Home runs by MVP Joey Gallo, Javier Baez highlight MLB Futures Game
The star of the first All-Star Futures Game in 1999 was Alfonso Soriano, who hit two home runs in a 7-0 blowout by the World team over the United States squad. Soriano, then a Double-A shortstop in the Yankees’ system, made his major league debut that September and proceeded to hit 412 more home runs in the major leagues. It wouldn’t be a shock if the stars of the 16th annual Futures Game went on to compile similar major league home run totals. In a 3-2 win by the U.S., all but one of the runs scored on a pair of home runs by two of the most powerful hitters in the minor leagues, Cubs shortstop prospect Javier Baez, for the World team, and Rangers third base prospect Joey Gallo, for the U.S.
Gallo, whose two-run sixth-inning moonshot brought the U.S. back from the 2-1 deficit created by Baez’s opposite-field blast in the top of the same inning, was the talk of the event even before it started thanks to a pair of towering home runs he hit in batting practice. One of them shattered the windshield of a pickup truck parked on the right field concourse as part of the festivity’s product placement, recalling Yoenis Cespedes’ shot from last year’s home run derby that did the same to a truck parked near Citi Field’s home run apple.
Gallo's sixth-inning home run, officially measured at 419 feet, was a no-doubter off Astros prospect Michael Feliz that drove in 19-year-old Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford, who had singled and stolen second earlier in the inning. Though that was his only hit in four at-bats, the first two of which ended in strikeouts, Gallo took home the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
Because of their timing and the outcome of the game, Gallo’s shot overshadowed Baez’s, but the earlier home run may have been even more impressive. The first pitch Baez saw in the game, which he entered in the bottom of the fifth inning as a defensive replacement for the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, was a curveball away from arguably the best pitching prospect on either roster, Nationals lefty Lucas Giolito. Baez saw it, waited on it, and launched it nearly as far the opposite way over Target Field’s 23-foot right-field wall, for the World team’s only runs of the game. Baez struck out in his only other at-bat of the game.
Left out of the power display was Baez’s future Cubs teammate, third baseman Kris Bryant, whose 31 home runs thus far this season are tied with Gallo’s for the most in the majors or minors to this point. Hitting ahead of Gallo, Bryant struck out twice and popped to center before drawing a walk in his final at-bat.
However, Bryant, whose father was a hitting coach to Bryant and Gallo while the two were growing up in Las Vegas, did predict Gallo would go deep in the game during batting practice, and wasn’t far off in calling the location of the shot, either.
Outside of those two big blasts, pitching dominated the game. Of the twenty pitchers to appear in the game, the most impressive might have been Marlins righty Domingo German, who faced Bryant, Gallo, and Mariners prospect D.J. Peterson in the second inning. German fell behind Bryant 3-1, but ran the count full by getting Bryant, who was perhaps over aggressive in this opportunity to display his talent on a national stage, to foul off one fastball, then blew a mid-90s fastball past him at the knees for the first out. German then struck out Gallo swinging at a nasty slider, which dove down and in on the lefty hitter, before getting Peterson, who has 21 home runs of his own this season, to ground out to shortstop.
Also worth mentioning is 17-year-old Dodgers prospect Julio Urias, who was the youngest player on either roster by more than a year and a half and worked a perfect fifth inning for the World team, striking out one.
In the field, Padres right field prospect Hunter Renfroe showed off a strong arm. Twins prospect Kennys Vargas, a massive switch-hitter whose left-handed swing has drawn comparisons to that of David Ortiz, impressed with his good hands at first base, scooping a pair of throws. The latter of those came to complete an impressive play by Angels shortstop prospect Jose Rondon, playing second base, ranging to his right, and throwing across his body to nail the speedy Crawford in the eighth inning.
Unfortunately, the lack of offense -- only three half innings saw the team batting collect multiple hits and there were just two walks in the entire game -- and the short outings for the pitchers, none of whom recorded more than three outs, limited the game’s potential as a showcase on all fronts. There were few difficult or even compelling plays, and the pitchers weren’t forced to go deep into their repertoires or show an ability to vary their approach as they pitched deeper into a lineup, never mind turn one over.
Outside of the two home runs and a rocky third inning by Giants lefty Edwin Escobar (three hits, including a double to deep left field by Reds left field prospect Jesse Winker, who came around to score the game’s first run, and a hit by pitch), there was little to sink one’s teeth into despite the remarkable talent on display in terms of both quantity and quality.
Such is the nature of All-Star contests, and it’s to the credit of the game’s many pitchers, including Tigers righty Jake Thompson, who got the win for striking out the only two men he faced for the last out of the sixth and the first out of the seventh, and Mets righty Noah Synergaard, who started last year’s game for the U.S. at Citi Field and closed this one by working around a two-out single by Rockies shortstop prospect Rosell Herrera for a three-out save in the ninth.
Herrera, who singled in both of his plate appearances, was one of just two hitters to reach base twice in the game. The other was Canada-born Blue Jays center field prospect Dalton Pompey -- the World team’s leadoff hitter. Pompey singled in the sixth and scored on Baez’s home run. He then singled again in the eighth and stole second only to be stranded. Pompey was 2-for-4 on the game.
As for when we’ll next see this year’s Future’s Games participants in a major league park, it’s worth noting a whopping twenty players from last year’s game have since made their major league debuts including the U.S. Teams’ Eddie Butler, Garin Checchini, C.J. Cron, Matt Davidson, Billy Hamilton, Chris Owings, Jimmy Nelson, George Springer, Taijuan Walker, Kolten Wong and Christian Yelich and the World Team’s Arismendy Alcantara, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Bethancourt, Rafael Montero, Gregory Polanco, Andre Rienzo, Enny Romero (was back in the game this year for the third time), Henry Urrutia and Yordano Ventura.
None of those twenty made the All-Star team this year, but since the first Futures Game in 1999, a dozen players did make major league All-Star teams the year after playing in the futures game, three of them -- the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, the Orioles’ Manny Machado and the Brewers’ Jean Segura -- doing so last year. Don’t be shocked more names are added to that list next year, with Bryant’s and Baez’s among the most likely.