Baseball America staffers Jim Callis, Chris Kline, Will Lingo and John Manuel are in Pittsburgh for the Futures Game and share their impressions from PNC Park:
More From The Dugout
Other observations from the third-base side:
• Billy Butler and Alex Gordon want to keep playing together. They have formed a 1-2 punch in the Double-A Wichita lineup, and hope to do the same in Kansas City soon. Butler’s home run allowed him to earn the MVP honors in the game today, as he gave Team USA a lead with his second-inning homer. But Gordon also had two hits and drove home two runs.
“It’s awesome to hit behind him, because I feel like he helps get me good pitches to hit and I help him,” Gordon said. Gordon has stolen 16 bases in 18 attempts this season but said he tries to be selective when he goes. “I don’t want to leave first base open too much or they will pich around Billy.”
• Eric Patterson was impressed by the improvements that former Atlantic Coast Conference foe Joe Koshasnky has made since college. Koshansky blasted a two-run homer in the third, most impressively doing it against a lefthanded pitcher, Davis Romero.
“He couldn’t concentrate on hitting in college because he pitched a lot, but he’s really gotten a lot better at hitting for power,” Patterson said. “I was impressed with the progress he’s made.”
• Drew and Kendrick weren’t as impressed with Romero as they had been with Sanchez, and the U.S. tagged Romero for five hits and five runs. The both told teammates to wait out his tailing fastball and to sit on his offspeed stuff. The two have gotten to know each other the last two years in the minor leagues as adversaries and have developed a friendship based on respect of their mutual hitting ability.
Kendrick had more fun talking about his major league debut this season. Not only did he have to deal with facing big league pitching for the first time, but he also had to learn to play the corner infield spots for the first time. Kendrick said he had never played first base before his trip to the majors.
Drew confided that he couldn’t believe his alma mater, Florida State, had not reached the College World Series since 1999, including his three-year tenure at the school. “It’s still kind of unbelievable that it hasn’t happened,” Drew said, “but hopefully they can turn things around there and get back to Omaha.”
Back From The Dugout
It wasn’t necessarily the best seat in the house, but I got the chance to watch the game from the U.S. dugout, working as an analyst between innings with Chuck Wilson during XM Satellite Radio’s coverage of the game. Here are some impressions from my three-hour tour of the U.S. team.
• Humberto Sanchez was nasty. The U.S. hitters who faced him in the first inning–Stephen Drew, Howie Kendrick and Alex Gordon–all came back to the dugout asking what he was throwing, as Kendrick went down on a changeup, while Drew and Gordon struck out on curveballs.
• The second inning was the game’s best. Homer Bailey got the game really going by blowing away Carlos Gonzalez in a much-anticipated matchup, hitting 96 and 97 on the stadium radar gun, then reared back and threw nothing but fastballs the rest of the inning after cutting his finger on a pitch. He said he simply rubbed some dirt on it and pressed on, hitting 98 at least three more times and breaking the bats of both Wladimir Balentien and Jose Tabata.
Then Bailey came into the dugout and predicted a home run by Billy Butler, who delivered a two-out, two-run shot on a 3-2 pitch. In between, Bailey paced up and down the dugout, clearly full of adrenaline after having fun with his one-inning outing; discussed guns with the security officer (“Why do all cops always carry Glocks?”); and offered help with the wireless Internet connection that never quite got going from the third-base dugout (“I have that same laptop at home, but I’m not too familiar with Firefox. I usually use Safari.”)
BA’s Influence Extends Even Further
We forgot to note earlier that BA’s own John Perrotto–our longtime Pirates correspondent whose full-time job is Pirates beat writer for the Beaver County Times–was the official scorer for today’s Futures Game. So you know the game was scored with accuracy and integrity.
We also forgot to note that the celebrity softball game will be getting under way here in Pittsburgh soon, after a performance by a band called O.A.R. We will not be blogging either of these events.
U.S. Takes Another One
6:40 p.m. The United States took an 8-5 win, its fifth in the eight-year history of the Futures Game. Royals prospect Billy Butler, who was 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs, won the Larry Doby Award as the game’s MVP.
Butler is the second straight Royals prospect to win the award, after Justin Huber took it last year. The other winners make up a pretty distinguished group: Alfonso Soriano (1999), Sean Burroughs (2000), Toby Hall (2001), Jose Reyes (2002), Grady Sizemore (2003) and Aaron Hill (2004).
We’ll have our game story up soon, followed by lots and lots of follow-up news and notes.
6:31 p.m. Mets fans, don’t forget about Matt Lindstrom. He came in for the seventh inning for the U.S. and threw pure gas at the World hitters. He quickly sat down the final three batters of the game to earn the save, touching 101 mph and hitting triple-digits several times.
His most impressive at-bat came against Braves prospect Yunel Escobar, who saw 101 and 100 mph fastballs before striking out on a 78 mph changeup. He was a little bit ahead of that pitch.
Pitchers Back In Control
6:19 p.m. Now that the score is 8-5, the bats seem to have calmed down a bit. That may also be because two of the more interesting arms on the World staff, Yovani Gallardo and Radhames Liz, have pitched the last couple of innings. Gallardo allowed one hit in his inning, pitching in the 91-93 mph range, and Liz got two quick outs while touching 96.
Liz had a fun faceoff with Frederick teammate Nolan Reimold, finally inducing Reimold to fly out to left field. He ran back to the dugout with a big grin on his face. They’re the only teammates who have gone against each other today, though Yankees organization-mates Philip Hughes and Jose Tabata had a showdown in the fourth inning. Tabata hit a blistering line drive right back at Hughes for a single in that at-bat.
Worth The Wait
5:47 p.m. So we’ve been away from the blog for a while, but it was for a good reason. Kudos to J.J. Cooper for restoring the pregame blogging that we thought had been lost. Now you can enjoy all of our beautiful words.
After the U.S. offensive explosion in the third, the World team came back in the top of the fourth with three runs to make it 7-4. The highlight was a two-run home run by George Kottaras to right field. The U.S. came back with an unearned run in its half of the fourth to make it 8-4, and that’s where we stand now.
Oops, spoke too soon. Wladimir Balentien just drove in his second run of the game with his second double of the game, making it 8-5. By far the biggest shootout in Futures Game history.
The third inning finally ended for the World team, with no further damage done on the scoreboard. Pirates fans got to cheer on Neil Walker twice in the inning, but unfortunately for them he made both the first and last outs of the inning.
This year’s World pitching staff doesn’t look like it holds a candle to last year’s group, which included a handful of guys who are already in the big leagues, including dominant rookie Francisco Liriano. That staff shut out the United States.
5:08 p.m. We already have the highest-scoring Futures Game ever. The U.S. jumped on Blue Jays prospect Davis Romero for five runs in the third, putting them up 7-1. The 1999 and 2004 games both had seven total runs scored.
Romero recorded just two outs–one of them when Josh Fields got caught overrunning first base after hitting a single–and gave up five hits and five runs, including a 396-foot blast to Joe Koshansky.
The U.S. has now batted around in the inning, with eight straight batters reaching base. That’s almost certainly a Futures Game record as well.
Another Routine Inning
4:54 p.m. Gio Gonzalez looked good in his inning, retiring the World in order, while pitching around 90 mph and touching 92.
And congratulations to the Azurri, taking the World Cup title over France with a 5-3 advantage in penalty kicks. Can’t believe World Cup organizers didn’t realize their final would conflict with the Futures Game. Hope they’ll avoid that in the future.
Bomb For Butler
4:47 p.m. It didn’t take Billy Butler long to show why he’s at the Futures Game. In his first at-bat, the Royals prospect took a Jose Garcia pitch out to the deepest part of PNC Park, in a blast estimated at 394 feet.
“He just has such good balance–that’s really what enables him to keep his bat through the zone for a long time,” a scout said.
Butler’s was a two-run homer, after Josh Fields hit a double with one out, staking the U.S. to a 2-1 lead. Hunter Pence and Cameron Maybin also showed good speed down the line as they nearly beat out what looked like routine 4-3 ground balls.
Garcia pitched mostly in the high 80s, touching 91 mph. One note regarding Garcia, who has been listed as pitching at Triple-A Albuquerque in some sources. He’s actually pitching at Double-A Carolina in the Marlins system, after making a spot start at Albuquerque.
Up And Down Effort For Homer
4:37 p.m. Homer Bailey pitched the second inning for the U.S. and looked untouchable for the first two batters before giving up two doubles and the game’s first run. He overmatched Carlos Gonzalez, the first batter he faced, striking him out on three pitches.
“That just wasn’t fair,” an NL scout said. “Bounces a curveball, then throws a sinker away at 96 (mph) and then another breaking ball. His mechanics are clean and he gets easy power from his fastball–that 96 jumps on you pretty good.”
Bailey then threw nothing but fastballs for the rest of the inning, and though he was consistently in the 96-97 mph range, touching 98, batters eventually caught up to it. George Kottaras hit a double with two outs, and Chin Lung Hu drove him home with another double before Jose Tabata made the last out of the inning.
World Cup Fever!
4:35 p.m. You’d be amazed at how many baseball writers are following the World Cup soccer final online. Lot of buzz about the France-Italy showdown coming down to penalty kicks.
First Inning Goes To Pitchers
Humberto Sanchez had even less trouble than Hirsh in the first, setting down the United States in order and striking out Stephen Drew and Alex Gordon. He showed a 93-94 mph fastball and threw a lot of sliders, and the only hitter who made contact, Howie Kendrick, grounded out weakly to the shortstop.
“Sanchez was pretty doggone impressive,” a scout from a National League organization said. “He threw three pitches for strikes, worked in and out all over the zone. Those are three tough outs and he made it looks easy.”
Covering PNC Park
4:19 p.m. Hirsh struck out Joel Guzman to complete his inning of work. We have Chris Kline and John Manuel combing the ballpark, talking to scouts and whoever else they can find about what’s going on today. In case you missed it before, you’ll be able to listen to both John and Chris as part of the live XM Satellite Radio broadcast of the game.
Chris tried to get right behind home plate to bring you even closer to the action, but he was denied. Even though there were maybe 20 people sitting in the six-section seating area as the game started, an usher told him: “You can’t sit here because of what (your badge) says,” drawing his finger across the word ‘MEDIA.’ “This is a private club.”
3:04 p.m. One
correction to an earlier item: Jae Kuk Ryu is not here. He will be
announced when the teams are introduced before the game, but because
he’s hurt and officials knew he wouldn’t play, he did not make the trip.
only other player who isn’t available because of injury is Joaquin
Arias (Rangers), who sprained his left ankle three days ago. He is here
but won’t play.
“I’m glad to be here–a lot of guys from the
Dominican and Venezuela here,” Arias said. “The timing of this just
really stinks. Whenever you’re in a game like this, all you want to do
The Unknown Prospect
2:56 p.m. We
like to think we know the prospects in this game better than anyone,
but even we couldn’t identify No. 52 who was taking BP with the U.S.
team along with Nolan Reimold, Travis Buck and Troy Tulowitzki. He was
in Pirates garb and had the name “LEE” on his back, but we sure didn’t
remember him from the Prospect Handbook.
Turns out it’s Gary
Lee, a former college player locally at Duquesne who now works at the
downtown Marriott. He’s serving as a bullpen catcher for the game, and
the coaches gave him a turn in the cage as a reward.
What’s So Special About Chipola?
2:43 p.m. Last
year’s Futures Game ended with an all-Canadian, all-Chipola (Fla.)
Junior College battery of Adam Loewen (Orioles) and Russ Martin
(Dodgers). The 2006 Futures Game will start with an all-Connors State
(Okla.) JC battery, again on the World team. Dominican righthander
Humberto Sanchez (Tigers) and Canadian catcher George Kottaras (Padres)
will start the game this year after having been teammates in junior
Kottaras last caught Sanchez last year in the Arizona
Fall League and says the familiarity helps a little when catching
someone with stuff as nasty as Sanchez, who pumps mid-90s fastballs and
power breaking stuff with regularity. He’s not familiar with Sanchez
just as a pitcher, though.
“We lived across the hall from each
other in the dorms,” Kottaras said with a grin. “He used to come across
every morning, waking me up, eating my food.”
We didn’t ask Sanchez if he liked Kottaras’ homemade pastitsio for breakfast.
2:28 p.m. After nearly two hours of interviews during BP, here are a few tidbits:
U.S. team memebers Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks), Josh Fields (White
Sox), Alex Gordon (Royals), Howie Kendrick (Angels) and Hunter Pence
(Astros) took part in the first group, which was actually not when you
wanted to hit. The American team hardly had time to stretch before the
quintet hopped into the batting cage, so they were just getting
stretched out in their first round or two. Pence stood out the most in
the group for several reasons–his shots sounded the loudest and
traveled the farthest, and he did it a little differently, with a
unique setup. Pence stood in with the bat slightly off his shoulder,
then had a slight hand pump as he strided, helping to trigger his fast
hands and powerful swing.
“It was just awesome to be in that
first group, to be here and taking batting practice in this ballpark,”
Pence said. “The batting eye is great, the balls seem like they have
more pop, the guy pitching me ‘beeps’ (Twins coach Stan Cliburn) was
putting it right there, inside where I like it, and I was able to turn
and burn a few times.”
• Chris Kline was down for the World BP
and was impressed the most with two of the game’s youngest players,
Diamondbacks outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and Yankees outfielder Jose
Tabata. Gonzalez hit one that was headed for the Allegheny River behind
right field before it hit the Pepsi bottle at the top of the seats.
Tabata also was taking advantage of the shorter porch in right, showing
impressive opposite-field pop. Neither batter needed extraordinary
effort, either, and they made their power display look easy.
Eric Patterson joins his brother Corey as Futures Gamers, and he’s
showing a different setup than he had in college at Georgia Tech. The
Cubs second baseman has ditched the exaggerated leg kick that scouts
criticized in college, feeling it caused the younger Patterson to try
to hit for power too muc h and pop the ball up. Patterson is hitting
.279/.338/.418 at Double-A West Tenn this season.
12:55 p.m. While
these aren’t set in stone, the managers have also mapped out how they
plan to use their pitchers in today’s game, which will be a
seven-inning affair regardless of the score. Each pitcher used in
today’s game is expected to work one inning, and some could work less.
World team will open with Humberto Sanchez (DET), followed by Jose
Garcia (FLA), Davis Romero (TOR), Carlos Carrasco (PHI), Edgar Martinez
(BOS), Yovani Gallardo (MIL) and Jaime Garcia (STL). That would mean
Radhames Liz (BAL) and Juan Salas (TB) would not see action, though
they could get worked in for part of an inning. Jae Kuk Ryu (CHC) is
here but will not play because of an ankle injury.
The U.S. will
start Jason Hirsh (HOU), with Homer Bailey (CIN), Gio Gonzalez (PHI)
and Philip Hughes (NYY) coming in after him. The U.S. has four pitchers
listed as possibilities in the fifth inning: Nick Adenhart (LAA), Eric
Hurley (TEX), Nick Pereira (SF) and Sean Smith (CLE). Local product
Josh Sharpless (PIT) is scheduled to work the sixth, with Matt
Lindstrom (NYM) closing things out.
12:52 p.m. Hunter
Pence apparently told U.S. manager Gary Carter that he hasn’t played
much in left field, while Billy Butler hasn’t played much in right, so
they will switch outfield corners for the game.
12:40 p.m. Managers
Gary Carter (United States) and Ferguson Jenkins (World) have drawn up
their lineups for today’s game. Here’s the batting order for each team:
Trent Oeltjen (MIN), LF
Yung Chi Chen (SEA), 2B
Joey Votto (CIN), 1B
Joel Guzman (LAD), 3B
Carlos Gonzalez (ARI), RF
Wladimir Balentien (SEA), DH
George Kottaras (SD), C
Chin Lung Hu (LAD), SS
Jose Tabata (NYY), CF
Stephen Drew (ARI), SS
Howie Kendrick (LAA), 2B
Alex Gordon (KC), 3B
Hunter Pence (HOU), LF
Josh Fields (CWS), DH
Joe Koshansky (COL), 1B
Billy Butler (KC), RF
Cameron Maybin (DET), CF
Neil Walker (PIT), C
bring you the pitching matchups shortly. The teams are just coming onto
the field for BP, and it’s shaping up as a beautiful day for prospect
you just have to be glad to be there. Getting to the 2006 Futures Game
was an adventure for both Chris and me. Flights were fine, and Chris
got to ride up from Durham with Juan Salas, the Devil Rays reliever who
has yet to give up an earned run in the minors this year. That, plus
Chris’ players’ equipment bag he picked up with his participatory
journalism stint in 2004, prompted at least a couple of autograph
hounds to hassle Chris at the Pittsburgh airport when he arrived. Sigh.
That only happens to me in Omaha.
Getting to the ballpark today
was the greater adventure. Our shuttle-bus driver, Pete, didn’t seem to
understand the concept of a lane. Jim Callis observed that the constant
swerving made it “feel like we’re on a boat.” Chris said he was tempted
to kiss the ground when we arrived at the ballpark.
here, and the park is gorgeous as advertised. This is my first trip to
PNC and coming out of the Fort Pitt tunnel, taking in the skyline and
looking to the left to see Heinz Field and PNC, that was a good way to
see an all-star city. Now let’s hope the game lives up to the park. The
players got their first all-star taste when their buses were given
police escorts to get through security and to the ballpark. The
clubhouses are open, so we’ll check back later with some of the
preliminaries before we do our best to live blog during batting
practice. Talk to you then.