Even in this day of advanced scouting, specialized prospect websites and a more informed fan base, many Futures Game participants go unheard of until they reach the majors, if they get that far. The kickoff to All-Star Weekend for the past 15 years allows prospects to play on the big stage, despite many being years away from making their Major League debuts.
You don’t need to know every prospect on the Target Field diamond Sunday afternoon, but here’s one from each team you should keep an eye on.
U.S. team: Lucas Giolito, SP, Washington Nationals (Class-A Hagerstown Suns) - 2014 stats: 65 2/3 IP, 4-2, 2.47 ERA, 72 SO, 24 BB
Entering his senior year of high school, Giolito was considered a good bet to go No. 1 in the 2012 MLB draft. However, after straining his ulnar collateral ligament before his senior season, he was pegged as too much of a wild card for the top pick. The Nationals took advantage of his fall and selected him at No. 16.
Even after having Tommy John surgery later that year, the Nationals' pick of Giolito is looking like a strong one. Nearly two years removed from the surgery, Giolito says he is 100 percent, though he had to change his pitching style because of the surgery.
“My arm definitely feels great for what it is now, but I’ve made adjustments as far as my pitching goes,” Giolito says. “I use my body more when I pitch versus just sort of flinging my arm, and I feel like I’ve made strides there.”
Former scout Dave Perkin said Giolito was one of the best high school pitchers he had ever seen, but he also has some concerns about Giolito’s delivery.
“Opening (his) hip and shoulder too soon may reduce Giolito's separation and hinder his velocity,” Perkin says. “The early opening of the hip (and the shoulder with it) and the severe tilted angle of his shoulders causes his arm to drag behind himself as he releases the pitch.”
Giolito has the “ideal template” for a right-handed pitching prospect, though.
“He is big, strong and throws hard," Perkin says.
The biggest concern with Giolito is simply his lack of professional innings. Because of the Tommy John surgery, Giolito has thrown only 104 1/3 innings between rookie league, low-A and A-ball. Even with the lack of innings, his command is coming along.
“Velocity is meaningless without command, and he is starting to develop that nicely,” Perkins says.
The biggest challenge for Giolito this year has been making adjustments, he says. He admits to having highs and lows in his outings this year, highlighted by his last two starts. Both came against the Lakewood Tigers. In the first, he gave up just one run in seven innings, but in the second, he “wasn’t able to make an adjustment pitching-wise until later in the game,” he says, and gave up four runs on seven hits in four innings.
Giolito says he’s happy his friend and Rangers’ prospect Joey Gallo is on his team, so he doesn’t have to face him. Gallo and Giolito headline a star-studded U.S. roster and are joined by Noah Syndergaard, Kris Bryant and Corey Seager as the top prospects on the team.
World team: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians (Double-A Akron Rubberducks) - 2014 stats: 81 games, .282 average, 6 HR, 45 RBIs, 23 SB, .756 OPS
This will be Lindor’s third straight Futures Game, and he’s sick of losing (the U.S. has won the last four).
“I want to win this year,” Lindor says. “Three years in a row losing, I don’t want to lose a third one.”
When Lindor takes the field on Sunday, he’ll become just the ninth player in Futures Game history to play in three. All of them have been on the World team.
Perkin notes that Lindor’s best quality is his glove, though Lindor has a ceiling higher than just an all-defensive player.
“His talents are more nuanced and subtle than many statistical models are able to reflect,” Perkin says. “Lindor is not the type of player you add to a club; he is the type of player who provides the foundation of your club; the guy you build a team around.”
Perkin says Lindor projects as a future top-of-the-order bat, who can hit around .275 and steal some bases with league-average power, while providing Gold Glove caliber defense. Lindor says he didn’t have one single idol growing up, rather a multitude of shortstops he based his game after.
“I liked to look up to multiple players and get something out of each,” Lindor says. “Elvis Andrus, Jimmy Rollins, Barry Larkin, Omar Vizquel, great shortstops, you know? … I never was the type of person who picked one player.”
The Puerto Rican Lindor is most excited to be able to play together with his fellow countrymen again.
“I’m just looking forward to bringing those good ole times back,” he says.
Seven other Puerto Ricans, including intriguing prospects Javier Baez and Jose Berrios, join him. Other international prospects to keep an eye on include 17-year-old Julio Urias, Luis Severino, Maikel Franco, Dariel Alvarez and Gabby Guerrero, nephew of Vladimir.
The Futures Game airs on MLB Network at 5 p.m. ET.