Three things I'd change about the Futures Game, not that anyone is asking me:
1. I'd try to get the very best prospects involved. I'd switch the format from United States vs. the World to American League vs. National League, and I'd drop the rule limiting each farm system to no more than two players.
2. I'd move the game to Monday. That way it wouldn't have to compete with 15 big league games on Sunday, and all of the All-Star Game media would be on hand.
3. I'd pick four sluggers involved in the game and stage a Futures Game Home Run Derby, with the winner getting to compete in the big league event.
As an illustration as to how much change there is when it comes to ranking prospects—via graduation to the majors, new signings, steps forward and back in development, injuries—18 of my 30 No. 1 prospects below are different from the ones who appeared in the 2008 Prospect Handbook. For that matter, a few of these choices differ from the Baseball America consensus revealed in our midseason overall Top 25 Prospects list . Only players currently in the minors who haven't exceeded rookie limits for major league at-bats or innings were considered.
Arizona: RHP Jarrod Parker.
Deeper repertoire, superior delivery make him a better bet than Max Scherzer.
Atlanta: OF Jason Heyward.
It's unbelievable that he lasted 14 picks in the 2007 draft.
Baltimore: C Matt Wieters.
He has looked like he's worth every penny of his record $6 million up-front bonus so far.
Boston: 1B Lars Anderson.
Anderson has heated up in the last two months and has more star potential than RHP Michael Bowden.
Chicago (AL): LHP Aaron Poreda.
I almost went with 2B Chris Getz; first-round SS Gordon Beckham takes over at No. 1 once he signs.
Chicago (NL): 3B Josh Vitters.
Vitters is starting to hit as projected, though a case can be made for RHP Jose Ceda.
Cincinnati: TBA Todd Frazier.
Graduations have thinned out the Reds system; first-round 1B Yonder Alonso will rank No. 1 upon his signing.
Cleveland: OF Matt LaPorta.
He knocked 3B Wes Hodges out of the Indians' top spot following the C.C. Sabathia deal.
Colorado: OF Dexter Fowler.
He's a switch-hitter loaded with tools, and his power is starting to develop.
Detroit: RHP Rick Porcello.
His raw numbers may not be outstanding, but remember that he's a 19-year-old making his pro debut in high Class A.
Florida: OF Cameron Maybin.
He's still ahead of the game for a 21-year-old, but the strikeouts are worrisome.
Houston: C Jason Castro.
Before the Astros signed Castro as their 2008 first-round pick, RHP Bud Norris was their top prospect.
Kansas City: 3B Mike Moustakas.
His .244/.306/.405 numbers are better than they look, given the context (he's 19 and in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League).
Los Angeles (AL): RHP Nick Adenhart.
Adenhart has regressed since his big league callup, and RHP Jordan Walden is gaining on him (and SS Brandon Wood).
Los Angeles (NL): LHP Clayton Kershaw.
He needs to refine his command to succeed in the majors, but hey, he's still just 20.
Milwaukee: 3B Mat Gamel.
A solid prospect entering 2008, he took his game to the next level and made trading LaPorta more palatable.
Minnesota: OF Ben Revere.
That's no typo: The surprise of 2007's first round is batting .401 in low Class A.
New York (AL): OF Austin Jackson.
The former basketball star could take over in center field for the Yankees by mid-2009.
New York (NL): OF Fernando Martinez.
The Mets have rushed him, which explains why he hasn't shown more at the plate. But why can't he stay healthy?
Oakland: LHP Brett Anderson.
Trevor Cahill's breakthrough notwithstanding, this polished lefty is the best of the A's pitching crop.
Philadelphia: 2B Adrian Cardenas.
The Chase Utley comparisons are a bit much, but Cardenas can hit. Utley's presence probably makes him trade bait at some point.
Pittsburgh: OF Andrew McCutchen.
If the Pirates trade Jason Bay or Xavier Nady, McCutchen is ready to step right in.
St. Louis: OF Colby Rasmus.
After the worst two months of his career, he started hitting like his old self in June, but he hasn't played since straining his groin July 1.
San Diego: RHP Matt Latos.
3B Chase Headley's promotion and 2B Matt Antonelli's awful year leave this one wide open. Latos has had injury and makeup issues, but he still has a quality arm.
San Francisco: LHP Madison Bumgarner.
He has shown more polish than expected, a bonus for a power lefthander.
Seattle: RHP Phillipe Aumont.
I like breakout OF Michael Saunders, too, but my gut feel says to go with Aumont.
Tampa Bay: LHP David Price.
Last year's No. 1 overall pick gets the edge over this year's (SS Tim Beckham).
Texas: RHP Neftali Feliz.
Reports that he hit 101 mph twice in his Double-A debut aren't making the Braves feel any better about the Mark Teixeira trade.
Toronto: OF Travis Snider.
His increase in strikeouts is disconcerting, but he's still hitting for power in Double-A at age 20.
Washington: RHP Jordan Zimmermann.
I'll take his solid performance in Double-A in his first full season over OF Michael Burgess' power and strikeouts in low Class A.
There may have been some slight confusion on draft day, but the Dodgers are committed to developing Martin as a righthanded pitcher and not as a third baseman. He came into the year better known as a budding power hitter, and he did hit four homers in batting practice at Dodger Stadium after signing for $1.73 million, but most teams preferred him as a pitcher. Martin has plenty of pop in his bat, but his low-90s fastball and plus curveball, not to mention his command, athleticism and delivery, make him more enticing on the mound.
Martin, who didn't start pitching regularly until his junior year in high school, said he trusts in Los Angeles assistant GM Logan White's track record to decide where he should play. White stocked the system with talent as the club's scouting director from 2002-2006 and still is heavily involved in the draft. He liked James Loney as a first baseman when most teams though he had more potential as a pitcher, and White also drafted high school arms such as Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton and Clayton Kershaw.
The general belief is that trying to have a prospect both hit and pitch would delay and perhaps retard his development. Teams prefer to decide which way will lead to a brighter future, and then send the prospect down that path.
Rick Ankiel at times has excelled at both pitching and hitting. Josh Hamilton was the No. 1 overall pick in 1999 as an outfielder and would have been a first-rounder as a pitcher. Going back further, Dave Winfield was a Hall of Fame outfielder whom some scouts claim could have been just as big a star on the mound.
While those three and others have shown big league talent as hitters and pitchers, it's unlikely we'll see a team try to develop someone as a two-way star. The last example I can think of is Clint Hartung, and he broke in with the 1947 New York Giants. Brooks Kieschnick dabbled as a two-way player with the 2003-04 Brewers, but he was a fringe player just trying to hang on.
McLouth lasted 25 rounds in the 2000 draft because of a strong commitment to the University of Michigan. The Pirates lured him away from the Wolverines for a $500,000 bonus. After making his pro debut in 2001, he ranked 12th on our Pittsburgh Top 30 entering the 2002 season. As he climbed through the minors until losing his rookie eligibility in 2006, he ranked (in order) 21st, 18th, 10th and sixth.
Our final scouting report hinted at his potential but projected him as somewhere between a good fourth outfielder and solid regular, not an all-star. He hit just 40 homers in five minor league seasons, and now he may make a run at that total in 2008:
Strengths: McLouth's tools all grade out at average or just a little above. He plays above his tools because of his outstanding work ethic and baseball acumen. He handles the bat well, makes consistent contact, runs well and is an exceptional bunter.
Weaknesses: A tweener, McLouth lacks the desired power for an outfield corner and the range for center field. His best position is probably right field, where his arm is just adequate. He has shown the ability to hit doubles in the minors and needs to start translating that into over-the-fence power.
The Future: McLouth may not profile extremely well, but he consistently has overcome his doubters and should become at least a good fourth outfielder. He'll compete for a big league job in spring training.