NEW YORK—The Futures Game is a tremendous opportunity for scouts to see the game’s best prospects in one place, but it only offers a brief glimpse into what each player has to offer.
With pitchers throwing one-inning stints and most position players only playing part of the game to get everyone involved, prospects have to seize a brief opportunity to stand out, be it in the game, batting practice or during infield. Twins center fielder Byron Buxton went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and didn’t do much in BP, but that doesn’t change that he’s still a five-tool talent and the best prospect in baseball.
Several players took advantage of the showcase environment, including these winners of our Futures Game superlatives:
Best Overall Player: Xander Bogaerts
Scouts didn’t need to watch the Futures Game to know that Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts is a special talent. The game only reinforced Bogaerts’ status as an elite prospect who could one day be in the discussion for an American League MVP award.
Bogaerts finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk. He worked a six-pitch at-bat and kept his hands inside a 96-mph fastball, driving the 2-2 pitch back up the middle for a single in the first inning. In his next at-bat—against Red Sox righthander Anthony Ranaudo—Bogaerts served a 1-2 fastball on the inner third to center field for another single. He got on base for the third time in the ninth inning by working a leadoff walk with the World trailing 4-2, laying off all six pitches he saw.
The way Bogaerts managed both his at-bats and his batting practice rounds were impressive. While several hitters started to swing for the fences and added a little extra uppercut to their swings, Bogaerts stayed within the approach that has made him the No. 4 prospect in baseball.
But Bogaerts’ monster offensive potential is no secret. What might get lost is how advanced his instincts are for a 20-year-old, something he showed when he scored from third base on a sacrifice fly in the third inning. Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson fired a strong throw that was only slightly off the mark. As Bogaerts saw catcher Austin Hedges lean to his left to take the throw, Bogaerts quickly swerved inside the baseline and narrowly avoided the tag to score.
Since Bogaerts signed in 2009, scouts have wondered whether he might eventually outgrow shortstop and move to third base, but Bogaerts takes pride in being a well-rounded player.
“How’d I look at short?” Bogaerts asked with a smile after the game. “Good?”
Best Pitcher: Archie Bradley
Bradley didn’t strike out anyone, but he worked a clean inning and showed the filthy fastball/curveball combination that has vaulted him to become the No. 6 overall prospect and the top pitching prospect in the minors. Bradley needed just 12 pitches—seven fastballs and five curveballs—to retire the side in his only inning. His fastball ranged from 94-98 mph, while his low-80s curveball had power, depth and sharp snap. When a pitcher has a curveball with that much action, it’s often hard to locate—and command has never been Bradley’s strength—but he was able to locate his curve for strikes, including the first two pitches he threw to the lefty-hitting Reymond Fuentes to freeze him into an 0-2 count.
Best Hitter: Christian Yelich
Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich showed why he is one of the best pure hitters in the minors. His swing is sweet, with quick, explosive hands and a compact stroke. He put together quality at-bats in a 2-for-2 day, including his first at-bat in a lefty-on-lefty matchup against Tampa Bay’s Enny Romero. Yelich got a 96-mph fastball from Romero and hammered it over the head of Pirates center fielder Gregory Polanco for a double. He worked a full count against Athletics righthander Michael Ynoa in his other at-bat, driving a 94-mph fastball on the outside corner back up the middle for a single.
Best U.S. Batting Practice: Joc Pederson
Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson has mature approach for his age and a knack for barreling the baseball. He has no problem backspinning a ball, which helped him hit 18 home runs last year in the hitter-friendly California League, but the power—and really everything about Pederson’s game—has taken a step forward this year. The 21-year-old lefthander already has 14 home runs in the Double-A Southern League, where he’s hitting .296/.386/.516.
His batting practice display was as dazzling as anyone’s, with rainbow home runs that repeatedly cleared the right field fence. He may have been trying too much to put on a show by getting underneath the ball too often, but he also hit some of the furthest home runs of the day, including one that nearly cleared the second deck in right field.
Best World Batting Practice: Gregory Polanco
Twins third baseman Miguel Sano had no problems providing souvenirs, but that was no surprise. The most encouraging BPs came from Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and Pirates center fielder Gregory Polanco, who both showed that there should be plenty more home runs in their future. Correa has just five home runs in the low Class A Midwest League, but he showed plus raw power in BP with some of the deepest home runs of the day for a righthanded hitter.
Polanco can do just about everything on the field, but his eight home runs split between high Class A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona are relatively modest. With his lanky 6-foot-5 frame, excellent bat speed and the raw power he showed in BP, he could eventually have a Domonic Brown-like power breakout in his future. Polanco rivaled Pederson with his lefthanded pop, sending multiple pitches into the second deck in right field, including one to the last row.
Breakout Showcase: Eddie Butler
Eddie Butler shouldn’t be a sleeper—this is a guy who signed for $1 million last year as a supplemental first-round pick out of Radford. Yet the righthander still caught the attention of scouts today with some of the most electric stuff in the game. Butler was the only U.S. pitcher who could retire Bogaerts, a three-pitch at-bat that would have had major league hitters begging for mercy. After starting Bogaerts off with a 97-mph fastball and an 88-mph slider for a pair of called strikes, Butler finished him with a 90-mph changeup that had Bogaerts bewildered after the game. Butler’s fastball is his bread-and-butter pitch though, and with the 94-99 mph velocity, it’s hard for hitters to be ready for anything else.
Best Velocity: Yordano Ventura
You don’t have to throw in the mid-90s to be a quality major league starter, but let’s face it—the Futures Game is fun to see guys reaching back for a little extra smoke. There weren’t many fastballs that left the mound at less than 94 mph, but only Butler and Royals righthander Yordano Ventura hit 99 mph—except Ventura needed just one pitch to do so. With the World team trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth, it didn’t look like Ventura would get in the game to pitch his scheduled ninth inning. Instead he entered the game with two outs in the eighth and threw one 99-mph fastball that resulted in a lazy fly out to left field. The scary thing? Ventura has a few extra ticks on his fastball that he didn’t show today.
Best Defensive Player: Chris Owings
It’s hard to be the best defensive shortstop in a game that features Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, a fielding wizard with smooth hands, clean actions and a strong arm. Lindor didn’t get much chance to show off his defensive prowess, but Arizona’s Chris Owings made it clear that Lindor wasn’t the only shortstop here who could field his position.
Owings entered the game in the fifth inning and immediately made the defensive highlight of the day, sprinting back into shallow left field to make an over-the-shoulder catch at full speed, a play that showcased his instincts, field awareness and body control. Owings finished the inning with a crisp 4-6-3 double play, the first of three straight innings that ended with Owings involved in a double play. Owings and second baseman Kolten Wong turned the 4-6-3 maneuver again in the sixth inning, then in the next frame Owings snared a sharply-hit ball from Lindor on a one-hop with his backhand before flipping the ball to second for the inning-ending double play.