SAN DIEGO—The Futures Game always leaves us with memorable moments and standout performances. This year’s game was no different, with big home runs, over-the-fence catches, plays at the plate and memorable offensive performances from some of the game’s premier prospects.
In our annual Futures Game superlatives, these were some of the biggest moments and players who stood out.
Two players’ swings stood out in batting practice. One was Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who has extremely quick hands and a compact lefty stroke. At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Benintendi can walk down the street without anyone thinking he’s a professional athlete, but despite his limited stature, there weren’t many hitters who sent balls farther in batting practice than Benintendi, whose snappy bat speed and strong forearms help him generate above-average power. Benintendi went 0-for-3 in the game, but between his swing, power and plate discipline, it’s easy to see why the 2015 College Player of the Year is hitting .311/.376/.526 in 81 games this year.
But the clear standout in the game at the plate was Astros infielder Alex Bregman. There’s no wasted movement in his swing, with a quick, direct cut to the ball and hard line drives to all fields in batting practice, with an occasional ball over the wall to his pull side.
Bregman’s easy swing jumped out in BP, but he separates himself in games with a polished hitting approach. With Cardinals righthander Alex Reyes firing electric fastballs, Bregman took an inside-out approach, letting a 98-mph fastball travel before lining it into the right-center field gap for a triple. When Blue Jays lefty Angel Perdomo left a 3-2 fastball down the middle in his next at-bat, Bregman pulled it for a double into alley in left-center. He collected his third hit the next time up, smashing a 1-2 slider from Blue Jays righthander Francisco Rios off the glove of a leaping shortstop for a single.
Bregman was impressive in every phase of the game, making a nice play at third base to the end inning by charging a slow roller, showing a good internal clock and balance by fielding it cleanly and making an accurate throw to first base.
Where the Astros play Bregman at the major league level remains to be seen, more because of the presence of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve rather than any knock on Bregman’s ability to play in the middle of the diamond. What is clear is that Bregman is one of the game’s elite prospects. He has more walks (44) than strikeouts (33) and an incredible .309/.416/.603 line with 19 home runs in 70 games, reaching Triple-A in his first full season out of college.
Marlins first baseman Josh Naylor was swinging for the fences from the first pitch, which he deposited into the right field seats, then sent several more baseballs to the same spot. Mets shortstop Amed Rosario and Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi both showed above-average power. Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe and Athletics third baseman/first baseman Ryon Healy both hit balls into the third deck of the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field. Nobody hit more balls over the fence during BP than Phillies outfielder Dylan Cozens.
The player whose power stood out the most during BP, however, was Cubs outfielder Eloy Jimenez. When the Cubs signed Jimenez as a 16-year-old for $2.8 million out of the Dominican Republic three years ago, they envisioned him as a future middle-of-the-order bat. At that time, Jimenez didn’t have the biggest raw power in the class, but he did make hard contact, and with his 6-foot-4 frame, athleticism, bat speed and hand-eye coordination, you could see why the Cubs expected more power to show up and show up as usable power in game situations.
Now 19, Jimenez is in the midst of a breakout season, batting .332/.372/.527 with 10 home runs in 80 games in the low Class A Midwest League. Physical development has helped the raw power tick up, with the refinement of his hitting approach and swing allowing that power to translate to the game.
That’s exactly what happened in the ninth inning, when Jimenez drilled first-pitch, 95 mph fastball from Rays righthander Ryne Stanek off the Western Metal Supply Co. building for a three-run homer. And keep in mind, Jimenez is one of the few low Class A players in the game, homering against a Triple-A pitcher and making hard contact all game in a 2-for-3 day. He gave the world a taste of why he’s the No. 46 prospect in our Midseason Top 100, with all the arrows pointing up for where he might rank heading into 2017.
Best Power/Speed Combo
Even for the most dynamic prospects, it’s hard to be able to show off everything in the Futures Game. Yet the world got to see what international scouts have seen from Yoan Moncada since he was 16, what pro scouts have seen all year and the reason he’s the No. 1 prospect in baseball.
First came the speed. After singling off Rockeis righthander Jeff Hoffman in the fourth inning, Moncada stole second base easily. When the throw from Chance Sisco went into center field, Moncada didn’t even initially realize the throw had sailed into the outfield, but he still had enough speed to make up for his late reaction and get to third base on the play. In some ways it was disappointing Moncada ended up taking third on the play—we were all looking forward to seeing him try to steal third on the next pitch. In his 158-game career, Moncada is 89-for-100 in stolen bases, with plenty of swipes of third in that total.
Then came the power. Moncada launched a 96-mph fastball from Diamondbacks lefthander Anthony Banda for a deep home run. And Moncada did it batting righthanded, his weaker side, with all nine of his home runs this season coming from the left side.
Moncada hasn’t shown the same type of power scouts had initially expected from him before he signed with the Red Sox, but it’s starting to come through. He hit four home runs in 61 games in high Class A Salem, but since getting promoted to Double-A Portland, Moncada has gone deep five times in his first 16 games. Whether it’s been hitting line drives off the batter’s eye in center field or driving balls over the wall to the opposite field, Moncada’s raw power is evident, it’s just a matter of translating it to the game more often like he did today. There are scouts who think Moncada has the upside to hit 25-plus home runs over a full season, a frightening thought for a player who has been so dominant already and is still just scratching the surface of his potential.
Rockies center fielder David Dahl gets plenty of attention for his offensive ability, but he was able to showcase his strong, accurate arm in the Futures Game. When Carlos Asuaje singled to center with two outs in the sixth, Marlins first baseman Josh Naylor tried scoring from second on the play. Naylor is one of the slowest players in the game, but just about any runner would have been out after Dahl showed his above-average arm and delivered a strike to home to get Naylor.
Alex Reyes started the first inning for the World team. When he came back out for a second inning, nobody was complaining. Well, maybe the U.S. hitters. But nobody showed more electric stuff than Reyes, struck out four of the eight batters he faced, touched triple-digits several times and peaked at 101 mph.
Reyes did walk a batter and gave up two hits—credit to A’s third baseman/first baseman Ryon Healy for turning on a 100 mph fastball down and at the knees in a 1-2 count for a double down the left field line. Yet it was obvious why the Cardinals are planning to bring Reyes to the major leagues later this season, with the only question being when exactly that call-up will come.
We can’t overlook the obvious with Reyes, whose fastball ranged from 97-101 mph. He got swing-and-miss on the fastball and he got it on his curveball, which lacked its usual consistency but still flashed plus, with a swinging strikeout on an 0-2 curve to Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.
“His velo speaks for itself,” said Indians outfielder Clint Frazier, who went 2-for-3 with a double, but struck out against Reyes in his only at-bat. “He sets the tone when he throws 100 mph and in the back of your head you know he has a curveball that starts above your head and ends up in the strike zone. It plays games with your head.”
Perhaps the most impressive pitch from Reyes—at least relative to expectations coming into the game—was his changeup. You can’t miss a guy who throws 101 mph, and the curveball earns 70 grades from some scouts, but the changeup made even some of the best hitters in the minors problems today. He started his day by getting Benintendi to strikeout swinging through an 88 mph changeup. He threw it ahead in the count and behind, landing it for called strikes and throwing it back-to-back to Mets first baseman Dominic Smith, who got caught out front and grounded out to first base on a 2-0 changeup.
“Reyes was probably the big talk of the pitchers who threw today,” Frazier said. “He’s a tough guy to face when he’s throwing you a 2-0 changeup and then 101 low and away. How am I supposed to hit that?”
Best Infield Defense
Rangers second baseman Travis Demeritte is athletic, has a strong arm and has made significant strides with his defense over the past couple of years. While Demeritte is known mostly for his power, it was his fielding that stood out the most in the Futures Game. With a runner on first base in the second inning, Demeritte fielded a slow roller, showed his quick hands to tag the runner just in time then threw a one-hopper that Mets first baseman Dominic Smith scooped for the double play.
The next inning, Rays shortstop Willy Adames hit a groundball to Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who threw to second base to start the double play. Demeritte caught the ball and made a quick transfer and release, getting rid of the ball quickly to turn the 5-4-3 double play.
Best Outfield Defense
The second half of the game turned into the Eloy Jimenez show. Jimenez used to play basketball growing up in the Dominican Republic, and he showed off his hops in the seventh inning. Phillies outfielder Dylan Cozens hit a foul ball that Jimenez circled around to with a curl pattern, then leapt over the fence in foul territory to make an outstanding catch, a combination of athleticism and fearlessness.
But Jimenez will have to settle for an honorable mention. That’s because Padres center fielder Manuel Margot showed a national audience what scouts have seen from him since he was a 16-year-old kid playing in the Dominican Prospect League. Even as an amateur, Margot showed uncanny defensive instincts to go with his premium athleticism and plus speed.
So when Cardinals catcher Carson Kelly hit a ball deep to center field, it was no surprise to see Margot’s sharp reactions and quick first step off the bat. Margot sprinted to the center field well with a precise route, timed his jump at the wall perfectly and stuck his glove over the fence to rob Kelly of a home run, much to the delight of Margot’s hometown crowd.
It’s the Futures Game, so nobody here is an under-the-radar prospect. But Rays righthander Chih-Wei Hu certainly raised his profile and generated plenty of attention in his quick inning.
Hu threw just eight pitches (seven strikes) yet picked up two strikeouts and four swinging strikes. He ran his four-seam fastball up to 94-97 mph and mixed in an excellent changeup, doubling up on it for back-to-back swings and misses from Healy to put him away. Hu’s inning was so fast that he didn’t even get an opportunity to unleash his palm ball.