At the Futures Game, Seeing Stars Before They’re Stars

Maxim is at the MLB All-Star celebration in Cincinnati all week. First up, the future. 

Take a breath, baseball fans. The first “half” of the season (it’s actually well past the halfway point, but whatever) is over and it’s time to reflect on how we got here. For me, it can be summed up in a word—rookies.

The first three months of the 2015 MLB season were teeming with one-time prospects making the transition into real life major leaguers. It began in spring training when Joc Pederson won a job in the Dodgers outfield. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant arrived in the bigs not long after. Then the deluge: Addison Russell, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Correa, Joey Gallo, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Francisco Lindor. And that’s only if you’re talking elite prospects. Guys like Carlos Rodon, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Lance McCullers and Andrew Heaney are in a tier below, but have all proven themselves ready for the show.

As Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh put it after doing way more research than I would have, “it’s not often that the first two months of a season put on such a prospect parade.” And these prospects aren’t just happy to be there. Pederson and Bryant have a combined 32 home-runs and are playing in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Correa, who’s third among shortstops in wOBA, a stat that measures a player’s overall offensive value, should be joining them. Syndergaard and McCullers are fifth and 12th respectively in FIP, a stat that measures pitchers based on only what they can control.

All of this is to say that this year’s rookies have been outstanding, which is why I was so psyched to get a look at the next wave of preternaturally talented phenoms at the Futures Game yesterday. The Futures Game, which serves as the official kickoff of MLB All-Star weekend, is a celebration of minor league studs with a slightly nationalistic flare. A group of prospects from the U.S.A. plays a group of prospects from the rest of the world and since most fans know little about any of the players, they all cheer for America.

Yesterday they had a lot to cheer for. The red, white and blue blooded won 10-1 in a game that was over by the fifth inning. And even though the flood of top prospects to the majors depleted the player pool for the game, there were still a few stars of tomorrow left to light up the scoreboard.

Notably, Kyle Schwarber, the 19th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America and the Futures Game MVP. Schwarber, who got a cup of coffee with the Cubs last month, was 1-3 with a triple. He also gunned down a would-be base stealer and delivered a memorable dugout interview. His Team U.S.A. teammate Josh Bell, a first baseman in the Pirates system and the game’s 64th best prospect, hit a two-run homer, and baseball’s seventh best prospect Lucas Giolito, who plays in the Nationals system, pitched two scoreless innings after starting.

Don’t get too caught up in the results of the Futures Game though. Even the players who stunk could become MLB MVPs. Take Bryant, who was 0-3 with 2 Ks in last year’s game. Or Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt, who were a combined 0-8 in the 2011 game. Or Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher alive, who gave up a homer to some guy named  James Van Ostrand in the 2007 Futures Game. Point being, guys like Rafael Devers and Manuel Margot, who were both 0-2 with a strikeout, and who are both incredibly young, and who are both top 100 prospects, could still be stars one day.

The Futures Game is a slightly sleepy way to start the All-Star festivities. Fans are there more for the spectacle than the game itself. They don’t know the players, they don’t have a rooting interest in the game (unless they’re xenophobes) and they’re more concerned with buying souvenirs than watching at-bats. But there’s still one really good reason to attend a Futures Game, and that’s the ability to look back at the roster six years later and say to yourself, “I saw HIM play at the Futures Game? I should have been paying more attention.” 

Photos by Elsa/Getty Images