Minors : : General
Monday, July 15, 2013

Futures Game Notebook

Hudson Belinsky        
Photo: Perfect Game

NEW YORK – The Futures Game is a sort of the professional version of the Perfect Game All-American Classic, but the players are further up in the developmental process. You don’t get to see too much of any one player, but you get to see tools in spurts. The Futures Game gives fans the opportunity to see some of their favorite club’s top prospects.

This year, 23 players in the game were PG alumni, seven of which had previously participated in the Perfect Game All-American Classic, meaning that PG events also provide fans with the opportunity to see the game’s top prospects on a national stage before they establish themselves in the Major Leagues.

The storylines at the Futures Game are limitless. Throughout the day I gathered as much information as possible, and what follows is a collection of interesting facts and scouting notes.

San Diego Padres catching prospect and 2010 PG All-American Austin Hedges was very impressive, both on and off the field. Early in the game he threw out a runner attempting to steal second with a 1.84 pop time. Hedges has a lightning-quick transfer, and he threw a bullet to second. He was 0-for-2 at the plate, but he showed above-average bat speed and a fluid swing at the plate. He’s long been praised for his generational talent behind home plate, and he’s felt somewhat disrespected at the plate.

People definitely still think my defense overshadows my offense a little bit, but I think I’m starting to get a little more respect as a hitter,” said Hedges. “Which is nice because I’ve been working my butt off for a long time now to try to get my hitting as good as my defense and try to get my offense and defense both to the highest level I can get them.”

Hedges noted improvements that he’s made as a game-caller. Former big league catchers AJ Hinch and Brad Ausmus work in San Diego’s player development system, and Hedges said that having those players around has been huge.

If I’m maybe struggling even physically with something, just pick their brain about what they did or what they did to get out of a slump,” added Hedges. “They've been extremely helpful to get me where I am now.”

Boston Red Sox right-hander Anthony Ranaudo may have struggled in the game, but he has re-established himself as a top prospect this season. Once in consideration as a possible No. 1 overall pick for the 2010 draft, injuries got in the way of this first-round pick out of LSU. Now, he’s back to snapping his plus 12-to-6 curveball and getting strong downhill plane on his 96 mph fastball.

Now, in the games, I’m able to focus on competing,” Ranaudo said of his improvement this year. “You know, what do I need to do in game situations and stuff like that, rather than worrying about my health, worrying about my fatigue, worrying about my velocity, or anything like that. Now I just feel good. I have confidence and I’m going out there and trying to take it pitch by pitch and things have turned around for me.”

The Boston Red Sox organization is chock full of pitching prospects at the upper levels. Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, and Matt Barnes are just three of the top arms that joined Ranaudo at Double-A Portland this year.

It’s a lot of fun,” Ranaudo said of playing with so many other talented players. “The good thing about it is all the guys in our system are pretty close. We’re a good group of guys and everything and we’re pretty good friends. There’s no hostility or anything and it’s good competition, knowing that if we all do what we’re capable of doing, things will take care of (themselves).”

In a casual conversation before the game, Peter Gammons raised the point that Boston could break in some of its arms in the bullpen. Each hurler’s stuff could work in a starting rotation, and the thought of each of them letting loose for one or two innings is pretty scary.

AJ Cole
, who participated in the 2009 PG All-American Classic, has had an interesting couple of years. After a strong year in his first full season with the Washington Nationals, Cole was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to the nation’s capital. He spent a year developing in the Oakland A’s organization before he was traded again, back to the Nationals.

The cool thing is you get to meet other people and see how other people play,” Cole said of his experience being traded back-and-forth. “I got another part of baseball in the Cal League, you know. They say it’s not a pitcher’s league—and I feel like it’s not, it’s a hitter’s league—but you learn how to pitch there and even though my stuff didn’t always show, I actually learned from that league.”

Cole described it as a strange process, but thinks it was good for his development. He’s also back with a coaching staff that knows him and could develop a strong developmental plan for him, which makes the transition that much easier.

The 21-year-old’s point about the California League is a very good one. As primarily a strikeout/flyout pitcher, Cole would elevate his stuff and get high swings and misses or fly ball outs. In the Cal League, where balls escape the ballparks quickly, Cole was forced to work lower in the zone and add another weapon to his arsenal.

The Futures Game is an outstanding event, and the raw talent at the game was incredible. The event gives players a glimpse of what baseball’s biggest stage feels like, and many of the players will find themselves performing on that stage in the very near future.

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