I was convinced at the last minute on Friday to make the trek across Wisconsin to Minneapolis for the Futures Game. I will start by saying it is well worth the experience, and if you can physically get to the game, getting in can be relatively cheap as people who have bought tickets for the entire set of All-Star festivities are selling their tickets for the Futures Game fairly cheap on the secondary ticket market. This year Minnesota put on a great event and Target Field is a beautiful ballpark.
Dan already talked about the rather uneventful day of the Phillies prospects at the game so I will touch on them briefly.
Maikel Franco: World batting practice was before the gates opened to the public so I didn't get a chance to see Franco hit. In infield drills he looked sluggish at third base compared to the other world third basemen (Renato Nunez and Rosell Herrera), but he displayed an arm behind only Gallo's in strength. It was not the best defense I have seen from Franco, but given his body type and the lack of range he showed charging grounders, it is hard not to see a future first baseman at some point.
In the game Franco hit two fly ball outs. The first was off Diamondbacks prospect Braden Shipley, he appeared fooled on a changeup, but got enough bat on it to get it to the outfield. In his second at bat he timed up a 96 mph fastball from Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard, but he didn't get all of it and it died in centerfield. Overall Franco didn't embarrass himself, but he was clearly well behind Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo as a prospect. There are still plenty of questions about his swing still remaining.
J.P. Crawford: I did arrive in time for Crawford's batting practice: for the most part he was spraying line drives around the field. However, during his last few turns through the cage Crawford hit some gorgeous home runs to RF. They were more line drives than bombs, but they hinted at larger power potential. Overall, his batting practice was particularly impressive as he was the least experienced hitter in the game (only HS draftee from 2013 draft). Here is video by Baseball America of one of his trips through the cage.
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In infield drills, Crawford looked really smooth; he wasn't Lindor -- who is just special -- but everything seemed to work well. The throws in practice lacked the zip his throw in the game had, but they were accurate.
Crawford's hit in the game was a lot of luck, and he should have been out on his stolen base (mostly because of a good throw). His second at bat is what impressed me: he worked an 8 pitch at bat against Brewers prospect Jorge Lopez. He ultimately grounded out to second and almost beat the throw with a 4.17 time down the line (somewhere in the 50/55 range on speed).
Joey Gallo (TEX) put on a show both in batting practice and in the game, his power is to 80 power what Billy Hamilton's speed is to 80 speed. They are the outlier beyond the scale. I was however more impressed with Kris Bryant (Cubs) who didn't put up the moon shots of Gallo, instead he sprayed the ball around the park taking a bunch out to center field and the opposite way. To me the amount of control over the contact was really impressive. A step behind Gallo and Bryant was D.J. Peterson (SEA), who hit for mostly pull contact in BP, but hit balls loud and really far. A step back on the power was Jesse Winker (CIN), but he showed a really good feel for hard contact around the field. In the game, Javier Baez (CHC) launched one of the most impressive home runs I have ever seen.
In fielding drills, Francisco Lindor (CLE) is just a joy to watch: he has a quiet confidence while making hard plays look boring. Catcher Justin O'Conner (TBR) popped a 1.78 throw to second base from behind the plate. I was hoping to see more from Alfaro, but he was gearing up on his throws, leaving slow pop times but absolute lasers to second base. In the game Kenny Vargas (MIN) hit a ball to the wall in RF and Hunter Renfroe (SD) unleashed a bullet that beat him to the second base bag, but Corey Seager (LAD) couldn't hang on.
On the pitching side Robert Stephenson (CIN), Alex Meyer (MIN), and Noah Syndergaard (NYM) showed off power arms with ready-now stuff, with Stephenson up to 98, Meyer at 98, and Syndergaard at 97. Both Hunter Harvey (BAL) and Lucas Giolito (WAS) showed elite stuff, but they also showed their inexperience as they couldn't execute their pitches to get more advanced hitters out. The least impressive guy stuff wise was Henry Owens (BOS), who I had 89-91 with the fastball, with a nasty changeup. At best he looks like a lesser version of Cole Hamels, but I didn't see a top of the rotation arm. In contrast, the World starting pitcher Jose Berrios (MIN) was very impressive, with a FB up to 95.
The two most impressive pitchers for me were on the world team. The first is 17 year old Julio Urias (LAD), whose fastball was up 95 and who showed a good three pitch mix to compliment the fastball. When people say he could pitch in the majors at 18 or 19, they aren't exaggerating. The other guy was Domingo German (MIA), who struck out Gallo and Bryant back to back in the 2nd inning. His fastball was 94-95 and was sinking and all over the zone. I don't know enough about the arsenal to say whether he is a starter or reliever, but for a guy in low-A it was incredibly impressive.
Overall, having watched the game, Crawford is definitely in the second tier of top prospects, but you can see the potential for him to be in that top group a year or so from now. Franco is still a good prospect and there is a lot to like, but aggressive rankings like Baseball America having him as their #17 prospect this offseason might have portrayed him a bit higher than he is when he is stacked up against his peers.