2021 Futures Game Superlatives: Cubs' Davis, Mets' Alvarez Steal The Show
After a year away, the Futures Game returned on Sunday in Denver to kick off this year’s all-star weekend. And as always, the game was packed with talented prospects from throughout the sport, including plenty of players in Baseball America’s Top 100.
Even in the context of an exhibition contest, some players clearly stood out above the rest. Think of Joey Gallo’s otherworldly BP show in Minnesota in 2014, or Trea Turner’s quick-twitch theater in 2015 in Cincinnati. These are performances that often precede stardom and whet the appetites of fanbases.
The Futures Game is the minor leagues’ biggest stage. Here are the players who stole this year’s spotlight.
Best Batting Practice
In terms of sheer raw power, the Mets’ Francisco Alvarez was unmatched. The 19-year-old wunderkind deposited ball after ball into the deepest parts of center field thanks to an extremely strong frame that generates power to all sectors. His best blast landed halfway up the bleachers just to the left of center field. While Alvarez’s raw power was the most impressive, one of his teammates got to his also-considerable raw juice a touch more often in BP. Brett Baty, who was just recently promoted to Double-A Binghamton, shot ball after ball into the upper tiers in right field. Baty was identified by one scout as taking the best batting practice on the day.
It’s no secret that Shane Baz’s fastball has a timeshare in the triple-digits. He didn’t quite crack 100 on Sunday, but he did rack up two Ks in a scoreless inning. First, he painted the inside corner to ring up Michael Harris. Then he got Brennen Davis to swing through 98.
Baz’s game has matured over the course of the shutdown and has carried into this season, first with Double-A Birmingham, then with Triple-A Durham and soon with the the United States’ Olympic team. His changeup in particular has taken big strides, as has overall pitchability, but the calling card will always be the searing fastball he can whip out of his back pocket.
Manuel Rodriguez, one of the Cubs’ best relief prospects, lit up both the radar gun and Hawkeye by topping out at 99 mph and tons of vertical break on his cutter (up to 40 inches) and sinker (up to 25 inches). He used the fastballs to strike out Tyler Soderstrom and get a groundout from Bo Naylor.
The Yankees’ Luis Medina’s 100.7 mph fastball in the sixth inning was the hardest pitch of the day, and Nationals’ top prospect Cade Cavalli touched 100 mph three times, but Baz’s fastball stood out above the rest for its combination of quality and results.
Best Breaking Ball
Nick Lodolo has some of the best command and control in the game, but his pure stuff is pretty filthy too. Mariners prodigy Julio Rodriguez learned that lesson the hard way when the two matched up on Sunday. Lodolo closed the at-bat with a 2,773 rpm slider that bore down and in and got a swinging third strike.
In fact, Rodriguez was victimized by two of the highest-spinning breaking balls of the game. Cardinals lefty Matthew Liberatore rung up Rodriguez on a 2,617 rpm slider with sweep-type break in on Rodriguez’s knees. Liberatore has long made his money thanks to impressive breaking stuff, and he showed it again on Sunday.
Best Defensive Play
This Futures Game stood out more for its offense—at least for the National League—but Phillies infielder Bryson Stott was nimble and athletic in starting a fielder’s choice off of a hard grounder to second base, and Cardinals infielder Nolan Gorman took extra bases away from Jasson Dominguez with a semi-leaping snare at third base.
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Best Offensive Performance
Could it be anybody but Brennen Davis? The Cubs’ top prospect hit a pair of homers—the first multi-homer Futures Game performance since Yusniel Diaz (then of the Dodgers) in 2018 in Washington D.C. Davis’ homers had exit velocities of 103.5 and 109 mph and went 410 and 428 feet, respectively.
His homers were part of a quintet of longballs for the National League in its domination of the American League. Alvarez followed his batting practice show by swatting a home run in his first and only at-bat of the day, off of Yankees righthander Luis Medina. His home run wasn’t quite as loud as his batting practice show–it went 372 feet and just snuck over the left field wall—but it was impressive nonetheless for a player coming off the bench.
Reds shortstop Jose Barrero kicked off the scoring in the first inning with a majestic home run off of AL starter Cole Winn (Rangers). The home run was a perfect example of the strength Barrero has added over the past few years, which has helped turn doubles (he led the Florida State with 37 in 2019) into over-the-fence power; his eight homers this year are just six shy of his career total entering the season.
Tigers prospect Riley Greene, who had two of the AL’s five hits, also drew praise from scouts as one of the most impressive players both in batting practice and during the game. He had a nice grab in the outfield in addition to his pair of knocks.
Royals prospect Bobby Witt Jr. drew the collar in two at-bats, but his 113 mph exit velocity registered as the hardest-hit ball of the day.
Best Hometown Performance
Before Brennen Davis went off, Rockies first base prospect Michael Toglia was the leader in the clubhouse for Best Offensive Performance. His third-inning home run off of Rangers lefty Cole Ragans was a no-doubter from the moment leather touched lumber, and it produced the kind of sound that has a way of immediately snapping an onlooker to attention. In all, the ball traveled 444 feet and left the bat at 103.8 mph.