Predicting The 2020 Futures Game American League Rosters
The Futures Game is just about four months away, but we here at Baseball America are already counting down the days. This year's version will be played on Sunday, July 12 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Last year's version was a departure from previous years because it pitted American League prospects against their National League counterparts instead of the typical United States vs. World format the game had normally followed. The game was also shortened from nine innings to seven (though the teams forced an eighth inning anyway).
No matter the format, the order of the day is prospects, prospects and more prospects. So, just as we did last year, we're going to take a very early crack at guessing what the rosters will look like come summertime. Some of the more obvious names are left off of this list—Angels top prospect Jo Adell is absent, for instance—for one of two reasons. In Adell's case, we assume he'll already be in Los Angeles ... wearing an Angels uniform.
So sit back, relax and take a look at the players we think will introduce themselves to the world on the biggest stage the minor leagues has to offer. Today, we're looking at the American League. For the National League, check back tomorrow.
C — Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays
One of the biggest risers from last season, Kirk showed an innate ability to make contact while managing the strike zone. He was one of the toughest hitters to strike out—he swung and missed just 5.3 percent of the time—and led the Blue Jays’ organization with 31 doubles in 310 at-bats. He was rock solid behind the plate, too, allowing just six passed balls in 693 innings.
C — Adley Rutschman, Orioles
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft took a little while to get going after contracting mononucleosis after being selected. Once he got going, however, he showed evaluators exactly why he was so highly lauded. Rutschman has immense skills on both sides of the ball and has a chance to become the face of the Orioles’ franchise the moment he reaches the big leagues. If all goes well, this might be Rutschman’s only chance to play in a Futures Game.
1B — Andrew Vaughn, White Sox
The White Sox took Vaughn with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft based on the strength of his ability to hit and hit for power. He moved to high Class A Winston-Salem in his first season as a pro and showed hints of his potential despite the longest season of his career. With an offseason to recover, Vaughn should show the totality of his gifts in his first full season, which should see him finish in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
2B/SS — Brayan Rocchio, Indians
The Indians are loaded with young position players, and Rocchio is among the best of the bunch. The 18-year-old tore up the Rookie-level Arizona League before moving to the typically college-heavy New York-Penn League and holding his own against much older competition. He has the potential for three above-average or better tools (hitting, speed and defense) and could move to the head of Cleveland’s pack of prospects with a strong first test at full-season ball.
3B — Josh Jung, Rangers
The Rangers first-round choice a year ago, Jung has already established himself as one of the game’s best third base prospects. He already holds the top spot in Texas’ system and projects as a plus hitter with average power who can stick at the hot corner. After a full season at Texas Tech, Jung finished his first pro season at low Class A Hickory and could make his way to Double-A Frisco with a strong 2020 season.
SS — Wander Franco, Rays
Franco is the No. 1 prospect in the game. He plays with a skill set beyond his years and showed it all throughout his 2019 season, when he wowed evaluators at both levels of Class A ball. He finished the year with more walks (56) than strikeouts (35) and put together a .327/.398/.487 line while playing the entire season as an 18-year-old. There’s a great chance he makes his big league debut before he turns 20 (March 1, 2021).
SS — Jeter Downs, Red Sox
The prize in the blockbuster offseason trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles might not be a long-term shortstop, but his bat will make him plenty valuable even if he has to slide over to second base. He boasts a bat that can catch up to premium velocity and gives him projection as an average hitter with above-average power if he refines his approach somewhat to become more aggressive on pitches he can drive.
SS — Bobby Witt, Jr., Royals
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Witt put together a fine first season in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Every one of his five tools has the potential to be at least above-average, including a double-plus glove that pairs with a plus arm at shortstop. Combine those skills with plus power and he has a chance to be the face of Kansas City’s rebuild.
OF — Brandon Marsh, Angels
Marsh’s career has been stymied somewhat by injuries, but when healthy he shows the tools to be a threat at the plate and in the field. He owns a powerful, whippy bat that can shoot balls from gap to gap and over the fence, as well as the range to stick in center field. Marsh and system-mate Jo Adell have the tools and makeup to become mainstays in the Angels’ outfield. Now, if only there were a third player to complete the trifecta.
OF — Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
While the big club languished at the bottom of the standings in 2019, the Mariners’ farm system provided hope for the future. Rodriguez, one of the latest in the line of teenage prodigies speeding their way to the big leagues, established himself as one of the organization’s twin peaks. He’s a potential double-plus hitter with double-plus power and used those tremendous gifts to tear up both Class A levels as an 18-year-old.
OF — Jarred Kelenic, Mariners
In most other systems, Kelenic would stand as the No. 1 prospect. He’s neck and neck with Julio Rodriguez for that honor in the Seattle system, however, and has the tools and makeup to endear himself to Mariners fans in short order. Kelenic is as pure a hitter as you’ll find in the minor leagues and has an intensity that is rarely found in someone his age. He burst all the way to Double-A in his first full season and could see Seattle in short order.
OF — Gilberto Jimenez, Red Sox
One of the bigger sleeper prospects on this list, Jimenez has a chance to open some eyes with a big 2020. The tightly wound outfielder was excellent in the New York-Penn League, where his speed and defense stood out. He’s a switch-hitter (he learned to do so after turning pro) with a slash-and-burn skill set that could play at the top or bottom of a lineup and will likely make his full-season debut in 2020.
OF — Alex Kirilloff, Twins
Kirilloff’s season was stunted by a pair of wrist injuries that limited him to just 94 games. When he was on the field, he showed the same quick, strong hands and wrists that produced line drives by the bushel in this boffo 2019 season. With a full offseason to recover, Kirilloff will look for a reset in 2020 that could lead to him quickly dropping bombas with the squad up north.
OF — Riley Greene, Tigers
With a massive haul of pitchers already at the front lines of their rebuilt system, the Tigers opted for a premium position player with their 2019 first-rounder. In Greene, Detroit got a player with an advanced hit tool and the potential to produce above-average power as well. He showed enough skill to move all the way to low Class A West Michigan in his pro debut, which is an outstanding feat for a prep player.
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Luis Garcia, Astros
Though the Astros system has thinned somewhat, it still boasts intriguing players like Garcia. The righthander saw a huge velo bump from 2018 to 2019 and also showed scouts a potentially plus changeup and a pair of average breaking balls. That mix allowed Garcia to strike out better than 12 hitters per nine innings at each of his two Class A stops.
Tyler Baum, A’s
The A’s second-rounder out of North Carolina was excellent in his pro debut, which was spent entirely at short-season Vermont in the New York-Penn League. The righthander showed a fastball up to 97 mph as well as a powerful, slurvy breaking ball. He still needs to develop his changeup, but his first taste of pro ball showed that he has the ingredients to move up the ranks in Oakland’s farm system.
Simeon Woods Richardson, Blue Jays
Woods Richardson was one of two prospects the Blue Jays received from the Mets in the Marcus Stroman trade, and so far he’s shown exceptional control of a high-impact pitch mix. Because of his large, sturdy frame, four-pitch mix and potentially double-plus control, Woods Richardson should have little problem remaining a starter. He should reach Double-A as a 19-year-old, which would likely make him among the league’s youngest pitchers.
Ethan Hankins, Indians
Hankins falling to the final pick of the first round was a pleasant surprise for the Indians in 2018, when they were happy to pluck a pitcher who had ranked among the best prep talents available before a minor shoulder injury clouded his stock. Now healthy, Hankins whiffed 71 hitters over 60 innings in 2019 between short-season Mahoning Valley and low Class A Lake County. He uses an arsenal with three average or better pitches, including a plus fastball that has touched 97 mph.
Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles
Rodriguez was one of the most impressive pitchers in the minor leagues in 2019 and could be in line for a return trip to the Futures Game if he can pull off an encore. He tops an outstanding arsenal with a potentially double-plus fastball (the pitch sat between 93-96 in 2019) with a trio of offspeed pitches that each project as above-average or better. After a full season in low Class A, he’ll move up a level and could get a chance to pitch to system-mate Adley Rutschman on all-star Sunday in Los Angeles.
Shane McClanahan, Rays
McClanahan has one of the most outstanding arsenals in a stacked Rays system. The South Florida product couples a nasty fastball that has touched triple-digits with a potentially plus curveball as well as a slider and changeup that could reach average. He’s an extraordinarily confident pitcher, which is easily warranted considering he’s struck out better than 10 hitters per nine innings at each of his five stops in the minors.
Daniel Lynch, Royals
Lynch’s season was halved by an arm injury, but he came back in the Arizona Fall League and appeared no worse for wear. The lefthander brought his fastball up to 99 mph in the league’s annual Fall Stars Game and struck out 19 against four walks in his 14 regular-season innings for Surprise. Lynch is part of a cavalcade of college arms that should lead the Royals into their next competitive era.
Tarik Skubal, Tigers
Without question, Skubal was the minor leagues’ fastest rising pitcher in 2019. The 2018 ninth-rounder blitzed high Class A Lakeland then turned it up a notch when he got to Double-A Erie. He obliterated the Eastern League with nearly unprecedented ferocity. Consider this: He struck out more than 17 hitters per nine innings … as a starter. The only way he doesn’t land a bid in the Futures Game is if he’s already found a spot in Detroit.
Jordan Balazovic, Twins
Balazovic was already on the Twins’ radar entering the year. It didn’t take long for him to make the rest of the world aware, too. The Canadian righthander made quick work of low Class A Cedar Rapids before moving to high Class A Fort Myers and picking up right where he left off. Balazovic was part of the Futures Game a year ago, and he’s got enough talent to make it two years in a row in 2020.
Luis Gil, Yankees
As usual, the Yankees’ system is stocked with highly intriguing righthanders. Gil was at the forefront of a pack of those arms at low Class A Charleston. He was a lottery ticket received in a trade and has slowly started to blossom into exactly the type of pitcher the Yankees wanted. There’s plenty of work to do, but he’s already got the projectable frame and easy velocity that typically form the building blocks of a premium starting pitching prospect.