Futures Game Highlights Boffo '05 Prospect Class

SAN FRANCISCO—The three best prospects in the minor leagues sat together autographing baseballs before the ninth annual Futures Game. Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin played AAU ball against each other, and Jay Bruce got to know them when they all terrorized Midwest League pitching in 2006.

They haven't crossed paths as often in 2007—Bruce overlapped with Maybin for 21⁄2 months in the Florida State League and with Upton for two weeks in the Southern League. So the Futures Game gave them a chance to catch up.

A few lockers away sat Colby Rasmus, like the others a high school outfielder taken in the first round of the 2005 draft. Upton went No. 1 overall to the Diamondbacks, followed by Maybin (10th to the Tigers), Bruce (12th to the Reds) and Rasmus (28th to the Cardinals).

Another prep outfielder, Andrew McCutchen, went 11th overall to the Pirates. He didn't make the cut for the Futures Game, though he's a quality prospect in his own right and the first member of the group to reach Double-A.

Three college outfielders also were 2005 first-round picks: Trevor Crowe (14th, Indians), John Mayberry Jr. (19th, Rangers) and Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd, Red Sox). Ellsbury grew up playing with Crowe in Oregon, and squared off against both him and Mayberry in the Pacific-10 Conference. Making the Futures Game gave him the chance to see the high schoolers in person.

"They're doing great things in the minor leagues," Ellsbury said. "It tells you how strong that 2005 draft was, particularly in the outfield. These guys are great athletes. It's nice to finally get to see them play."

Ellsbury says he has monitored their progress from afar, and Bruce says he does the same.

"I keep track of them a lot," Bruce said. "I've heard people say this is the best high school outfield class ever."

Five-Tool Center Fielders Aplenty

There were nine outfielders taken in the first round of the 1989, 1998 and 2003 drafts, so the 2005 class didn't set a record. But it could be the best group of first-round outfielders ever.

The 1985 group included Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro (drafted as an outfielder before moving to first base) and Pete Incaviglia. Jeromy Burnitz, Tony Clark (he took the Palmeiro route to first base), Carl Everett and Rondell White all went from 1990's first round to the All-Star Game. Delmon Young, Nick Markakis, Lastings Milledge and Carlos Quentin have bright futures after turning pro together in 2003.

Yet Upton and Co. might beat them all. All five prepsters are five-tool center fielders. Ellsbury is a center fielder, too, and while he can't match their offensive potential, he has better defensive skills and prototypical leadoff ability.

"I'm not sure if it's the best outfield class ever, but it's a pretty darned good one," a scout with a National League club said after watching the Futures Game. "Obviously, Upton has the highest ceiling, just such great balance at the plate that allows him to get good leverage in his swing on anything you throw at him. But those other guys, they aren't too far behind.

"And to have nearly all of them in Double-A right now speaks to what type of raw talent they have and the maturity level to handle it. I love Bruce and Maybin for different reasons. Bruce is a Larry Walker-type guy and Maybin is that new type of power/speed combination as a center fielder. Rasmus is right there with those other guys too, and he might wind up having more value than Bruce when it's all said and done."

Bruce, Upton Take Center Stage

Bruce and Upton provided most of the U.S. highlights in a 7-2 loss to the World team. In the second inning, Bruce lined a 95 mph fastball from the Phillies' Carlos Carrasco off the bricks in right-center. He showed off his underrated athleticism by finding an extra gear as he rounded second and accelerated for a triple.

One inning later, Upton one-upped him. The White Sox' Fautino de los Santos tried to beat him inside with a 96 mph fastball, and Upton turned on it effortlessly. He launched a screamer that reached the left-field seats in a hurry, a harbinger of how quickly he's racing toward Arizona.

The other 2005 first-round outfielders didn't fare as well. Ellsbury, who made his big league debut eight days earlier, went 0-for-4 with two groundouts and two strikeouts, while Rasmus delivered two harmless flyouts in two trips to the plate.

Maybin had it the worst of all. He hurt his right shoulder diving for a fly ball a week earlier, and the Tigers held him out of the game as a precaution. Even so, he relished the chance to see his friends in action again.

"Jay hit the farthest ball all day, to the deepest part of the park. A lot of people don't realize he moves like he does," Maybin said. "Justin turned around 96 inside. I told you he definitely has quick hands.

"Of course I wanted to play, but I knew coming in I wouldn't. Watching them do well was good enough for me."