Last weekend, as it always is, was one of the highlights of my season. The Futures Game is a showcase of exceptional talent, both in the batter's box and on the mound. I mean, where else can you see so many quality young arms, on their way up, and all pitching in the same place, and on the same day? Admittedly, it is a little disappointing that they can only throw one inning, and I hate the hitters going up there and swinging at the first pitch, but there are still some things to watch for. Let's take a look.
Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers)
I have liked everything I have seen from Urias, and his performance in the Futures Game only reinforced those impressions. At age 17 he was the youngest player to ever participate in the prospect showcase and he didn't look even a little out of place. He's smallish at just 5-foot-11, but he probably looked eight feet tall to the hitters he faced. Where do you start with him? The young southpaw's fastball was in the 93-95 mph range with plenty of movement, his breaking ball will be a nightmare for left-handed hitters - Micah Johnson was not at all comfortable standing in against it. And, he didn't play favorites as he buried one on the back foot of righty swinger Michael Taylor. He has a bit of a herky jerky motion that makes him more difficult to pick up, and he throws strikes with his electric stuff. That's bad news for hitters and places him easily into my elite pitching prospect list. It's possible he could be in the show at age 18 next year.
Alex Meyer (Minnesota Twins)
Meyer was one of the players I was most excited about seeing again. Unfortunately, the one big downside to the Futures Game reared its ugly head and I got to see all of four pitches before his inning ended with a double play ball on the infield. That said, he was still fun to watch and we'll get to see a lot of him in Minnesota very soon as he has to be close to a trip up. He's almost a foot taller than Urias and a very different pitcher. With his arm angle and motion the ball looks like it leaves his hand just a few feet from home plate so hitters have to be ready. He has a four-pitch repertoire highlighted by an upper 90's fastball that jumps. Combine that with a breaking ball with a lot of bite and depth that can be devastating when he puts it where he wants it and you can imagine why he is so highly regarded now. "Where he wants it" is the only question mark now. He's all arms and legs so the release point can be a challenge, but it's coming steadily.
Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets)
After starting last year's game, Syndergaard served as the "closer" for the USA team this time around, entering the game in the ninth inning to protect a 3-2 lead. The funny thing is, if the Mets wanted him to come to New York and fill that role now, I don't think he'd miss a beat. He has a closer's demeanor on the mound and has the dominating stuff to back it up. Syndergaard has had a few nagging injuries this season and that has kept him a bit out of synch - primarily with his command of the strike zone - so he may not be up until perhaps as late as September. On my sheet for ceiling I have him in a virtual dead heat with Matt Harvey and a small notch ahead of Zack Wheeler, so there is plenty to look forward to. Will the Mets ask him to close? Not likely. However, he could finish a lot of games given his projectability and mound presence - they'll just call them complete game shutouts instead of saves.
Lucas Giolito (Washington Nationals)
The impression I get of Giolito could be summed up as high marks for fear factor. He served up an opposite field home run to Javier Baez on a pretty nice breaking pitch and I am not at all sure how he stayed back and waited for it. Giolito does it with a flair. His fastball can hit triple digits (though it didn't in this game), and the hitters were obviously keeping that top of mind. When you think you have to pull the trigger almost as soon as a pitch leaves the hurler's hand, anything offspeed is going to be very hard to handle, and that will be the key to his success. When he can consistently throw his big power curve and changeup to spots, that fastball will be even more devastating, and it probably won't be too long before that comes to pass.
Daniel Norris (Toronto Blue Jays)
Norris was a little bit of a surprise to me. I haven't really seen him this season and when I saw him last year he was all over the place. The Blue Jays have made some significant changes to his mechanics, and it's paying off in a big way. He always had a lot of arm but he's turning into a pitcher. Norris is throwing strikes and appears to be confident in his own ability to do so. He is one I would have really liked to see more of in the game because he was pretty impressive while he was in there. A fastball with movement, a tight slider and a deceptive changeup all add up to potential.
Luis Severino (New York Yankees)
Severino is still a little bit raw, but I saw things I liked. He was sitting mid-90s and has been known to crank it up into the upper 90s. However, I really think I was most impressed with his changeup. The fastball was a little straight but he had a good motion when he brought the change and there was a lot of fade to it. He's only 20 and just moved up to High-A Tampa, so there is a lot of room for positive development. I don't see top-tier ceiling in him, but if he puts all the pieces together he could be a decent middle or back-of-the-rotation starter in the major leagues.
And, here are some Futures Game short takes:
I know this is all about pitching, but I would like to make a brief comment about the home run Joey Gallo (Rangers) hit off of Michael Feliz (Astros). Wow! He hit a ball into suburban Toronto - and this game was played in Minneapolis. ... It can be difficult for a pitcher who has been on the mound his whole life to display truly excellent feel for a changeup, and Braden Shipley (Diamondbacks) is already there after about three years. He's worth watching. ... Enny Romero (Rays) is becoming well known in the game. This was his third appearance. He still has a very live arm but his command and consistency remains a work in progress. ... Victor Alcantara (Angels) has just fair stuff, but I will give him credit for keeping his cool when called upon to face Kris Bryant (Cubs) and Gallo. ... I don't think the Tayron Guerrero (Padres) even got his name mentioned on the telecast, but he struck out the only hitter he faced on three pitches and looked pretty good doing it.
Some Notable Rotation Happenings
• The Angels are checking on the price tags of the Padres' Ian Kennedy and Huston Street. Their closer situation is tenuous at best and Kennedy would be a nice addition, but they may not have the players to make a deal. For Kennedy it would mean more support but he loses Petco.
• The Rangers now say Derek Holland might not be back until late August. You can't blame them for being cautious when their season is probably a lost cause. They will want to get some innings under him in September, which will make the off season more positive.
• Tim Lincecum is beginning to make people, including me, think he's back. The new version of The Freak is 4-0 and has allowed just one earned run in his last four starts. His strikeout rate is down, but so is his walk rate, and he has lasted seven or more innings in three of those four outings.
• Quick now, who leads the redhot Tigers in wins? On a staff that includes names like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, the correct answer is Rick Porcello with 12, tying him with the injured Masahiro Tanaka for the league lead. He's not an ace, but he's no longer a disappointment.
• The Nationals hope they dodged a bullet when Jordan Zimmermann was forced to leave his last start early. It was apparently just a biceps strain, and there is a good chance he will be in the rotation coming out of the break. He's been a little inconsistent, but if healthy he could be set for a solid second half.
• When David Price was scratched from his start last Saturday there was all kinds of speculation that he was being or had been dealt by the Rays. It was just an illness, and he started Sunday (pitching a masterful game) but that doesn't mean he's going to stay in Tampa Bay. He is very likely in play.
The Rays haven't officially named Jake McGee their closer, but he is getting all the calls. If he continues to enjoy success it could be very hard for Grant Balfour to wrest the job away from him. ... I still think there's a decent chance Jeurys Familia steals the Mets' closer's gig from Jenrry Mejia. Unless, of course, they let Noah Syndergaard have go at it in a few weeks? Nah. ... Steve Cishek of the Marlins has become pretty hittable lately. He's probably not in trouble yet but it's one to keep an eye on. ... If Huston Street is dealt, a very real possibility, Joaquin Benoit would almost surely step in, the better question is how would Street fit into a new team's food chain. ... Washington's Rafael Soriano has a contract that will almost assuredly vest for another season this year. They have two other relievers with closing experience in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. Would they deal one?