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Breaking Down the Futures Game Hitting Prospects

The rosters for the MLB Futures Game were announced on June 26. The top prospects from the United States will square off against the best young players from around the globe on July 14 during the all-star weekend. It’s difficult to make every fan happy but the roster choices were solid — especially given the restriction preventing an organization from having more than two representatives in the game.

Some of the biggest names that are MIA include Jameson Taillon of the Pirates, Gary Sanchez of the Yankees, Nick Castellanos of the Tigers, Javier Baez and Albert Almora of the Cubs, as well as Carlos Correa and Justin Singleton of the Astros. The biggest surprise additions to the rosters include Chen-Chang Lee of the Indians, Taylor Jordan of the Nationals, Jordan Lennerton of the Tigers, Yeison Asencio of the Padres, and Joey Terdoslavich of the Braves.

Below, is a review of the offensive portion of the rosters to see which team (U.S. or World) is better represented in 2013 from a true talent perspective. We’ll then look at the pitching staffs early next week.

The Catchers:

Austin Hedges (Padres) vs Jorge Alfaro (Rangers)

Hedges is quite possibly the best healthy catching prospect in the minors with the Mets’ Travis d’Arnaud recovering from a broken foot. Since coming back from his own stint on the disabled list that cost him most of May, the Padres backstop has hit more than .320 with half of his 22 hits going for extra bases. Hedges should be ready to assume the starting catcher gig in San Diego about the time young incumbent Yasmani Grandal enters his arbitration seasons.

Alfaro isn’t quite in the upper tier of catching prospects but he could be there before too long if he can polish his overall game. His approach behind and at the plate is still raw but he has intriguing power potential. The Rangers prospect is actually repeating Low-A ball but his offensive numbers are almost identical through 70 games — aside from the jump in home run pop — which is disappointing to see.

Future Edge: Hedges (U.S.)

Josh Phegley (White Sox) vs A.J. Jimenez (Blue Jays)

Phegley and Jimenez have each faced huge odds to even reach the Futures Game. The White Sox prospect dealt with a serious health condition, while the Jays prospect is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Neither player possesses a huge ceiling but both have the potential to be solid backups or second-division starters at the big league level.

The players have very different profiles. Phegley is a decent backstop who’s tapped into his raw power in 2013. Jimenez is an above-average defender (assuming his elbow rebounds) with the ability to hit for a decent average but little-to-no power. Neither prospect has a significant roadblock ahead of him (Tyler Flowers in Chicago, J.P. Arencibia in Toronto).

Future Edge: It’s a toss up…

Christian Bethancourt (Braves)
The world team will carry three catchers in this game, while the North American squad has an extra infielder. Bethancourt is one of the best defensive catchers in the minors but his offense hasn’t shown much improvement (aside from a little more power) since he reached Double-A in 2012. The Panama native’s aggressive approach has resulted in a sub-.300 on-base average each of the past two seasons. Braves incumbent catcher Brian McCann will be a free agent at the end of the year but he’s still young and far superior to the rookie. The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez would have been a better option for this squad — or an extra infielder such as the Cubs’ Javier Baez or Astros’ Carlos Correa, although roster restrictions came into play.

The Corner Infielders:

C.J. Cron (Angels) vs Jordan Lennerton (Tigers)

The 17th overall selection in the 2011 amateur draft, Cron’s value is tied solely to his powerful bat. He hit 27 home runs in the offense-boosting California League in 2012 but he’s managed just five home runs this season. The raw power needs to show itself again in game situations because his ability to hit for average will be hampered by his slow-footed ways, and his lack of walks isn’t going to do his on-base average any favors.

Lennerton is a fish out of water. The 27-year-old Canadian was helped by the lack of prospects in Detroit’s system (although fellow Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos would have been a better option than the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton or Texas’ Joey Gallo) and the lack of quality young first basemen.

Future Edge: Cron (U.S.)

Matt Davidson (Diamondbacks) vs Maikel Franco (Phillies)

You have two solid hot corner prospects, although Davidson has a longer track record on the prospect landscape. Franco, on the other hand, is experiencing more of an upswing in value. The Diamondbacks’ prospect has flashed solid power but he strikes out a lot and won’t hit for a high average at the big league level unless he tightens up his approach at the plate. He’s made big strides in the field at third base after originally projecting as a future first baseman.

Franco, 20, has come into his own in 2013, playing at both High-A and Double-A. The young third baseman is currently hitting .319 on the year and has more extra base hits (45) than strikeouts (39). Veteran third baseman Michael Young will be a free agent at the end of the year and Franco — despite his youth — could be ready to slide into the starting gig by the end of 2014.

Future Edge: Franco (World)

Joey Gallo (Rangers) vs Miguel Sano (Twins)

With Gallo and Sano, you have two of the most powerful bats in the minor leagues. With that said, the Twins’ prospect is much more advanced at this point. He opened the year in High-A ball with a .330 batting average and 16 home runs in 56 games. Moved up to Double-A, he’s hitting just .191 in 15 games but six of his nine hits have gone for extra bases.

Gallo has 23 home runs in 75 games but is hitting just .237 with 122 strikeouts in Low-A ball, making him a poor man’s Russell Branyan. Just 19, Gallo has youth on his side but his contact skills are going to have to improve significantly before he can become a respectable Triple-A hitter, let alone a future big league star.

Future Edge: Sano (World)

The Middle Infielders:

Delino DeShields Jr. (Astros) vs Dilson Herrera (Pirates)

DeShields’ 100-plus stolen base season went almost unnoticed last year thanks to The Billy Hamilton Show. It was a huge accomplishment for the Astros prospect but he’s stumbled out of the gate in 2013 with just 18 steals in 28 attempts. On the plus side, he’s a little more well-rounded than his fellow speedster thanks to a better eye at the plate and more pop from his sturdy 5’9” frame.

Herrera is a sleeper in the Pirates system. An offensive-minded second baseman, a poor June has pulled down his overall numbers after a strong start to 2013.

Future Edge: DeShields Jr. (U.S.)

Brad Miller (Mariners) vs Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox)

Miller is a left-handed hitting machine. Splitting 2013 between Double-A and Triple-A, he’s hit for average, power and controlled the strike zone well. On the downside, he may be forced off shortstop at the big league level, although it’s not a forgone conclusion at this point. Miller was just called up to the Majors last night so he probably won’t be appearing in the Futures Game.

Bogaerts, just 20, opened up 2013 in Double-A and posted a .909 OPS in 56 games. He earned a promotion to Triple-A and could be ready to assume the Red Sox’s starting shortstop gig in 2014. Bogaerts hasn’t hit for premium power just yet but he has the raw ability to hit 20 home runs or more.

Future Edge: Bogaerts (World)

Addison Russell (Athletics) vs Francisco Lindor (Indians)

Russell got a ton of love from prospect evaluators after a very strong start to his pro career in 2012. The A’s organization may have gotten a little too caught up in the hype and a 2013 assignment to High-A ball may have been a little too much too soon. To his credit, he’s made adjustments and has had a killer June.

Lindor does a little bit of everything (expect hit for power) and he’s an extremely good defender at shortstop. A potential gold glover, the Indians prospect also offers offensive skills and is hitting more than .300 with some gap power, an equal number of walks to strikeouts, and 18 steals in 22 attempts. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him at the big league level by the end of 2014.

Future Edge: Lindor (World)

Kolten Wong (Cardinals) vs Arismendy Alcantara (Cubs)

The 22nd overall selection from the 2011 draft, Wong is probably MLB ready but the emergence of Matt Carpenter at the big league level puts a damper on the prospect’s ETA. He’ll bide his time in Triple-A while adding polish to his game.

Alcantara can play both middle infield positions. He provides some surprising gap power while hitting for a solid average and providing good base running. The Dominican native has turned himself into a very intriguing prospect.

Future Edge: Wong (U.S.)

Joey Terdoslavich (Braves)

Like the Bethancourt selection, the decision to carry Terdoslavich is curious. He’s had a very strong 2013 season with an unexpected power output but he lacks a defensive position and turns 25 in September, so he’s no spring chicken. He could eventually provide a solid switch-hitting bat off the bench for the Braves. Castellanos, Albert Almora (Cubs) or Garin Cecchini (Red Sox) would have made much better options from a true talent standpoint.

The Outfielders:

Byron Buxton (Twins) vs Oscar Taveras (Cardinals)

We have perhaps the two best hitting prospects in the game today, and it’s very difficult to choose the better prospect — although the Twins player has the most hype and the Cardinals prospect’s is currently being hampered by an ankle injury. Buxton has a slightly more well-rounded game but Taveras has the better pure hit tool and is a little more advanced. Both players patrol center field in their respective organizations but the Twins’ 2012 first round draft pick is the better fielder and the Cardinals prospect should eventually move to a corner position.

Future Edge: It’s a toss up…

George Springer (Astros) vs Jorge Soler (Cubs)

Springer has had a breakout 2013 season while playing at Double-A and recently moving up to Triple-A. He’s hitting almost .300 while showing both power and speed, suggesting he could eventually develop into a 20-20 player at the big league level. That is, if he can get his strikeouts under control. Springer, 23, has struck out 96 times in 73 games.

Soler won’t actually get a chance to play in the game after suffering a stress fracture in his shin. However, he has the potential to develop into a monster at the plate with a little more refinement. On the pre-season Top 100 prospects list at FanGraphs, I ranked Soler ahead of fellow 2012 Cuban signee Yasiel Puig and, although the Dodgers prospect is currently the talk of baseball, the Cubs prospect could end up having a longer peak.

Future Edge: Soler (World)

Christian Yelich (Marlins) vs Gregory Polanco (Pirates)

Credit Yelich’s hard work and determination for turning him into a solid centre field prospect after he began his pro career as a potential first baseman. Injuries have been his biggest downfall to date and he displays a beautiful left-handed swing with the ability to hit for gap power while also providing 20-plus steals.

Polanco is a fast-riser on the prospect landscape. The left-handed hitting outfielder blew through High-A on his way to Double-A in 2013 while hitting more than .300 and stealing 27 bases in 32 attempts. He has just seven home runs on the year but possesses the raw ability to develop into a 20-20 threat.

Future Edge: Yelich (U.S.)

Billy Hamilton (Reds) vs Henry Urrutia (Orioles)

Hamilton’s back-to-back 100-plus stolen base seasons (including an eye-popping 155 in ’12) earned him a lot of hype in 2012 but he’s come down to earth in 2013 despite managing another 49 steals in 58 attempts. The problem is, though, that he’s been rushed a little bit too much and his hit tool still has a big question mark hanging over it.

Urrutia, a Cuban defector, is already 26 years old and playing in Double-A. The left-handed hitter can swing the bat but his modest power potential is below what teams typically look for from a corner outfielder

Future Edge: Hamilton (U.S.)

Joc Pederson (Dodgers) vs Yeison Asencio (Padres)

Neither player projects to develop into a star but the Dodgers prospect could be capable of producing some solid big league seasons. Pederson is just 21 and swings the bat well from the left side, having produced batting averages of more than .300, double-digit home runs and 20-plus steals in each of his three full seasons. It’s too bad he can’t hit left-handed pitching.

Asencio has hit for a high average in each of the past three seasons but his hit tool is the only offensive skill that he possesses. He doesn’t hit for power or steal bases and he rarely walks so his on-base percentage is reliant on a high batting average.

Future Edge: Pederson (U.S.)

The U.S. squad comes out on top seven prospects to five, although it came awfully close to being called a draw. As mentioned above, we’ll look at the pitchers on the two squads next week.