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I've spent more than a day trying to figure out what the Reds were doing in their eight-player deal with the Nationals. No one not connected with Cincinnati thinks that's close to a good deal for the Reds, so I give up. Let's get to your questions.

    Whose idea was it to have a U.S. vs. World matchup for the Futures Game? Not only is it confusing and completely inconsistent with the All-Star Game, but it leads to unfortunate decisions like having to take Joey Votto and Trent Oeltjen over Jay Bruce and Matt Garza. I'd also love to see an end to the rule where each team must be represented. Some teams (like the Diamondbacks) clearly deserve to have more representation, and some teams (like the Giants or Nationals) clearly deserve less. It would be nice to see the top 25 prospects from each of the two major leagues, regardless of team affiliation. Is there any chance we'll be seeing either of these rule changes any time soon?

    Mike Glander
    Salem, N.H.

Major League Baseball has wanted to use the Futures Game to promote the internationalization of baseball since the game's inception in 1999, and that's not going to change any time soon. But it's indisputable that making the game a battle between American and National league prospects would ratchet up the talent level a couple of notches.

Using an AL vs. NL format, and having no roster restrictions other than making sure each organization has at least one representative (the current rules are that each team must have at least one but no more than two), here are the rosters I came up with. I cheated a little bit, using a half-dozen prospects who weren't official candidates approved by their parent clubs, but I'll rationalize that by saying they very well might have been under the different format. I also played a couple of players slightly out of position because the American League lacked first-base candidates.

Futures Game: What Could Have Been
Pos American League National League
C Jeff Clement, Sea George Kottaras, SD*
C Kurt Suzuki, Oak* Neil Walker, Pit*
1B Billy Butler, KC* Joe Koshansky, Col*
1B Adam Lind, Tor Joey Votto, Cin*
2B Yung Chi Chen, Sea* Eric Patterson, ChC*
2B Howie Kendrick, LAA* Marcus Sanders, SF
3B Josh Fields, CWS* Kory Casto, Was
3B Alex Gordon, KC* Andy LaRoche, LAD
SS Reid Brignac, TB Stephen Drew, Ari*
SS Brandon Wood, LAA Troy Tulowitzki, Col*
OF Travis Buck, Oak* Jay Bruce, Cin
OF Trevor Crowe, Cle Carlos Gonzalez, Ari*
OF Jacoby Ellsbury, Bos Hunter Pence, Hou*
OF Cameron Maybin, Det* Colby Rasmus, StL
OF Jose Tabata, NYY* Justin Upton, Ari
P Nick Adenhart, LAA* Homer Bailey, Cin*
P Jose Arredondo, LAA Sean Gallagher, ChC
P Wade Davis, TB Yovani Gallardo, Mil*
P Matt Garza, Min Jaime Garcia, StL*
P Eric Hurley, Tex* Gio Gonzalez, Phi*
P Philip Hughes, NYY* Matt Harrison, Atl
P Radhames Liz, Bal* Gaby Hernandez, Fla
P Juan Salas, TB* Jason Hirsh, Hou*
P Humberto Sanchez, Det* Ubaldo Jimenez, Col
P Kevin Slowey, Min Matt Lindstrom, NYM*
*On actual Futures Game roster.

To save you from doing the counting, just 30 of the actual 50 Futures Game prospects would have made the cut. Twenty of the 25 U.S. players still would have been invited, but only 10 of the 25 World players.

    Sean Gallagher is 8-2, 2.39 combined between high Class A Daytona and Double-A West Tenn, and he isn't getting much hype. Do you see him developing into a front-of-the-rotation starter, or more of a No. 4 or 5?

    Justin Montminy
    Aurora, Ill.

At first glance, Gallagher may seem to be just continuing the success he had at low Class A Peoria last year, going 14-5, 2.71 in his first full season after signing as a 12th-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2004. But his stuff actually has improved across the board.

While Gallagher's 2005 season was very impressive for a 19-year-old, I wasn't completely sold on him as a prospect. The reports I had on him said his 88-90 mph fastball and changeup were fringe-average pitches. He showed a plus curveball at times, but at others his breaking ball was loopy. He tailed off in the second half of the Midwest League season, and he wasn't very projectable at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds.

Yet Gallagher has found more fastball velocity this year, regularly working at 90-93 mph. His changeup also has become more reliable. And he does have a legitimate curveball, as the bigger and slower version is just a get-me-over pitch he uses to keep hitters off balance. Though he has battled his command more than usual, he's pitching well in Double-A at age 20. I think he can become a No. 3 starter, and I wouldn't have said that a year ago.

    Can you shed some light on the role of the Dominican and Venezuelan summer leagues? Is one at a higher level than the other? How do these leagues compare to the level of play in Rookie ball?

    Andy Weiss
    Iowa City, Iowa

Many of the Latin Americans who sign with pro teams do so at a younger age than U.S. high schoolers do. The Dominican and Venezuelan summer leagues give those prospects the opportunity to face competition closer to their own age, and they serve other functions as well.

Those leagues allow Latin Americans to begin their acclimation to pro ball without also having to deal with the culture shock of coming to the United States. Teams can help improve their players' English, nutrition, strength and conditioning in addition to their baseball skills. Clubs also have a limited number of visas for foreigners, and they don't have to use them on a player in the DSL or VSL because they're not in the United States.

In terms of quality of play, the DSL and VSL rank below the other leagues in Rookie ball, which can be divided into three tiers. The Appalachian and Pioneer are advanced Rookie leagues that have some college products and some players with previous pro experience. The Arizona and Gulf Coast are complex-based leagues consisting mostly of high schoolers or players making their professional and/or U.S. debuts. The Dominican and Venezuelan summer circuits are the lowest level of Organized Ball.

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