Futures Game: Sleeper Prospects Wake Up
I have to admit that I am not a fan of All-Star games. Rarely do you see all deserving players make it to the Major League All-Star game, usually because fans vote in undeserving players. The All-Star game is also flawed because of the voting system that allows larger market teams to flood the ballot boxes due to larger crowds. I haven't even watched an All-Star game in 10 years.
The minor league Futures Game is a little different and technically not an All-Star game. Its goal is to showcase the stars of tomorrow. However, due to the set up of the game itself, you still don't get to see all the deserving players because of the way prospects are separated into teams consisting of U.S. players and World players.
For example, Blue Jays' outfielder Travis Snider is 10 times the prospect that Jays' minor league catcher Robinzon Diaz is, but Diaz is on the World roster, and Snider was left sitting at home. Why? Because the World squad lacked options for catching prospects and U.S. team had a glut of deserving outfielders.
I would also argue that none of the World infielders project to be more than solid regulars in the major leagues, with the possible exception of the Dodgers' Chin-Lung Hu. And should it really be the U.S. against the rest of the world? Why not at least make the U.S. team the North American squad and include the Canadian prospects?
Regardless of my issues with the game itself, it is still an exciting opportunity to highlight the stars of tomorrow.
Chances are good that you have heard of Elvis Andrus, Deolis Guerra, Clay Buchholz and Jay Bruce, so I am going to highlight five other players that you should become more familiar with as the minor league season heads into its second last month of the 2007 season.
For complete coverage of the Futures Game, which took place on Sunday with the World roster winning 7-2, please check out Baseball America.
The World Roster
RHP Fautino de los Santos | 6-1 210 | 2/86 | Chicago White Sox | A-Ball
It is very likely that you have never heard of Fautino de los Santos. And don't go running to your Baseball America 2007 Prospect Handbook because he was not one of the 900 minor league prospects profiled before the season began. The promising Dominican right-hander spent all of 2006 in the Dominican Summer League but impressed the White Sox enough that they challenged him with an assignment to a full-season club to begin his first season in North America. In 2006, de los Santos posted a 1.86 ERA in 48.1 innings and he struck out 61 while walking only 10. So far this season in Kannapolis, he has maintained his dominance by holding batters to a .160 average. Hapless hitters have managed only 44 hits in 80.2 innings. De los Santos' command is not as good this year, with 32 walks, but he has off-set that with 98 strikeouts. One negative is that he has allowed more flyball outs than groundball outs (GO/AO of 0.92), but I might be starting to nitpick. Regardless, this prospect - who features a mid-90s fastball, slider, and change-up combination - is deserving of a promotion.
3B/SS German Duran | 5-10 185 | 8/84 | Texas Rangers | Double-A
German Duran, who is of Mexican descent but was born in Fort Worth, is another prospect who was virtually unknown before the 2007 minor league season began. He was drafted out of Texas Christian University in the sixth round by Texas in 2005. Give credit to Texas' scouting department, as Duran has done nothing but hit in his short career. Last season in Advanced A-Ball, Duran hit .284/.331/.446, which was good but not great. A further look into the numbers, though, showed developing power (31 doubles, 13 homers), some speed (15 steals) and promising bat control (89 strikeouts in 457 at-bats). This season, Duran has clearly broken out at .311/.365/.542. In 299 at-bats, Duran has hit 19 doubles and 16 homers. He has also kept his strikeouts down to 48. Duran has smoked left-handed pitchers to the tune of .364/.429/.648 and he has driven in 31 runs in 92 at-bats with runners in scoring position. One weakness would be his patience, as Duran has walked only 24 times.
OF Michael Saunders | 6-4 205 | 11/86 | Seattle Mariners | Advanced A-Ball
The U.S. Roster
I take great pride in seeing fellow Canadians making good in professional baseball and Michael Saunders is on pace to join the likes of Justin Morneau, Jason Bay and Russell Martin in the big leagues... just give him a couple years. It's hard to know, though, just how much the former third baseman has improved this season as he is playing in the hitter's haven of High Desert. This season, Saunders is hitting .302/.401/.492 with 12 homers in 325 at-bats. He has also stolen 22 bases, while walking an impressive 49 times and striking out an alarming 81 times. Last year, Saunders struggled to hit in A-Ball with a line of .240/.329/.345. So is 2007 a result of a young, toolsy player making adjustments or of a hitter taking advantage of his environment? His home/road splits are .313/.425/.467 and .291/.379/.514. My suggestion: Be optimistic with an undertone of cynicism until mid-2008.
RHP Collin Balester | 6-5 190 | 6/86 | Washington Nationals | Double-A
My two favorite athletes out of Huntington Beach, California are UFC fighter Tito Ortiz (despite his disappointing draw with Rashad Evans at UFC 73 on Saturday night) and surfer-turned-hurler Collin Balester. The 21-year-old is still raw as a pitcher and learning to control his pitches, but his potential is intriguing. The Nationals' development staff made some changes to Balester's delivery last year and he lost three to four miles per hour off his fastball and struggled. Late in the season, they allowed him to return to his old ways with success and he has carried that momentum into this season. After posting a 5.20 ERA in Advanced A-Ball last season, Balester has improved to a 3.74 mark this season against better competition. He has, though, allowed too many hits with 103 in 98.2 innings. After walking 53 in 117.2 innings in 2006, Balester has allowed only 25 free passes in 98.2 innings this season. He has also fanned 77 batters with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, plus curve and developing change-up. Given Washington's lack of pitching at the Major League level, Balester could be in the majors by the end of the season.
2B Adrian Cardenas | 6-0 185 | 10/87 | Philadelphia Phillies | A-Ball
Adrian Cardenas is certainly not an unknown. He was the 37th overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft and was also named Baseball America's High School Player of the Year that same season. But he also doesn't get the respect he deserves as perhaps the best minor league second basemen in the game. It's just too bad he has one of the best second basemen in the majors playing ahead of him in Chase Utley. Cardenas signed quickly after being drafted in 2006 and made his debut in the Gulf Coast League that same season. He hit .318/.384/.442 with two homers and 13 stolen bases. He also walked 17 times and struck out 28 times in 154 at-bats. This season in Lakewood, Cardenas has built upon those numbers and displayed more power. So far this season in 296 at-bats, he has hit .307/.366/.449. Cardenas has added 19 doubles, seven homers and 15 stolen bases. He has walked 26 times and struck out only 45 times. The left-handed batter has struggled to hit with power against lefties (.338 slugging) but he has maintained a solid batting average (.297).
So, faithful readers, what players in your favorite organizations were left off of the Futures Game's rosters? Click the 'comment' button below and let us know why you think they are destined for future stardom.