Futures Game Notebook

Chamberlain, Morales earn "Best Stuff" tags




SAN FRANCISCO--For scouts, assessing value in the Futures Game is a double-edged sword.

Players' track records are there, so there is history to draw from; but trying to base the performance of a player--especially on the mound--in an exhibition game is seemingly next to impossible.

But to get a true read on what scouts are looking for, it's important to get beyond the event.

"You get a feel for their stuff on the mound," an American League scout said, "but really the best thing about this game is being able to gauge how they deal in pressure situations on a big league field in front of thousands of people with the world watching.

"That's the thing that you aren't able to see from guys on a Double-A mound. It's more interesting to see a how a lot of the younger guys, particularly pitchers, handle it. All the focus is on them and they know that. It's a great barometer . . . and I don't care if a guy can throw 92-to-96 (mph) or if they have their best stuff that day. How they handle the pressure for one inning really is what this game is all about."

On the World side, Rockies lefthander Franklin Morales took the title in the category of "Best Stuff: Velocity," in an unscientific poll conducted by Baseball America, while Yankees righthander Joba Chamberlain on the U.S. team easily won for "Best Stuff: Stuff." Meanwhile, Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton took home the "Best Hitter" award after playing just three innings.

BEST STUFF; VELOCITY: Franklin Morales, lhp, Double-A Tulsa (Rockies)

Morales has had fastball command issues at Tulsa this season, but had no such issues in the Futures Game. The 21-year-old Venezuelan's fastball was clocked in the upper 90s during his one inning of work, but more importantly, he was hitting his spots and showing his plus curveball at times.

"The ball just comes out of his hand so easy," a scout from a National League club said. "And then he has that curveball which is well above average. He was the best guy I saw today in terms of velocity and using that velocity to set up hitters with his offspeed stuff."

BEST STUFF; STUFF: Joba Chamberlain, rhp, Double-A Trenton (Yankees)

Joba Chamberlain
Chamberlain didn't make his debut out of extended spring training until May, but has dominated since then. The 2006 supplemental first-rounder was promoted to Trenton a month later where he's continued to dominate hitters with 48 strikeouts in 28 innings for the Thunder.

"We're talking plus fastball with good, late life to it and the secondary pitches were outstanding," another scout from a National League club said. "His slider was plus today; his curveball was good and his changeup was impressive too.

"He showed the best pure stuff in this game, and that might be because he's an advanced college pitcher. But he was an advanced college pitcher with a lot of question marks health-wise. He looks a lot better, his arm works fairly easily and he's got the stuff and the feel to pitch. The guy knows how to attack."

BEST HITTER: Justin Upton, of, Double-A Mobile (Diamondbacks)

Justin Upton
After White Sox righthander Fautino De Los Santos struck out Jacoby Ellsbury on three pitches to start the bottom of the third inning--two 93-94 mph fastballs and finishing him off with a dirty slider--Justin Upton stood in.

And one thing's for sure, Upton loves to hit the fastball and it doesn't matter if it's 96 mph. Upton turned De Los Santos around, hitting a line-drive homer to left on the first pitch he saw from the White Sox righthander.

"He can get around on anything," World coach and Double-A Jacksonville manager John Shoemaker said. "He struggles with good breaking balls, but he can hit the fastball anywhere in the zone."

Shoemaker knows first-hand how much Upton can impact a game--his Jacksonville club was the first team in the Southern League to get a first look at the Diamondbacks' top prospect after he was promoted from high Class A Visalia in May.

Upton hit four home runs in that series, going 5-for-10 with 10 RBIs in just three games.

"I don't think there's any question who the best hitter was in this game," an A.L. scout said. "Yeah, the ball sounds different coming off (World outfielder and Upton's teammate at Mobile) Carlos Gonzalez's bat. But Upton's is even more different than that.

"He's got power to all fields and a great, quiet approach. His hands are so quick . . . he's going to be a hell of a big leaguer for a hell of a long time."

MVP: Though he was booed by the San Francisco crowd as he accepted his Most Valuable Player trophy on the field wearing his Dodgers hat, Chin-Lung Hu has come a long way from last season.

And that starts with the bat.

Hu, who was named MVP after collecting a pair of hits, a stolen base and drove in two runs in the World's 7-2 win over the U.S., is leading the Double-A Southern League in doubles (30) while hitting .329/.380/.508 in 325 at-bats.

It was Hu's second Futures Game experience. He played on the World team that lost, 8-5 at Pittsburgh's PNC Park last July.

"I was the only Asian guy in the game this year, so I really wanted to do something special," Hu said. "The thing about being in the game last year, we lost. This year, I didn't want to lose in this game. This is special. It's special to be here, but it's a lot better when you win.

"I wasn't very good (with the bat) last year, but one of my goals was to get better coming into spring training. I wanted to be a better hitter. I wanted not all the focus to be on one side (of my game). I wanted to prove I could be a complete player and I think I've gotten better. You have to be consistent, which is what this game is about--having consistency in the field and at the plate. It's not just one side of the game, it's both sides. That's what gets you to the big leagues and that's what it takes to stay there for a long time. That's what I'm trying to do."

USE EVERYTHING: Marlins righthander Rick Vanden Hurk isn't shy about letting it all hang out. Signed as a 17-year-old out of the Marlins' Dutch academy, Vanden Hurk already has experienced the good (six shutout innings while allowing one hit against the Braves on June 5) and the bad (he carries an 8.38 ERA in 29 major league innings overall) of the major leagues. But Sunday was a mirror image of the ultimate level for the 22-year-old.

"It was the same feeling, same atmosphere as the big leagues," Vanden Hurk said. "Your adrenaline gets going the same way and it was just a great experience. Everything I've done in the big leagues has been an awesome experience no matter what. I learn something new every time out."

And Vanden Hurk treated his starting role for the World team just as he would a start in Miami.

"You only throw one inning, so you just throw everything out there--you empty out what you've got and throw it on the table. I know a lot of guys throw just fastballs, but to me, it's one inning and it's my inning--whether I'm starting or not I'm going to show you whatever I've got to get you out."

For now, Vanden Hurk's job is to get hitters out in the Pacific Coast League, which is no easy task. But that doesn't seem to faze him either.

"You've got to keep the ball down. That's the way it works and that's the way it works in the big leagues. The ball flies in the PCL, man, it really does.

"But it's a good experience to keep hammering it in to keep the ball down and learn to attack hitters. A lot of pitchers complain about the PCL being a hitter's league and everything. That's fine. It's a learning experience, but it's nothing like the big leagues as far as being a hitter's league. All you have to do is keep the ball up even a little bit in the big leagues and you realize the PCL is easy compared to that."

SEE THE BALL, HIT THE BALL: Reds first baseman Joey Votto scuffled through April hitting .192/.347/.346, but that first month now seems like an abberation.

And it is, thanks in part to a pair of new contacts.

Votto had some astigmatism in his right eye and tried some corrective lenses early in the season. After April, he's improved his overall numbers to .315/.412/.482.

"It's not like I couldn't see, but it was blurry, especially at night," Votto said. "It wasn't everything, but it definitely made a difference. I want to get up to Cincinnati, but I know I have plenty of little things to work on. I know it's going to be whenever they're ready. I'm just going to keep working."

MAKING HIS MARK: When Astros low Class A outfielder James Van Ostrand replaced Mets phenom Fernando Martinez due to an injury for this year's Futures Game, we at Baseball America received a number of e-mails asking just who James Van Ostrand was.

But he left his mark on the field, and on the big stage, on Sunday.

The eighth-round pick in 2006 out of Canada homered to lead off the seventh inning against Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw--one of the top pitching prospects in the minors.

"It just kind of capped off a great day after just meeting everybody and hanging out with all these great players," Van Ostrand said. "Being named to this event and being here with these guys was completely unexpected. Hitting a home run off a guy like that was just an incredible feeling running around those bases."

The 22-year-old was also was able to do it in front of family and friends he met while attending two local colleges at Santa Barbara and Cal Poly.

"My parents and my brother both came down (from Canada) so this is a pretty special day," Van Ostrand said. "There really aren't words to describe it. I have to erase a lot of messages in my cell phone tonight."

World third base coach Tim Bogar was impressed after seeing the raw power during Van Ostrand's batting practice rounds.

"That's serious pop," the Double-A Akron manager said. "In BP he was hitting the top of the bleachers in left field. He hit a changeup down, out away from him. That's pretty impressive for me for an A-ball hitter against a pretty darned good arm."

HOMETOWN HERO: Though U.S. lefthander Chuck Lofgren was officially the hometown player in this year's event, attending nearby Serra High, Giants righthander Henry Sosa got the biggest ovation from the crowd when he was announced.

Sosa's fastball sat in the 93-94 mph range and showed an above-average slider, curveball and average changeup.

Not bad for a 21-year-old Dominican Republic native in his first full season in the States.

"I've never felt better--ever," Sosa said through a translator about his debut at AT&T Park. "I felt great playing out there because I've never been on a big league field before. There were so many people and for them to welcome me that way was just something I can"t really explain. It was amazing--this experience was amazing."

After going 6-0, 0.73 with 61 strikeouts in 62 innings at low Class A Augusta, the Giants promoted Sosa to high Class A San Jose, where he's been rocked around to the tune of 0-1, 5.82 in 17 innings.

"I had to be a little smarter, just because they're much better hitters," Sosa said. "My breaking balls have gotten better and my changeup's gotten a lot, lot better this season. My coaches deserve a lot of credit for what I've been able to do because I understand more of how to pitch now than I did before."

QUICK HITS

• One of the most interesting plays in the game happened in the third inning with Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders on second base for the World team. Hu hit a single through the hole at second that rolled to U.S. right fielder Jay Bruce (Reds). Saunders rounded third and scored, and though Bruce's throw was a rope, it was slightly up the third base line. Bogar, the World team's third base coach, expressed no hesitation in sending Saunders to the plate. "He runs too well," Bogar said. "I know Bruce has a great arm, but it was the situation where you want to see what he's got. Let's see it. It's a ground ball base hit to right field, let's see what you got. I want to see you throw, everybody wants to see you throw so let's see it. He made a pretty decent throw--it was a little up the line--but if it somebody else running besides Saunders they might have been gone."

• Speaking of Bruce, scouts clocked the Reds outfielder at 4.2 seconds down the line. "He's Larry Walker Jr.," one scout from an American League club said. "I just love the way he plays. I love the swing, I love the approach, I love that he'll run through four walls for you, pick himself up and dust himself off and get right back after it. He's a five-tool guy with the intangibles you can't grade out. Those are way off any scale."

• And speaking of speed, the fastest runner in Sunday's game--and maybe part of that was the fact that Cameron Maybin was in the U.S. dugout due to a shoulder injury--was Tigers outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. Hernandez was clocked at 3.95 seconds--from the right side--down the line to first base.

"He wins the speed contest," another scout from an A.L. club said. "He might be an 80 runner and covers good ground with good jumps and routes in center. He and Maybin are totally different with what they bring offensively, but Hernandez has some serious tools."

• One pitcher scouts were unimpressed with Sunday was Orioles righthander Pedro Beato. A supplemental first-rounder last year, Beato's velocity was in the low 90s, but his arm action and max-effort delivery left scouts with several question marks.

"Of all the guys the World team threw out there, he was the guy that didn't jump out at me," an N.L. scout said. "His arm action is long and not very pretty at all, he doesn't repeat his delivery well and there just isn't good life on the fastball. His stuff was flat and he didn't show much ability to set up hitters with what stuff he did have. I just wasn't on him and I expected more."