The Futures Game is the best opportunity for scouts to get a look at baseball’s top prospects. Here’s a handful of players who came away making an impression:
Best Player: The player scouts came away buzzing about the most was Rays lefty Matt Moore, who came even better than advertised. Moore typically works around 91-95 mph as a starter, but in his one-inning stint today he ramped his fastball all the way up to 98, then backed it up with a nasty mid-80s breaking ball. He retired all three hitters he faced, struck out Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi on a breaking ball and threw first-pitch strikes to each hitter he faced. Moore said those first-pitch strikes have been the key to him taking the next step this season.
“Strike one is the best pitch in baseball,” Moore said. “(Before this season) I was out there not realizing how big strike one was. I was like, ‘Ah, if I miss with this one, I’ve got another pitch, I’ve got three more.’ “
Moore also had an above-average changeup his back pocket the whole time. Moore has always flashed feel for his changeup, but the Rays wanted Moore to emphasize that pitch to become a more complete pitcher this season.
“They came up to me and were straightforward and said this pitch needs to develop a little more, even to lefties. I started with the mindset that I have to throw this pitch more. And if I have to throw this pitch more, I’m going to get this pitch right. I don’t want to just have it as a third pitch, I want to have this as a pitch I can use as a weapon.”
Then there’s the knee-buckling curveball, which is already one of the best breaking balls at any level of baseball. Yet it wasn’t a pitching coach or even a current pitcher who taught him the grip he still uses on his curveball. No, it was Rockies Triple-A catcher Jordan Pacheco, who went to high school 30 minutes away from Moore in New Mexico and played college baseball with Moore’s older brother at New Mexico, who gave him some help when Moore was a senior in high school visiting his older brother.
“I was over there working out with them, playing catch one day and I was throwing (Pacheco) some curveballs,” Moore said. “He threw me his and I said, ‘How do you throw that?’ I had seen him play in high school too and he always had a good curveball. So he showed me it. I didn’t really like it at first. It’s just a knuckle curve. I couldn’t hold it tight enough, but I guess my hand got stronger or something, and that’s how I learned my curveball.”
Best Fastball: There was plenty of heat at the Futures Game, with Moore touching 98 mph, Phillies righthander Jared Cosart and Braves righthander Arodys Vizcaino all making an impression on scouts. Yet for a pure fastball, it’s hard to beat Cardinals righthander Carlos Martinez. Early in his outing Martinez seemed a little rattled—understandable given he’s made just 10 starts in the United States before today—but he settled down after a visit to the mound from Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario. “Sometimes we try to do things we can’t do,” Rosario said. “I only went to the mound to say, ‘Be confident, you know what you’ve got, everyone on the field knows that you’re a power arm.” Martinez showed plenty of power in his arm, hitting 98 mph and striking out Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt by getting him to chase a 97 mph fastball above the strike zone. More than pure velocity, Martinez’s fastball had incredible life and heavy sink even in the mid-90s, which helped end his inning by getting Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks to ground into a double play.
Best Swing: Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar is no stranger to the big stage. He played in Williamsport, Pa., two years in a row when he pitched and played shortstop for Curacao in the Little League World Series when he was 11 and 12, and he starred again with the spotlight on him. As an 18-year-old with only half a season of low Class A experience, Profar should have been overmatched against Twins Triple-A righthander Kyle Gibson, but instead he swing at the first pitch he saw and put a beautiful lefthanded swing on a 91 mph fastball, sending it for a line-drive triple into right center field to drive in a run. Even more remarkable is that Profar’s lefthanded swing is still in its infancy.
“When I signed I started switch-hitting,” said Profar, who signed on July 2, 2009. “I could swing lefthanded before, but I never did it before in games when I was in Curacao.”
Best Plate Appearance: The Futures Game is a mix of the top prospects throughout all levels of full-season baseball, which can occasionally create some mismatches if a low Class A hitter has to go up against a more seasoned Triple-A arm. There was no experience mismatch when Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis came to the plate to face Braves righthander Julio Teheran in the first inning. Kipnis showed an advanced approach at the plate, getting behind 0-2 but working his way back to 2-2, fouling off a 94 mph fastball and watching a 95 mph fastball go by to get to a full count. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Kipnis got a 95 mph fastball down and in, whipped the barrel through the zone and deposited the ball into the stands over the right field fence.
Best Arm: Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, but a hitless afternoon will do nothing to diminish his status as baseball’s best prospect. His tools were evident to scouts who watched him before the game, as he treated fans to some of the most impressive blasts during batting practice. Harper’s other 80 tool—his arm—was on full display during the game. With Red Sox outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang on first, Phillies catcher Sebastian Valle doubled down the left field line. Chiang scored, but Harper made it close. Though he should have hit the cutoff man, Harper showed the world he has the arm strength to throw the ball from the left field corner to home plate with stunning strength and carry.
Best Showcase: The Futures Game is often a great showcase for a guy with great arm strength to get attention by lighting up a radar gun. While there were plenty of flamethrowers, one position player who got plenty of attention was Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. At 5-foot-7, Altuve looks more like a trophy model than a top prospect, but he went 2-for-3 with a double and played solid defense at second base. Watch him in batting practice and he won’t blow anyone away. Watch him over time in games, and Altuve is the type of player who grows on scouts, while his .381/.420/.576 combined line through 85 games at high Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi speaks for itself. He had plenty of attention after the game as well, with more media members surrounding him than any other player in the World clubhouse.
“I love Altuve,” said one pro scout. “I think his swing is good and he plays above his tools. He does the small things. He has a baseball sense, he makes contact and he’s always in the right place at the right time. For me, his size doesn’t matter because I think he’s going to hit.”