International Bonus Babies Flash Skills At Futures Game
Anderson, Cahill stand out on the mound
NEW YORK—With the Futures Game played this year at Yankee Stadium, Yankees catcher Jesus Montero received plenty of media attention. Montero, who at 18 already is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, signed with the Yankees in 2006 for $1.65 million.
"Last year was a tough year, but this year I've learned a lot as the season's gone on," Montero said through an interpreter. "Last year I wasn't as close to being as good as I am this year. I learned a lot of stuff about how to call games and stuff like that."
International scouts who saw Montero as an amateur in Venezuela doubted whether he would stick behind the plate. Montero might still eventually switch positions, but his improved defense has turned a few heads.
"I liked him back there," one scout who has watched Montero this season said. "I thought his lateral movement was good and I thought his footwork and his release was good. I thought his arm strength was at least average, maybe a tick above. I didn't like his accuracy—he came up and got a little bit too quick, but I thought he handled himself well."
Montero, who was batting an impressive .311/.362/.454 with 26 doubles and nine homers in 370 at-bats for low Class A Charleston, draws plenty of praise for his bat. Montero, who generates plus raw power especially to the opposite field when he's able to extend his arms, launched a few balls over the fence in his final rep during BP, but he still has some work to do at the plate.
"He didn't swing the bat for me great," the scout said. "I saw some wild swings. But this is one series I get to see these guys. I saw too many swings and misses, some out of control swings, but the tools are there."
Another bonus baby at the game, 17-year-old Giants first baseman Angel Villalona ($2.1 million bonus in 2006), looked overmatched against much older competition, but still flashes long-term projection.
"It was my first time seeing them and I was impressed," another scout said. "(Villalona) was not fat; everything on him is just big. I saw him and wondered why he's not at third base still, at his age. He's got big bat speed. Montero was not a good body, but it's not bad. He's going to have to work at it to keep it solid."
Standing next to Villalona, Sandoval made the kid nicknamed "Big V" look more like "Lower-case V" thanks to his thick 5-foot-11, 245-pound frame that generates tremendous power.
Sandoval began his career in 2004 as a catcher, moved to third base in 2005, then split time at third and first base in 2006. At the end of the 2006 season with low Class A Augusta, Sandoval and members of the Giants front office discussed his future position.
"They asked me what position I liked better," he said. "I said my position was catcher. He told me, 'You want to catch again?' I said, 'If you want to, I can play third, first, whatever you want me to. The only thing I want is to play in the lineup every day.'
"I appreciate that the team changed the position because I feel comfortable behind the plate. I feel like a leader on the team."
The Giants drafting Florida State catcher Buster Posey fifth overall in June could accelerate a positional switch for Sandoval, who played first base in the Futures Game. He continued his hot hitting with Double-A Connecticut (.337/.364/.547 in 95 at-bats) after a promotion from high Class A San Jose, where he was having a breakout year at the plate with a .359/.412/.597 batting line in 273 at-bats.
"He likes to throw and he's got a cannon, but he's not a catcher," one scout said. "He can't catch a cold. Receiving, blocking—it's just not there."
Olympic and Oakland Duo
Two Athletics pitchers made enough of an impression on Davey Johnson to earn spots on the Olympic roster despite each being just 20 years old.
Double-A Midland righthander Trevor Cahill worked off a 90-93 mph sinker with sharp downward action and an 82-84 mph slider. He allowed just one baserunner—a groundball single by Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez—and had two strikeouts. Cahill threw 17 pitches, but barely used his out-pitch, an outstanding curveball.
"That's my pitch," Cahill said of his curveball. "Today I had a cut on my finger—I threw one and it was terrible. So I was just going to the slider, but usually that's the pitch I prefer to strike guys out with."
Cahill's teammate at Midland, lefthander Brett Anderson, came on in relief of Cahill in the third inning. Anderson's fastball sat at 91-93 mph, touching 94 on his first pitch of the game and 95 according to some scouts. Anderson walked Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and allowed a hit to Tigers outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, but he erased both runners on pickoff throws.
"I think it was somewhat of a fluke, somewhat not," Anderson said. "Greg Smith has a really, really good pickoff move in Oakland, and we worked on that in spring training, and I guess that came into play today. I haven't really picked off too many guys, but I'll take outs any way I can get them.
"I had just a normal, generic pickoff move before and he kind of taught me some things because he's picked off tons of guys. I just mimicked what he did—nothing too specific—just try to mimic what he did."
Nearly everything about Anderson is advanced, including his command, his secondary pitches and his sound delivery.
"He stuck out for me," one scout said. "I always thought he sounded like a pitchability guy, a solid guy, with his dad (Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson) and that situation making his stuff play up. Then he was 92-95 (mph) on the inner half to righthanded hitters. His pickoff was legitimate. He's got a chance to be really good."
De Jesus Outdoes Dad
Dodgers farmhand Ivan De Jesus Jr. has a leg up on his dad, who had a 15-year big league career that also started in the Dodgers system.
"I'm just so excited to play in New York City and at Yankee Stadium," De Jesus Jr. said prior to the Futures Game. "My dad played here later in his career, but he never got to play in an All-Star Game, so I get to play in this, so I have something that he never did.
"It feels so good to be here, to play where a lot of legends like Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth and so many others played. It's my first time here and I have had a blast."
De Jesus then had a blast in the game, joining MVP Che-Hsuan Lin as the only players with two hits. It was a continuation of his solid season at Double-A Jacksonville, where he's hitting .302/.408/.369 through 325 at-bats. De Jesus has a patient approach, with 57 walks matching his 57 strikeouts, and was stealing bases efficiently this season with 11 in 12 tries. It took a perfect throw from Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden to throw him out stealing in the Futures Game.
Now, the Puerto Rican middle infielder only has to continue honing his game before getting a chance to visit the new Yankee Stadium after it opens next year—but as a big leaguer.
"He's a grinder who is really solid in all phases," said a pro scout with an AL club. "I've seen him in the past and saw how he made adjustments as a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League. He has average tools—maybe he's a 45 runner—but his tools play up because of how he plays and his knowledge of the game.
"I know he's played some shortstop, but I think you have to say he lacks range for short and fits better at second. He's a very mature player—I like him."
That maturity also endears De Jesus to his teammates. Being from Puerto Rico and the son of a big leaguer, De Jesus has several unique attributes that help him bridge divides in minor league clubhouses, such as that of the Futures Game's World dugout, which featured players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Taiwan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He grew up in big league clubhouses, learning little things about the game on the field but also little things about the English language and the culture of the United States and the major leagues.
"When I hang out with the American guys, I try to pick up some new words, and I tell the other Latin guys to listen and to talk to the American guys to try to pick up the language and learn English," De Jesus said. "I speak both so I try to help with the language, but last year (in low Class A), I was the translator all the time, whenever a reporter or anyone else came to the clubhouse. That lasted all year."
De Jesus acknowledged that part of the problem for American players is considering Latin American players as a group, rather than knowing about the subtle differences between players from different countries. Puerto Rican players, for example, are drafted after going to high school, while other Latin players are usually signed as teenagers before finishing school. He credited the Dodgers with helping Latin players make a smooth transition to pro ball.
"The Dodgers feel like home," he said. "In spring training there were maybe 80 American guys and the rest were from other countries, a lot of Latin Americans, especially Dominicans because the Dodgers have their school (academy) in the Dominican.
"Sometimes it's hard because the Dominicans, they all know each other, it's a small country and the Dominicans treat each other like family. I try to be a little bit with everybody. I hang out a little with the Dominicans, the Venezuelans, the Mexicans and also the Americans."
• The Double-A Reading Phillies were heavily represented at the Futures Game, with shortstop Jason Donald
, catcher Lou Marson
, center fielder Greg Golson
and righthander Carlos Carrasco
, the World team's starting pitcher, all in attendance. All four also played three days later in the Eastern League all-star game in Manchester, N.H. Scouts wonder whether Donald has the first-step quickness and range to stick at shortstop—or whether he'll stick with the Phillies at all, given the presence of Jimmy Rollins
and Chase Utley
in Philadelphia—but Donald has shown a line-drive stroke with a knack for getting the barrel on the ball this season.
"I think probably the biggest thing has been approach," Donald said. "Knowing what I like early in the count and knowing what I need to do later in the count with two strikes, how to go against different kinds of pitchers. Really it's just been a learning experience. That's why you have minor leagues. You learn these kinds of things right now so that when you get to the big leagues you already have a good understanding of what you need to do."
• Carrasco, 21, threw more balls (11) than strikes (eight) in the Futures Game, though he escaped from his one inning of work unscathed. Carrasco showed a 90-94 mph fastball and an 83-85 mph changeup. Scouts wondered if he was healthy coming into the event but he didn't miss a start coming out of the all-star break.
Though Reading manager P.J. Forbes
said Carrasco's curveball has improved this year, Carrasco leaned on his fastball/changeup combination in the Futures Game.
"The stuff's there," Forbes said. "He's shown the flashes that he's gonna pitch in the big leagues. We're waiting to see the consistency that comes along with his stuff."