Eight Futures Game Highlights

KANSAS CITY, Mo.—The talk from scouts prior to the Futures Game was that the rosters were as stacked as ever. Given quality arms on the United States pitching staff, scouts were expecting a lower-scoring game than the 17-5 rout it turned into for the U.S. team, so there were plenty of position players who made an impression on the scouting community. Here are eight of the most notable takeaways from the Futures Game.

1. Jurickson Profar, (Near) Future Star

When we put together our Midseason Top 50, Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar started out as the top prospect in baseball. Yet after consulting with several pro scouting directors and other scouts and executives across the game, it became clear that most teams preferred Orioles righthander Dylan Bundy.

While Bundy has all the ingredients of a future ace, Profar has the makings of a star. And, much like Mike Trout, Profar may not be far away from becoming one of the best players in the American League. Profar’s tools aren’t quite as loud as Trout’s, but his hitting, offensive approach and fundamentally-sound defense are remarkably advanced for a 19-year-old and should ease his major league transition.

“Profar is a special, special player,” said one American League scout. “Think about a guy who’s a teenager. He controls the strike zone, plays a premium position and he’s got some sock in his bat.”

Profar has a loose, easy swing that stays in the hitting zone a long time and helps him hit to all fields. He recognizes pitches well and he’s comfortable hitting in any count, as he showed on Sunday when Royals righthander Jake Odorizzi threw a 1-2 fastball up in the zone that Profar laced over the right-field fence for a home run.

“I had two strikes, so I was just trying to make contact and not strike out,” Profar said. “He left it up and I had a good swing on it.”

2. Nick Castellanos Can Really Hit . . .

Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos won the game’s MVP award by going 3-for-4 with a home run and a walk. The DH for the U.S. team, Castellanos struck out swinging on an 0-2 slider in his first at-bat, then reached base his next four trips to the plate, a barrage that included a home run on a fastball up and in off Phillies righthander Julio Rodriguez. He followed up in his next at-bat with a sharp grounder through the right side for a single by keeping his hands inside the ball on a slider on the inside corner from Reds righthander Kyle Lotzkar.

Castellanos is aggressive, perhaps to his own detriment having drawn just two walks in 119 plate appearances since receivng the bump to Double-A a month ago. Yet he’s still hitting .307/.311/.482 for Erie at age 20 after destroying the high Class A Florida State League to begin the year.

“It’s not a great approach,” said another AL scout. “He’s got that hand thing, there’s no stride, but he’s just barreling them up. He’s driving balls when he wants to, and he goes the other way. He has some kind of hand-eye coordination, barrel awareness, everything. He was driving balls to right-center field—it’s not like he’s just a singles guy. This guy can flat rake.”

3. And So Can Oscar Taveras . . .

Two of the best batting practice sessions came from Padres outfielder Rymer Liriano and Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras. Liriano is brutally strong and his lower half looks more like a powerlifter’s than a guy who stole 66 bases last year and has 23 this year. Taveras’ power was a question mark coming into the year, but he’s answered those questions with 17 home runs in 79 games and a .322/.372/.596 batting line for Double-A Springfield at age 20.

At the Futures Game, Taveras showed plenty of pop in BP by depositing a handful of balls over the right-field fence. More impressive than the juice in Taveras’ bat is the way he’s able to manipulate the barrel. He takes an aggressive hack that can look like he’s out of control at times, but his swing path and hand-eye coordination are so good that he can punish pitchers no matter where they try to attack him. Try to pound him inside, he turns on the ball for power to his pull side. He can drive the ball to the middle of the field, which he showed on Sunday but was thwarted by a spectacular catch from Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose. When the pitch is away, as it was in the fifth inning, he can smack it for a line drive to the opposite field.

“Taveras has got a pretty sound approach,” said the second scout. “His bat is in the zone all day, he has strength, he has balance—it’s no wonder this guy has hit at every level. That’s a really good hitter. I’m not sure what else you’re looking for in a hitter.”

4. And So Can Just About Everyone In The Game

Among the conversation subjects with scouts before the game, one was consistent: How incredible is that U.S. pitching staff? Both staffs had pitchers regularly throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s and touching triple digits, but none of the hitters seemed intimidated. Royals outfielder Wil Myers (2-for-4) and Astros first baseman Jonathan Singleton (3-for-4 with a walk) were both among the players who stood out for several scouts.

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is only an 18-year-old in low Class A Lake County, but he looked like a far more polished hitter when he got the bat head out quickly against a 95 mph fastball from Mariners righthander Taijuan Walker for a single to right field. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (1-for-3) and Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich (1-for-2 with a walk) showed good swings and sound approaches. Gose (1-for-1 with a walk) hit well and Orioles shortstop Manny Machado (1-for-3 with a double) made loud contact.

While both pitching staffs brought plenty of heat, scouts also agreed that it didn’t seem like the hitters were just sitting on fastballs. The pitchers were supposed to be the star attractions, but the hitters showed the bat speed to catch up to the big velocity and the hitting acumen to manage their at-bats.

5. The Rise Of Jose Fernandez

The 2011 draft class was loaded with pitchers. While Diamondbacks righthander Trevor Bauer and the Orioles’ Bundy deserve all the accolades they have received, no pitcher has skyrocketed up the prospect rankings quite like Marlins righthander Jose Fernandez.

The 14th overall pick in the draft a year ago, Fernandez has been overpowering this year. Before a recent promotion to high Class A Jupiter, Fernandez held down a 1.59 ERA in 79 innings in hitter-friendly low Class A Greensboro with 99 strikeouts and 18 walks. He doesn’t turn 20 until July 31.

While he’s not as good a prospect as Bundy, Fernandez may have been the most impressive pitcher at the Futures Game. He showed high-90s velocity (he touches that but sits lower as a starter) and a sharp breaking ball he used for a swinging strikeout against Rangers third baseman Mike Olt and then on a 3-2 pitch to get Athletics outfielder Michael Choice to swing through for his second whiff in a scoreless inning.

Scout after scout has come back buzzing after seeing Fernandez this year. Some even prefer Fernandez to Pirates righthander Gerrit Cole (the top overall pick a year ago) and Mariners lefthander Danny Hultzen (the second overall pick). It’s high praise, but with his combination of electric stuff and the potential to rocket through Miami’s farm system, it’s well deserved.

6. Billy Hamilton Is As Fast As Advertised

No matter the conversation topic with scouts, Billy Hamilton’s name always seems to find a way to sneak into the conversation. Those who have seen the Reds shortstop want to talk about him and those who haven’t want to know more from those who have.

Hamilton didn’t get the chance to steal a base in the Futures Game, but he still showed his Billy-Hamilton-grade speed (calling it an 80 doesn’t do it justice) on multiple occasions. Hamilton made a ground ball to the first baseman an exciting play, nearly beating Royals righthander Yordano Ventura to the bag by zipping to first base in 3.9 seconds. He got around the bases so quickly during his line-drive triple to center field in the third inning that the only suspense on the play was whether he might try for the inside-the-park home run.

While Hamilton’s speed was fun to watch, he also showed the shakiness at shortstop that have some scouts wondering whether he would fit better in center field. Hamilton, who has 25 errors already this year, made a solid pick at shortstop on a tough grounder in the third inning, then showed average arm strength on an erratic throw that was charitably scored a single.

7. But Don’t Forget About Anthony Gose

Machado, the Orioles’ shortstop and top position prospect, made an incredible leaping catch in the sixth inning on a line drive from Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, grabbing the ball at full extension overhead and tossing it to second for the double play when Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia couldn’t get back to the bag.

Yet Machado’s glovework still gets only an honorable mention. The defensive play of the game went to the Blue Jays’ Gose, who jetted back toward the wall in the third inning when Taveras smashed a ball ticketed for the warning track in center field. Gose showed tremendous range, going into a full-out sprint and dive to make the catch, turning what looked like a sure double into a sacrifice fly. He also showed off his arm during warmups, when he launched some missiles when outfielders were throwing to third base and home plate.

“Gose is an elite talent in his own right,” said the first scout. “He can play a spectacular center field. Maybe that was the best play of the game—his catch, and then to unleash a 95 mph rocket that was comparable to a Josh Hamilton type arm. That was the most amazing play I saw in the game. To have that presence of mind to unleash an absolute missile.”

8. Christian Bethancourt Has A Cannon

There are questions about Braves backstop Bethancourt’s bat. As a 20-year-old in the Double-A Southern League, he’s young for his level, but he’s still hitting just .254/.278/.280 in 52 games and has a long way to go with his offensive approach. Yet if Bethancourt can even hit enough to be at least a backup, he has a chance to be a special defender. His plus-plus arm was evident in the second inning when he threw out Singleton trying to steal second.

“Bethancourt’s arm is exceptional,” said the first scout. “(He) is reminiscent of Benito Santiago. That wiry, strong, athletic body that propels absolute lasers. How arrogant he is with his arm, to be able to back pick and dare the runner to try to steal. It would have been fabulous for Billy Hamilton to take off and for Bethancourt to have a chance to throw him out.”

Contributing: J.J. Cooper