Friday, 18 July 2003
The Futures All
If Major League Baseball’s Annual
All-Star Game is a present, then I’m the kid who sits on the floor
playing with the wrapping paper. This year’s game was pretty good,
but for the most part, when you get right down to it, the All-Star
tilt is usually a snooze. I like the Homerun Derby. But a guy like
me gets positively starry eyed over the Futures Game.
The Future’s Game is quite possibly the best idea Major League
Baseball has had in the last 50 years. It’s almost as if Major
League Baseball saw the increasing popularity of Minor League
Baseball, and the increasing fascination of it’s fan base with
developing young stars, and decided to use that to market both their
future stars, and the sport itself, in an effort to grow the game ….
That couldn’t be. Now I’m just talking nonsense. (What was I
thinking? And shouldn’t it be played on Wednesday Night?)
But happy accident or not, the Futures Game is always one of the
highlights of the summer for me.
I am a moderate in the stat analysis vs. baseball savvy ground war.
I started as a baseball guy, and in the last 10+ years, I have
learned to appreciate, embrace, and integrate the numbers into my
I like to think of myself as hybrid.
I live in New England and there is a full palette of minor baseball
available to me. I see a lot of players, but I can’t see all of the
players that play around me and there are Texas League guys, and PCL
guys who I’m just not going to get to see play unless I can con
someone into sending me a tape. For me, the Futures Game is a chance
to “lay my hands” on players who, to this point, I’ve only been able
to examine remotely with stats.
It’s a feast for the baseball guy in me.
So I hid all of the stats, and the prospect sheets with player’s
histories, and splits, and indicators, and I decided, as I always
do, to simply sit and watch the game.
I just wanted to see how these kids looked and played.
And seeing that someone will actually pay me to do it (great country
America, huh?) I figured I’d share my notes with you.
So the rules were that I couldn’t look up anything about the player,
except age and maybe height and weight. If I didn’t know it already,
or couldn’t figure it out by watching the kid, it wasn’t important
for this exercise.
These are impressions that come strictly from what I saw. I did not
look up their histories or indicators to test my impressions before
I wrote this. I wanted to just note pure reaction.
Now this is one game. And this particular game was pitching heavy.
The pitchers dominated the hitters. You simply can’t form any
long-term conclusions about a player based on this game, or any one
game, of course.
The players are pumped and/or nervous. They are in unfamiliar
surroundings, playing with people they never met until 24 hours
before. It’s not a true test, especially for hitters, and especially
in games like this one.
In two of the past Futures Games, I have been on site, and seen BP
and that helps fill out a report on a hitter. You can hear and see
how the ball comes off his bat and get a better idea of his
personality. I wasn’t there this year, so all I have to use is the
game itself, which is little more than a peep show in terms of the
Still there are certain things you can see, in all the players,
things that you can take away with you, and add to the stats to help
fill out your picture on a player.
I watched the game live and scribbled some notes. I watched the game
again on tape and made some more notes. It’s all stream of
consciousness. But here are some of the things I saw:
LHP Neal Cotts (CHW) – Came over the Foulke/Koch deal …
Fastball: 87-89 (topped at 92), slider, and/or hard curve (79), not
a lot of vertical movement on this pitch … Pitched inside very well
especially on left-handers … Motion is a hair past the range of
control to try and generate velocity, which probably contributes to
his control issues. I don’t think he’s quite ready. He needs a third
pitch, more drop on his breaking stuff and pitch that changes the
hitter’s field of vision. Serviceable velocity with little movement.
He also needs to repeat his motion better. Needs time and more
tools, I think. But I know his command has been good in the minors
so I won’t put much stock in today. But I do think he might struggle
a bit if you see him before next September, which is very likely.
RHP Rich Harden (Oak) – I loved him before this game. After
his inning of work, I wanted to have his babies … Free and
deceptively easy delivery produces mid-90’s fastball (several 97s, a
98). Can live up in the zone if he wants, climbs the ladder on
hitters … 85 MPH shallow breaking pitch (change, maybe?), not great
but the 10-mph separation from his fastball makes it more effective
… He definitely got better as the inning wore on. He was tight in
the first few pitches. Rich threw a much better curve to Dave Kelton
later in the inning at 85, sharp break, good drop, basically 1:00
o’clock to 7:00 o’clock. Those were two of only three off-speed
pitches thrown … Loved his motion. Command was a bit shaky this
outing, he could have been a bit finer, but it looked like he was
just a bit over excited. He threw several pitches well of his
target. I’d like to see his lower body built up a little, but that
will come. Can’t wait to see him with the A’s. Deserving of the
OF Grady Sizemore (Cle) - Upright stance, quiet swing, quick
bat … Not a lot of head movement. Grady bounced single up the middle
on low, 96 mph FB in his first AB … Took a mistake pitch from Song
in his third AB and blasted it to the RF bleachers. Narrowed his
zone on the first pitch he saw, got the fastball over the plate his
was hoping for, and jumped on it. Nice theory, recognition, and
RHP John Van Benschoten (Pit) – Tall, powerful, build.
Fastball around 91. Curve at 80 mph, good drop. Everything was down
and mostly inside. He made two mistake pitches in the middle of the
plate but got away with them. Nice body, good motion. Not a ton of
velocity, but I think there’s more there to be had with a little
refinement and pitching maturity. Saw one curve basically, and it
was pretty good. I liked his location and penchant to stay down in
the zone. It’s still early in terms of his pitching career. He is
good now and still has a lot of growth potential. If they can coax 3
more MPH out of him and teach him an effective change. He’ll be
3B Andy Marte (Atl) – Good bat speed. Got through an
armpit-high 91 mph FB and lifted it to CF. Impressive to catch up to
it … Bad pitch to swing at, but showed some talent to get it to CF.
RHP Edgar Gonzalez (ARZ) – Fastball at 90-92 (topped at 93),
with a nice tail, in on right handed hitters. Good sharp movement
but not too late and the break is flat (horizontal) which will work
against him in the Majors. Changes speeds well. He threw his
fastball in two different gears. His change checked in at 81 with
the same running movement towards RH hitters. He did show one
breaking pitch that moves the other way and looked around 90. I
would have liked to have seen that one a couple more times. Needs
time and needs to use that curve more, but his movement will get him
to the Majors.
C Joe Mauer (Min) – I’ve seen a lot of him in New Britain.
Lanky right now but should fill out well. One of his major problems
is he’s just too good a catcher. He should be moved to first but
he’s so good behind the plate (great feet), it’s a difficult to
imagine it will happen. Quick hands and swing, slight upper cut,
willing to go the other way. Likes to swing and doesn’t like to
wait, but his zone command is good and getting better. Power will
come when his 20-year-old body fills out. Another one who deserves
OF Dave Krynzel (Mil) – Tough AB in the first inning, fought
hard. I liked Dave’s afternoon in a “he just looks like a
ballplayer” kind of way. He’s not an All-Star caliber player I don’t
think (I’m talking MLB level), but he has some speed, controls his
strike zone, understand the concept of battling in his AB, and
working the pitcher, and he was very solid in center (good
instincts, good techniques). Could probably help the Brewers OF now,
and should be a contributory MLB regular eventually … Potential
leadoff hitter in the Majors.
RHP Gavin Floyd (Phil) - Holy Cow! 6’6”, 215 pounds at 20
years old … Fastball at 91-93 (a 94). It’s tails slightly towards
right-handers, but not as much as you like … I saw an 83 MPH change
and then an 86 later in the inning. Both were up where everything
else was down … 10-mph separation is a good start, but the change
needs time ... Good clean, disciplined, delivery for a young pitcher
of his size and it looks like he repeats it well already, but his
command is raw … He snapped a very sharp curve at Alexis Gomez that
even beat catcher Joe Mauer. It was 78 mph and bit hard. A scary
curve ball. Exciting. It was the only one of those he threw. Great
size. He already has a good motion installed and he’ll gain some
velocity. At 94-95 with that curve on a leash, and a reasonable
change, he will be tough. A good-looking prospect.
RHP - Seung Song (Mon) – From Boston in the Cliff Floyd deal
last year. I saw a lot of him in Lowell a couple of years ago when
he worked for the Red Sox. His calling card is a nice 12-6 curve
that he can throw as low as the mid-70s. The problem is that his FB
sits in the high 80s (87-88, but one supposedly at 94, that’s what
the gun said anyway, if so it was a career best) so the separation
in velocity isn’t as good as you’d expect and his curve rolls more
than snaps. Song also throws that curve a lot, so hitters will begin
to time it. He also has a straight change, but one of them showed a
tail in to right-handers. The breaking stuff fools low-level players
but he may find the going more difficult as the hitters get more
sophisticated at the higher levels. And they’ll probably rake his
fastball in the majors, which will render it useless and therefore
undermine his curve. I have my doubts about this kid.
2B Ramon Nivar (Tex) – Doubled, left field line, first pitch
he saw … plus speed.
RHP Zack Greinke (KC) – In my office it sounded like I was
watching a fireworks show … “ooooh … aaaah …. oooohhh … aahhhh” … I
watched Zack’s inning of work about 4 times. Not much top end
velocity (88-89 with a tail in on right-handers, and I saw a 91 and
92) but he has an array of plus breaking pitches. He threw two
absolutely ungodly breaking pitches in the inning, a 74-mph 2- to- 8
o’clock, and a 58-mph job that was worth at least a warning from the
physics police. He threw breaking pitches at 88, 85, 81, 74, 64, and
58 mph in the inning. Yes… the gun said 58 mph and I believed it.
Zack has a smooth, mature delivery, and he has a clue on the mound.
He’s knows what he’s doing and he’s very composed. It’s funny how
you can just see what’s going on in a player’s head isn’t it? Zack
was totally under control out there and the wheels were turning
every second. I’m not making a comparison here (so don’t say I did),
but if you haven’t seem him, the only way I can describe this outing
is … think Greg Maddux playing whiffleball. Remember how I loved
Barry Zito? I love Zack. And remember, I’m not big on speed and
location guys. I like power pitchers. But this one is going to be
RHP Chin-Hui Tsao (Col) – This guy is Seung Song 2.0 …
Sharper breaking pitches and more top end velocity (91-94). He
absolutely froze Chris Burke with a tremendous 74-mph curve that was
a thing of beauty … Nice change with command .and …(oooops, sorry
there’s another one of those curves! But J.J.Hardy golfed it for a
single) … Good motion. Good command. It looks like he’s quite a ways
along in terms of pitching maturity (he’s polished). The problem is
that all I can think is “Will the breaking stuff actually break in
2B Chris Burke (Hou) – Best facial expressions of the game.
He’s still trying to regain full use of his knees after the curve
that Tsao punched him out with. I’ll bet he’s still looking at the
RHP Clint Nageotte (Sea) - His first fastball was 93, and
over the middle of the plater. Alexis Rios deposited it in the RF
bleachers. His next few fastballs were 93-94. I saw a nice sharp
80-mph curve, an 84-mph slide with a good bite and another one with
better bite and big break. He showed one 95-mph fastball with a nice
tail. Clint’s slider really caught my attention. Lot’s of break,
sharp, and late. He kept the ball down. Clint will be a power
pitcher with a nasty breaking pitch. He looks like he could fill
out, eventually forming a Clemens of Schilling-type of body. His
fastball looks very heavy and with that sharp slide and a change (to
be installed?), he could be nasty. Very promising.
CF Alexis Rios (Tor) – Went with Clint Nagoette’s first
offering, a 93-mph fastball over the middle outside of the plate and
took it out to right-center. This kid is 6’5” and only 185. He’s 22
so you have to figure he can put of a few pounds. Alexis is a free
swinger but here he showed he can kill a mistake and do it to the
opposite field to boot. He hasn’t shown a ton of power yet but this
shows me he has some power potential.
OF Felix Pie (CHC) – Hey an 18-year-old Dominican that
actually looks 18! Nothing you can tell in one AB on a kid like this
except the same impression I had of a young Rafael Furcal the first
time I saw him, specifically … The kid looks like he belongs. He
wasn’t awed or overmatched by the experience. Tall, lanky, his swing
is going to have to be shortened and simplified, but it’s too early
to even worry about that.
RHP Denny Bautista (Fla) – This distant relative of Pedro and
Ramon Martinez was the pleasant surprise of the day. He’s almost
scrawny at 20 years old, and his motion is a bit jerky, but he
throws in the mid-90s (mostly 94 this day with a 96) with an
intermittent tail. He showed an ineffective straight change at 87
(not enough velocity separation). Denny threw a very sharp curve. My
wife though I was nuts because I watched 4 seconds of tape about 12
times to see his fingers. Pedro’s movement especially on his change,
comes (at least partially, but I think mostly) from having
freakishly long fingers that will actually bow backwards like a
banana when he straightens them out. After watching that segement of
tape more than the Zapruder film (“back and to the left … back and
to the left”), I can now conclude that Denny has long fingers as
well. Add a couple years, twenty pounds, a few more pitching
discussions with Pedro and Ramon at the Martinez family outings and
you are going to have an absolutely filthy pitcher on your hands. He
finished his inning with two Tom Gordon-esque 12-to-6, 74-mph
benders that were very pretty. This kid is something special.
3B Kevin Youkilis (Bos.) – He walked … imagine that. You know
how if you miss-match the poles of a pair magnets they repel each
other? Kevin can somehow create this effect on the strike zone. I
can’t explain it. But I shake my head at Kevin and have since
Lowell. If a guy has below average power and speed, can he
contribute to an MLB lineup at third base, even if he posts a .400+
OBP? I guess we’ll find out next year, won’t we? “They” say he’ll
develop power, and he might, but “they” also said that about Sean
Burroughs and I didn’t believe it then either.
1B Ryan Howard (Phil) – Just look at him! (Oh you can’t …
sorry). Stocky, powerful upper body, great bat speed (but a long
swing). Probably can hit the ball a country mile, but his whiffed
this time. Not terribly selective in this AB. He goes on my watch
RHP John Maine (Bal) – I’ve been thinking that at 23 years
old, I have to discount his A-ball performance a bit. His command
has been good, but his stuff just isn’t compelling. This day his
fastball settled at 90 mph, give or take a foot. He threw one
rolling curve at 83, but only got to throw to one batter. I still
reserve judgment. Let’s see him at AA before we go totally nuts.
RHP Preston Larrison (Det.) – Huh???? Sponsors exemption?
C Justin Huber (NYM) – Gunned down J.J. Hardy with an
excellent throw. Great footwork. There was more tail on the ball
than you’d like but given that he was catching an unfamiliar pitcher
(Denny Bautista) with lots of movement it was a great throw. How
great would it have been to hear the conversation on the mound
between Huber (Australian) and Denny Bautista (Dominican) in their
inning? Get Luis Tiant (Cuban) out there as pitching coach and you
could feed a pack of translators and linguists for a year. At least
Chin-Hui Tsao wasn’t pitching.
LHP Travis Blackley (Sea) – Another Australian. Crikey … Good
range of speeds from an 88 mph fastball to 85-mph slider to 81 and
79-mph changes. But that’s about all I saw that I liked. Steve
Smitherman (OF Reds) took his high 78-mph change out of the ballpark
for the win. Nothing compelling here.
LHP Jorge De La Rosa (Bos) - He’ll be overlooked by most
publications but Jorge has some stuff. You always pay attention to a
lefty who gets in the mid-nineties (94). He has a plus (if still
inconsistent) change and a plus curve to boot. Jorge has a lot of
speeds to show you, works inside, and has developed a nice
repeatable delivery. The Sox are stretching him out to start and he
has a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling.
LHP Royce Ring (NYM) – Came to the Mets in the Robbie Alomar
deal and may be headed towards the end of the pen now that Armando
Benitez is gone. He’s been raised as a closer in the White Sox
organization and the Mets will hold open auditions the rest of the
way, so Ring may arrive at any time. He’s ready. Royce throws in the
high 80’s (saw a couple 90-mph offerings) and has a good curve that
separates nicely at 75-76-mph. He may not have enough velocity to
survive as a lefty closer, but he’ll settle into the Mets pen in a
post-seventh inning role of some sort.
Zack Greinke was the apple of my eye this day, but Rich
Harden did nothing to lower his stock as the game’s best pitching
prospect. Denny Bautista was the hidden jewel of the day and Gavin
Floyd, John Van Benschoten, Clint Nageotte, and Chin-Hui Tsao all
showed why they are regarded so highly. It was definitely a pitchers
game and there is definitely a wave of good your pitching headed our