There was no one signature moment of the 2017 Futures Game. The game didn't have one player who used the game to make a loud impact on the national stage.
Yet there were several impressive performances, starting with strong pitching early in the game, a defensive highlight at the end and a prodigious young hitter who doesn't need a national platform to make his name known.
Best Fastball: Michael Kopech, rhp, White Sox
No pitch in the minor leagues is more overpowering than Michael Kopech's fastball. The White Sox righthander made some of the best hitting prospects in the minor leagues take defensive, tardy swings against his heater, which not only comes in with high-octane velocity but finishes across the plate with exceptional late life, a pitch reminiscent of Craig Kimbrel's fastball.
Kopech needed just nine pitches in a quick, 1-2-3 inning. He threw seven fastballs. All of them were strikes, including four swinging strikes, with one fastball at 99 mph and the rest at 100-101 mph, finishing his brief day by striking out Triple-A White Sox teammate Yoan Moncada, who whiffed through a 101-mph fastball.
Best Pitcher: Brent Honeywell, rhp, Rays
Cardinals righthander Alex Reyes is the No. 12 prospect in baseball. But with Reyes out for the year with Tommy John surgery, Honeywell--the game's No. 14 prospect--is the top-ranked healthy pitcher in the minors. During the game's first two innings, Honeywell showcased and an advanced combination of stuff and feel for pitching that he's shown this year at Triple-A Durham, where he has 11.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, despite a 4.54 ERA.
Honeywell attacked hitters with a 94-97 mph fastball and filled the strike zone, throwing 23 of 34 pitches for strikes. But in a game where pitchers who can reach the mid-to-upper 90s can often be tempted to go for a new high score on the radar gun in a short-burst appearance, Honeywell took a different tact. He threw any pitch in any count, mixing any of his array of offspeed pitches to start counts and inducing uncomfortable, off-balance swings through the duration of his outing from confused-looking hitters.
Best Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3b, Blue Jays
Rockies shortstop Brendan Rodgers played well and put together quality at-bats. Orioles catcher Chance Sisco went 1-for-3 and did a nice job of keeping his weight back to drive a changeup for a triple against Padres righthander Cal Quantrill.
But accounting for all the factors involved--pure hitting ability, age and level--no hitter was more impressive than Vladdy Jr. Guerrero is 18, which means he's the same age as the high school picks from the 2017 draft. Even some of the players who will get drafted in 2018 were only born a few months apart from Guerrero.
Yet here is Guerrero, an 18-year-old in a major league park in his second professional season and his first year of full-season ball, fitting in comfortably against older pitchers further up the minor league chain in a 2-for-4 day.
Facing a Triple-A pitcher in Honeywell in the first inning, Guerrero worked a 2-2 count before striking out on a 94-mph fastball. He came back his next two at-bats and delivered a pair of singles. The first came against Orioles Double-A lefthander Tanner Scott, who fired a pair of 99-mph fastballs that Guerrero watched to by to get ahead 2-0. When Scott delivered another 99-mph fastball on the next pitch--this time in the strike zone--Guerrero drilled it for line-drive single to center field.
His next time up against Diamondbacks high class A righthander Jon Duplantier, Guerrero didn't waste any time, taking the first pitch he saw back up the middle for a single. It certainly wasn't the most dominant performance we've seen at a Futures Game, but Guerrero stood out for his bat speed, raw power and the maturity of his approach not typically found in 18-year-olds.
Best All-Around Performance: Brendan Rodgers, ss, Rockies
Rodgers did a bit of everything in showcasing a well-rounded skill set, going 1-for-1 with a walk and a sacrifice fly. He has a compact stroke with explosive bat speed, which he showed against Yankees righthander Domingo Acevedo, slamming a first-pitch, 96-mph fastball to left field for a loud single.
His next time up, Rodgers showed a patient approach against Pirates righthander Luis Escobar. Rodgers laid off a breaking ball and a fastball to get ahead 2-0, then after taking a fastball for a called strike, let the next two pitches go by to draw a walk.
Rodgers looked sharp in the field as well. With Rodgers playing second base in the third inning, Josh Naylor (Padres) smashed a hard ground ball toward Rodgers at second base. The ball took a tough hop, but Rodgers showed quick reactions and fast hands to snare the ball, with plenty of time to record the out at first.
“Didn't have time to react, just kinda do what you do with your glove and hopefully it works out,” Rodgers said. “It was smoked. I'm buddies with Naylor and he's like, ‘Man, you couldn't just let that go through?'”
All of that came after a loud BP in which Rodgers showed some of the biggest power on the U.S. team. Rodgers has benefited from playing in hitter-friendly parks in his career between low Class A Asheville last year and the launching pad of high Class A Lancaster this season, but his underlying skill set should continue to translate at higher levels.
Best Defensive Play: Ryan McMahon, 1b, Rockies
The Futures Game was largely devoid of any defensive excitement until the ninth inning. That's when Guerrero popped up a ball toward the first base dugout. McMahon carefully jogged over to the dugout, took note of his surroundings, and dove over the dugout railing to make the outstretched catch.
“I went in there, they had a couple of guys in there to catch me,” McMahon said. “I blacked out, man. I was just chasing the ball and fell over the railing.”
Was he thinking about the risk-to-reward ratio of diving over a railing in an exhibition game?
"In the moment I just wanted to catch the ball," McMahon said. "Afterwards, I thought I could have got hurt."
Best Arm: Ronald Acuna, of, Braves
Teams aren't getting detailed advance scouting reports in the minor leagues, but the book got out quickly around the high Class A Florida State League and Double-A Southern League: Don't run on Ronald Acuna.
Acuna showed why in the second inning, with Rodgers hitting a fly ball to center field with nobody out and Sisco on third base. Acuna camped under the ball and released a powerful throw with good carry, not in enough time to get Sisco but making the play far closer than it should be thanks to a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Biggest Surprise: Mauricio Dubon, ss, Brewers
The Futures Game comes with roster restrictions and marketing considerations, but it was still disappointing not to see Padres middle infielder Luis Urias in the Futures Game. He's a better prospect having a better season than Dubon, who was batting just .272/.334/.347 in 71 games in Double-A before the Brewers promoted him to Triple-A.
Dubon showed well for himself, both before and during the game. During BP, Dubon generated loud contact and surprising power for a player who hit six home runs in 2016 and has just three this year. In the game, Dubon went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit double the opposite way into the right field corner off Cardinals righthander Jack Flaherty, then made hard contact in his next at-bat on a fly out to left field.