For Many Futures Game Prospects, The Future Is Now




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PHOENIX—When the Angels promoted Mike Trout from Double-A to Los Angeles two days before the Futures Game, he became the 16th player from the U.S. team at the 2010 prospect showcase to reach the majors. Add in nine big leaguers from the World team, and half of last year's Futures Gamers already have become big leaguers.

More are on the way. The 2011 Futures Game featured several soon-to-be major leaguers, including some who could make a significant impact on this year's pennant races.

First and foremost among them is Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who started the scoring at the Futures Game by fighting off five 94-95 mph fastballs from Braves righthander Julio Teheran before turning on a sixth and homering into the right-field seats.

After its worst consecutive seasons since 1914-15, Cleveland led the American League Central in late July. No thanks to its second basemen, however, as Orlando Cabrera has looked like he was born in 1915. Kipnis has lingered in Triple-A, where he was batting .285/.368/.492, while the Indians have promoted Columbus teammates Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps and Luis Valbuena.

The question is whether Kipnis is ready to get the job done defensively after moving from the outfield to second base in 2010, his first full pro season. Before that, he hadn't played second base since he was a high school sophomore seven years before.

"Last year it was textbook stuff, keep your glove down, like teaching a little kid," Kipnis says. "This year, it's more subtleties, like where I should position myself. I'm still at the stage where I really don't care what it looks like. I'm just working on getting better."

Kipnis may not be the prettiest second baseman, but he has quick feet and makes plays. Whatever difference there is between his glove and Cabrera's, Kipnis more than makes up for it with his bat.

Prospects Allow Upgrades

Rays lefthander Matt Moore was the most spectacular prospect at the Futures Game, no surprise considering he led the minors in strikeouts the last two seasons. He makes batters look silly with a mid-90s fastball and a devastating breaking ball.

Tampa Bay doesn't have a hole in its rotation, just like it didn't a year ago when Jeremy Hellickson was ready. The Rays were content to have Hellickson make a few spot starts and use him in the bullpen in September, but they can't afford to be as patient with Moore. While they had a solid lead in the wild-card race in 2010, they were 51⁄2 games out of the playoffs at the same point this year. They are now 71⁄2 games out as we near the end of July.

Moore's stuff rivals that of any lefthanded starter in the big leagues, and he has significantly improved his control and command. Much as Hellickson's emergence allowed Tampa Bay to trade Matt Garza to the Cubs in the offseason, the Rays should promote Moore and deal a starter to upgrade another position, such as shortstop.

Likewise, the Reds are watching their defense of their National League Central crown slowly slip away. They should call up catcher Devin Mesoraco and use Ramon Hernandez as trade bait to improve elsewhere, perhaps their rotation. Several contenders could use catching help, and Hernandez is hitting a career-best .312/.365/.519 while throwing out 39 percent of basestealers.

Mesoraco might not match those numbers, but Hernandez won't either in the second half. Mesoraco has raked for the last two years in the minors while also improving defensively. He still has to prove he can handle and call games for big league pitchers, but he can't do that until he gets to Cincinnati.

The Tigers are running neck and neck with the Indians in the AL Central despite a rotation that has underperformed behind Justin Verlander. They weren't afraid to turn to Rick Porcello two years ago, and they should give a call to another, better 20-year-old righthander.

Jacob Turner has breezed to Double-A in two pro seasons, with the only hiccup coming when he had some mild forearm tightness at the beginning of 2010. He has the potential for three plus pitches, and he has a better arsenal and more minor league seasoning than Porcello ever had.

The Diamondbacks have remained in the NL West and wild-card races despite a revolving door at first base that has included Juan Miranda, Xavier Nady and Russell Branyan. Arizona now has turned to Brandon Allen, but its best option may be Paul Goldschmidt, who's hitting .301/.423/.616 in Double-A and making a run at the minor league home run (27) and RBI (83) titles.

Goldschmidt isn't an ideal profile as a righthanded-hitting first baseman, but he has enough bat to hold down an everyday job. He has hit throughout his career: winning a national title at The Woodlands (Texas) High, setting a career record with 36 homers at Texas State, leading the Rookie-level Pioneer League in homers in his pro debut and winning high Class A California League MVP honors last season.

Turner and Goldschmidt haven't played in Triple-A yet, but that shouldn't worry the Tigers or Diamondbacks. Like many Futures Gamers before them, they're racing toward the majors and won't be denied.