The Futures so bright
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
The notion behind the Futures Game was to show that baseball's youthful talent is rising, a contrast to those old-timers' games that implied the golden days were, well, golden. Bud Selig understood and pushed for this game. And while it doesn't draw crowds of 50,000 or Wimbledon ratings, it proved to be a huge success in promoting the sport because it showed just how many superb young players are on the horizon.
Next year, the game will be played on Monday and will feature the Future Stars against major-league rookies. But what we saw Sunday was worth noting.
|Left-hander Ryan Anderson stands tall as a top pitching prospect for Seattle.|
Although for nearly six years there was a declining percentage of left-handed starters -- particularly in the American League -- this game showed off a number of outstanding left-handed pitching prospects. Cleveland's 19-year-old wunderkind, C.C. Sabathia, brought the biggest raves. The 6-foot-7 lefty threw in the 90s with two outstanding other pitches and a rare athleticism.
Seattle's Ryan Anderson was touched for a home run by the Rangers' terrific prospect, first baseman Carlos Pena, but looked very good and very close to the majors. As for that problem with lefties, who are hitting 240 points higher against him than righties this season, the Space Needle said, "I'm still learning to pitch to left-handers, because I didn't face one left-handed batter in high school."
Oakland's Barry Zito looked ready to step into the big-league rotation; Seattle's Craig Anderson, an Australian Jamie Moyer clone, showed command and a great change; Kansas City's Chris George lived up to his billing as a young Tom Glavine, and the Padres' Mike Bynum showed off his nasty slider. That's a lot of good left-handed pitching coming into the American League.
For all the lefties, the single most impressive pitcher was Florida teenager Josh Beckett. Wow.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see a couple of very promising kids. Colorado's Chin-Hui Tsao ("The real deal," was one Rockies official's description, "with an unhittable power slider") and Pittsburgh's 19-year old Bobby Bradley, he of the Blylevenesque curveball.
Sean Burroughs was the game MVP with three hits and showed just how intelligent he is. Some people are worried that he has hit just one homer for Double-A Mobile. Forget it. That's a big jump for a 19-year old, and he's starting to use the whole field, stay within himself and let the power come. He has a big-time presence.
The show was put on by Blue Jays 19-year old shortstop Felipe Lopez, a Robbie Alomar/Derek Jeter talent. Lopez made three great defensive plays, can swing the bat, and if he comes along, might be ready to step in when Alex Gonzalez hits the free-agent trail after this season.
Corey Patterson reeks of star, and has the modesty, intelligence and work habits to build on it. Cubs fans, get ready.
Tampa's Josh Hamilton reeks of star as well, and not because of those size 19 shoes. He can hit, run and throw, and while no shoe company makes anything bigger than an 18, he gets an 18 from Nike and stretches them out -- you can be sure that they'll make a size mold for this kid. Hey, the mold costs between $25,000 and $50,000. Josh Hamilton is a multimillion dollar player.
Drew Henson is also the real deal, but he will be back at Michigan on Aug. 1. "I wish I had more time to play baseball and get more at-bats," Henson says. He has looked so good that while the Juan Gonzalez deal was pending, George Steinbrenner called him and told him that if he'd give up football, he'd take him out of the trade and fix the contract. But Henson wants to see where this football season goes.
Pena clearly is the Rangers first baseman of the future, be it next summer or 2001. He and second baseman Jason Romano are good, and extraordinary people.
How good is A's catcher Miguel Olivo's arm? He recently got clocked at throwing a ball to second base at 95 mph.
On the trade front
There are very few GMs in Atlanta. Syd Thrift is here, trying to trade some of Baltimore's veterans, although he'd like to keep Mike Bordick and make him the veteran player they want to build around.
Thrift came close to a deal for Scott Erickson with Boston, but the Red Sox wouldn't part with right-handed pitcher Paxton Crawford. The O's think Tomo Ohka and Sunny Kim are essentially 4A pitchers --good enough to get out AAA hitters because they have command, but not third or fourth starters in the majors because they lack one out pitch. And while they'd like Brian Rose, they won't do Rose for Erickson even-up.
But some in Baltimore want to deal Erickson -- to get the pitcher away from Sidney Ponson. Erickson and Ponson drew the ire of the Oriole community when they took an all-night limo trip from New York to Baltimore for a Metallica concert. Ponson was pitching the next afternoon and got hammered.
One problem with any deal involving Erickson is the clause that states that he gets a money bump when Mike Mussina signs a new contract and passes him in salary, which will happen.
Braves GM John Schuerholz says, "I do think we'll do something, but I don't know if it will be for a starter (Andy Ashby?), a reliever (John Wetteland?) or both. Kevin McGlinchy's velocity isn't back on his rehab, but Luis Rivera is starting to throw well again. There are a lot of clubs that watch Jason Marquis and wonder why he's not starting.
Rangers GM Doug Melvin and St. Louis's Walt Jocketty are vacationing together for the break in Kennebunkport, Maine. They will have lunch Monday with George Bush at the Walker Point compound. The former president remains an avid baseball fan and he had lunch with Jocketty, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan in Houston earlier this season.
Some scouts at the prospects game were musing about minor-league players, and it was asked who has the best arm right now in the minors. "We all heard that Craig House of the Rockies (Double-A) consistently is at 100 to 102 on the gun," one scout says. "Some feel he's another Rudy Seanez, and they'd better get him up there quick, but he's the story of the summer."
The Indians will spend the break looking for another starter, talking to several clubs, including Tampa Bay about Steve Trachsel.
Before the Reds won two out of three against the Indians, Jim Bowden called around and let it be known everyone is available.Other teams had considerable interest in Pete Harnisch, Denny Neagle, Steve Parris and others, along with the rumors of possibly moving Barry Larkin if he isn't close to a contract. Bowden is sitting in his office for the break, but he sent scout Jim Thrift to Richmond to look at George Lombard and Rivera, which gives a hint.
Bobby Valentine keeps insisting to his front office that he doesn't need another shortstop, although the Mets have talked to clubs about role shortstops like Oakland's Jorge Velandia.
The Cardinals are not after Charles Johnson, but would like a catching compliment to Mike Matheny -- a player like Bill Haselman, Tom Prince or Scott Hatteberg -- and a left-hander and right-hander in the pen to give Dave Veres more support.
The team that has gotten the least respect for a good team is Anaheim, six games over .500 at the break despite Ken Hill, Kent Bottenfield and Tim Belcher being a combined 10-14 with a 6.49 ERA for their combined $14.2 million. If they could get lucky with a couple of pitchers in the second half, watch out, because that lineup is one of the best.
If Garret Anderson can hit 26 homers to go with his underrated defensive play, imagine what his average can be when you realize he batted .215 against righties for half a season.
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