want to see what he can do on a larger stage.
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, Indians: So he doesn't fit the mold of the typical "prospect" because he's going to turn 25 soon and is still playing Double-A. He's also been hurt lately, the main reason over the past couple of years he's still at that level. But the guy is hitting .428 in 50 games and now has a .333 career average.
C Angel Salome, Brewers: The Mariners' Jeff Clement got some serious consideration despite just coming off of the DL recently because we may not get the chance to see him in the Minors again after this year. But Salome's an exciting young player I couldn't pass up. Salome, just turned 20, got some ink by hitting .415 in Helena last year. He's hitting over .300 for West Virginia in the South Atlantic League now and showing a little pop and a little speed from behind the plate.
OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks: There may not be another young player with more exciting upside than Upton in the game today. The Diamondbacks' deep system kept him out of this year's game, but rest assured the shortstop-turned-outfielder will be in a future Futures Game soon.
OF Jay Bruce, Reds: I wasn't sure about this pick until I saw that the teenager who was the Reds' first-round pick in 2005 is tied for the Minor League lead in extra-base hits with 50 in his first full season. Overall, he's hit .317 with 12 homers, 33 doubles and 57 RBIs (.404 in June) with Dayton in the Midwest League. I can see the trio of high school outfielders taken in the first 15 picks of the 2005 draft -- Upton, Bruce and actual Futures Gamer Cameron Maybin -- doing battle for years at the Major League level soon.
OF Brett Gardner, Yankees: Gardner is turning into a nice little third-round surprise from that 2005 draft. The College of Charleston leadoff hitter has been moving quickly through the Yankees' system. He leapt up to Tampa in the Class A Advanced Florida State League for his full-season debut and promptly hit .323 with a .433 OBP and 30 steals in 63 games. He's now up in Double-A and hit a recent 1-for-16 stretch, though he's stolen six more bags in 15 games since his promotion.
Util Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks: He doesn't sit on many people's prospect radars because he's been in the system since being drafted in the 16th round of the 2004 draft out of the University of Virginia and is "just" in the Class A Advanced California League. He did hit 19 homers last year in South Bend but with a .253 batting average. Granted, the Cal League is nice for hitters, but Reynolds, still just 22, has a legitimate chance to win the Triple Crown in the league with his 22 homers (1st), 73 RBIs (2nd) and .335 average (2nd). And he's done it while seeing time at five different positions.
SP Scott Elbert, Dodgers: Now that Chad Billingsley is in the big leagues, Elbert's probably the Dodgers top pitching prospect. And that's saying something. His home park in Vero is one of the few good hitting parks in the Florida State League, and the 20-year-old southpaw has a 1.33 ERA there. Overall, he's at 2.37 (after a 1.01 in six June outings) and has held the league to a .193 batting average while striking out well over a batter an inning. [Editor's note: Elbert got called up to Double-A Jacksonville on Wednesday]
SP Johnny Cueto, Reds: He's only 20, and he just earned a promotion from the Midwest League to the Florida State League. With Dayton, he went 8-1 with a 2.59 ERA, allowing just 52 hits (.191 batting average against) and 15 walks in 76 1/3 innings, striking out 82. That's enough to move him right behind Homer Bailey on the Reds' pitching prospect chart. (Mike Pelfrey would belong on this list somewhere if not for the fact he's going to get called up this weekend).
SP Matt Garza/Kevin Slowey, Twins: We'll combine these guys because they're from the same system and they've both made the jump from the Florida State League to the Eastern League this season. Maybe Garza gets the edge, because he's more likely to hit the bigs first and thus lose his chance of being in the Futures Game. Garza is 10-3 with a 2.21 ERA over 17 starts split just about evenly over the two levels and he's got an unreal 112/25 K/BB ratio. That doesn't include his eight innings of shutout work on Wednesday. Slowey had a rough Double-A debut, then rebounded and has an equally eye-popping 109/10 K/BB ratio to go along with a 1.31 combined ERA.
SP Jose Arredondo, Angels: I keep talking about how hitting-friendly the California League is, and here we have a 22-year-old who had a 2.30 ERA over 15 starts there. In his 90 innings, Arredondo gave up just 62 hits and struck out 115 while yielding 35 walks. It's hard to ignore the .198 batting average against in that circuit and the fact that he's fourth on the overall Minors strikeout leader board.
SP Jason Windsor, A's: Wins are an overrated stat for pitchers, but when you couple Windsor's 11 victories (tied for the Minor League lead) with his 3.39 ERA in two leagues -- the Texas and Pacific Coast -- that are hitting havens, he has to be on this squad. He gives up more hits than some of the starters on this list, but he's also got 101 K's in 90 1/3 innings while walking just 27. Oh, and did I mention that his lone loss of the season came in his first start, giving him a streak of 15 outings without a loss?
RP Pat Neshek, Twins: Neshek's another one that's kind of snuck onto prospect radars this year with an outstanding season in his Triple-A debut. He actually won the fan voting in the International League for the Triple-A All-Star Game, and it was well-deserved. The 25-year-old has a 2.05 ERA and .197 batting average against closing for Rochester while striking out 83 and walking just 14 in 57 IP.
RP Manny Corpas, Rockies: I want some more strikeout artists on the World Team so they can try to duplicate what they did a year ago. Corpas can get it up there in a hurry and has struck out 37 and walked just six in 41 innings. He just recently got moved up to Triple-A, so he's clearly in the Rockies plans.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.