Observations From The Dugouts

ST. LOUIS—Thanks to XM Radio, I’ve been able to watch the last four Futures Games from field level, doing interviews during the game from the dugouts. This year, I was back in the U.S. dugout, and had some extra points that didn’t make it into our Twitter feed.

• Brett Wallace was our first interview during the long rain delay, and the Cardinals third baseman was outstanding to talk to. Wallace relayed that he stayed in touch with former Arizona State teammate Mike Leake, who was the Reds’ first-round pick this year, and made sure to reach out to Leake after his poor start against Texas in the College World Series. I’m paraphrasing here, but Wallace said he predicted to anyone who’d listen that Leake would get back on the mound and throw well in Omaha, and he did, throwing six solid innings and striking out seven on two days’ rest.

I got Wallace’s attention by asking him if he’d gotten a pregame brawl started prior to the Futures Game, as Arizona State staged before losing the 2008 super-regional to Fresno State. Wallace rolled his eyes but was a tremendous sport anyway during the interview, to his credit.

• Steve Cohen, the area scout for the Phillies in Texas, was credited as the signing scout for Kyle Drabek. He told me this spring that he hadn’t talked to Drabek since the 2006 season when he signed until this spring, when Drabek and Cohen had lunch prior to spring training. Cohen said he was struck by Drabek’s physical and emotional maturity in that three-year span, and Drabek echoed that comment in his interview in the dugout.

Drabek spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully, but he never stopped smiling and clearly was enjoying himself. And why not? He threw three pitches for strikes with a fastball up to 96, has jumped to Double-A in his first full season post-Tommy John surgery and looks ready to help the Phillies, sooner than later.

• Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward are mountainous human beings, both of whom can move. Heyward was aggressive and had a hit in two trips, swinging at the first pitch each time. Stanton replaced him in the lineup and went 0-for-1 with a walk and a stolen base.

The duo ranked 1-2, Heyward and then Stanton, in our midseason Top 25 prospects ranking, and Heyward said he was honored to be atop the list. He also agreed that he and Stanton have some things in common, though Heyward is a UCLA guy (his uncle played basketball there) and Stanton a USC guy. Heyward admitted that USC has the upper hand these days, "but historically, NCAA championships, you have to give it to UCLA basketball."

Stanton talked more in the postgame about the duo, which just faced each other in the Double-A Southern League.

"We have a similar presence on the field," said Stanton, "and we’re the same size, same position. We both have some pop, and we both hit for average too. Other than him hitting on the other side, I’d say we do have a lot of things alike. Coming up at the same time, it’s going to be good to keep competing against him, playing at the same level."

Stanton has known Heyward’s wingman, Braves first-base prospect Freddie Freeman, since their prep days in SoCal, and he considers Freeman a friend. "That’s my boy, Freddie," he said, "but you know I have to take Logan Morrison there. We do have pretty good 3-4 combos in a lineup with me and Logan and him with Freddie."

• The four-hour rain delay certainly wasn’t a positive. For one, it kept Red Sox righthander Junichi Tazawa and Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner from pitching, since both warmed up prior to the delay and weren’t brought back in afterward. Stanton the worst part of the delay was being in the clubhouse for four hours while his family had to wait it out in the stands, but the two couldn’t get together.

But Eric Young Jr., Stanton and other U.S. players agreed that the experience wasn’t all bad. The U.S. players basically played music, watched TV, played some card games and chatted for much of the delay, passing the time and getting to know each other better.

• The past ties between players on these rosters were all over the place. Astros catcher Jason Castro played with Wallace in the NorCal prep baseball program back in 2004-2005, while Heyward and Cubs third baseman Josh Vitters—part of an amazing 2007 prep crop in California that also included Royals Futures Gamer Danny Duffy—played together in the Area Code Games. Brewers second baseman Brett Lawrie and Indians outfielder Nick Weglarz of the World team played together in the Olympics for Canada last summer; Lawrie said the greatest thrill of that experience may have been walking into the Olympic stadium with his sister Danielle, the softball pitcher who led Washington to a national championship this spring.