Oscar Taveras is just waiting for his time to come in St. Louis
The best part of All-Star weekend is the Futures Game, in which the best and brightest stars in the minor leagues who will one day shine in Major League Baseball gather together to play an exhibition game that showcases all that we love about prospects.
This year's game will take place on Sunday, July 14 at Citi Field.
It has also become one of the most important festivities of the weekend, as it gives casual fans who may have heard some of these names but aren't familiar with what they can do a chance to get to know some things that the future holds.
The rosters for the United States and World were released on Wednesday, with 50 players comprising the two teams. There are 10 players making at least their second appearance in the game.
Since there is talent oozing from both teams, we wanted to provide you with a look at the players who represent the very best of the best and will find themselves shining in MLB All-Star games in the very near future.
For a full look at the two rosters, visit MLB.com
The talk of the prospect world right now, Buxton will get to show everyone what it is that makes him special when he takes the field for the United States.
After destroying the Midwest League (.341/.431/.559 in 68 games), Buxton forced the Twins to promote him to High-A. He has played two games in his new home with Fort Myers.
As far as the tools go, Buxton might have the most exciting all-around skill set since Mike Trout graduated to the big leagues. He is a plus-plus runner with range and instincts for center field. He has a plus throwing arm and projects to be a plus power hitter.
Even more amazing is just how smooth and easy Buxton makes it look. He has plus bat speed with incredible hip rotation and very little stride. His ability to work counts and be patient are much better today than they were even a year ago.
Thought to be raw when he was drafted with the second pick in 2012, Buxton has proven that his baseball skills are further advanced than anyone thought. He is a true five-tool talent and future MVP candidate. He could be in the big leagues as a 20-year-old late next year if he keeps up this pace.
The other Twins representative in the Futures Game, Sano will actually be opposing Buxton as a member of the World team.
But lest you think Sano will go unnoticed, fear not because he is one of the few prospects in baseball with a chance to be a monster with the bat. He still has some issues to work out with his approach and ability to make contact, as his swing gets long, but when he gets hold of a ball, it is going to go really, really, really far.
Sano isn't an Adam Dunn-type of hitter, where there will be a lot of power and no average. He has incredible bat speed and enough patience to become a .260-.270 hitter at his peak with a lot of walks, homers and strikeouts.
Everything that Sano hits is loud. He never makes a soft out; you are going to notice when he steps in the box. I had a chance to see him last year in the Midwest League, and he hit a double to right field that was the hardest hit ball I have ever seen in person.
Too bad they don't televise the batting practice sessions before the Futures Game, because Sano's would be a lot of fun to watch.
Even with questions about his future position, which will likely end up being first base, Sano is going to hit 35-plus homers a year in the big leagues.
The one prospect in the minors who can challenge Byron Buxton as the best in baseball, Oscar Taveras is injured right now and has only been really good instead of off-the-charts incredible like he was last year.
But considering that Taveras just turned 21 and is hitting .306/.341/.462 in a "down" year at Triple-A, you can see why everyone raves about his hitting prowess. The only reason he didn't start the season in St. Louis is because there is so much outfield depth on that roster.
Taveras is fun to watch at the plate. He is as aggressive as they come, wanting to hit anything he sees, but he is not going to be someone who strikes out a lot because his plate coverage and bat control are so good.
An easy plus-plus hitter with plus power, Taveras will anchor the middle of the Cardinals lineup for a long time when they decide the time is right to bring him up. He has played center fielder in the minors but projects better as a right fielder in pro ball where his above-average speed and plus throwing arm will play perfectly.
The roster for the World was dealt a blow when Jorge Soler suffered a stress fracture in his left leg that will keep him out four-to-six weeks.
That news does take away some of the star power from the game, but it does not diminish Soler's future potential. He has been strong in High-A so far this season, hitting .281/.343/.467 with 22 extra-base hits and a 38-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Battling it out with Albert Almora and Javier Baez for the top spot in the Cubs system, Soler has more potential than Almora and more discipline than Baez, though he lacks the instincts and feel of the former and explosive hit tool of the latter.
Still, being a physical freak at 6'4", 215 pounds with plus power and average or above-average tools in the four other categories gives Soler the chance to be an occasional All-Star and at least an above-average everyday player.
Archie Bradley's stock took a hit last season when he walked 84 hitters in 136 innings, even though he was still showing the plus fastball-curveball combination that made him the No. 7 pick in the 2011 draft.
This year has been much more in tune with what we expected from Bradley. He has shown much better control, posting a 43-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28.2 innings at High-A before Arizona promoted him to Double-A.
The command is still a work in progress, as Double-A hitters have been more patient against Bradley thus far. But it is hard to find a lot wrong with 60 strikeouts, 27 walks and 44 hits allowed in 59 innings as a 20-year-old at that level.
When you are throwing a fastball in the mid 90s and following it up with a true knee-buckling curveball that projects as a 70 on the 20-80 scale, you can get away with a lot more than most pitchers.
If Oscar Taveras is at the top of the prospect mountain as far as hitters go, Xander Bogaerts has his hand on the peak and is quickly pulling himself up to join the future St. Louis superstar.
Bogaerts started the year in Double-A after ripping through the Carolina and Eastern Leagues last season. All he did with Portland was hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games, forcing the Red Sox to bump him to Triple-A sooner than they were expecting.
At 20 years old, the Red Sox have to be thrilled knowing that it won't be too much longer before their future shortstop is in the lineup. Bogaerts doesn't have a traditional shortstop profile, as his defense is not likely to be better than fringe-average as he is 6'3" and still filling out his 185-pound frame that limits his range.
But when you can project a player to be passable at shortstop and hit 30 home runs with a .300 average, you have a superstar and potential MVP candidate on your hands. He is a very aggressive hitter who will strikeout a bit, but his bat speed is so good, and the power already plays in games, that he won't need much time to acclimate himself in the big leagues when the time comes.
As far as pure hitters go—that is, players who realistically project to win a batting title and just look good swinging the lumber—Christian Yelich is the player to watch in this year's Futures Game.
Of course, that assumes the 21-year-old remains healthy enough to make it into the game. He has only played in 42 games this season due to a foot injury at the beginning of the year and abdomen issues earlier this month.
When Yelich is on the field, he is electrifying. He has improved as a center fielder dramatically in the last 12 months, getting better reads off the bat and showing much better feel for the position.
Putting his bat—which includes one of the smoothest left-handed swings at any level of baseball right now, a very good approach with patience and discipline to not chase off-speed stuff out of the zone—at a premium position makes him a superstar in the making.
One common theme that you have seen running throughout this article is the offensive potential that these players have. We aren't ignoring defense, but it is no secret that you need to be special with the bat to project as an All-Star.
Francisco Lindor is the exception to the rule, though he is hardly a slouch with a bat in his hands. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft was lauded for his instincts and feel for the game, which shone through when he was playing shortstop.
A smooth defender in the middle of the diamond, Lindor is rangy but he also makes difficult plays look easy because he always puts himself in the right spot before the pitch is thrown. His arm strength is plus and he is accurate.
Lindor's offensive game is also incredibly polished, even though he won't put up the gaudy power numbers like the other players we have talked about. He has incredible pitch recognition and discipline for a 19-year-old, which he is showing in High-A with a 30-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He will hit for average and get on base, while probably hitting 10-12 homers with 30-plus doubles.
Moving back to potential monsters with the bat, Addison Russell has really turned his season around after a slow start. He is hitting .370/.400/.712 with 16 extra-base hits in June.
Russell proved to be one of the biggest steals in last year's draft, no small feat considering he was taken with the 11th pick, with his performance in 55 games across three levels last year. He has great bat speed and huge wrists that help him just explode through the zone to drive the ball.
Still growing into his very long 6'0", 195-pound frame, Russell has worked incredibly hard to prove he can stay at shortstop in pro ball. He has the arm and range to do it right now, with little issue projecting him to stay there in the future.
Given his frame, bat speed and ability to drive the ball already, Russell projects to be a plus power hitter who can hit in the .280 range with good patience and solid defense at shortstop.
Last but certainly not least is the recently-promoted Taijuan Walker, who might have the most electric stuff in the upper levels of the minors right now and will slot alongside Felix Hernandez in Seattle's rotation very soon.
Walker works with a mid-90s fastball, excellent cutter, hammer curveball and changeup that is getting better. He is still figuring out how to command all of his weapons and needs to work in the strike zone more often, but the profile is still tremendous.
On top of the raw stuff he has, Walker has the traditional workhorse build at 6'4", 210 pounds and a very easy, fluid delivery. There is no wasted motion at all and his arm speed is absolutely electric. There are some spots he has to work on, like the command, but the package projects to be a frontline starter and he should comfortably sit next to King Felix in that rotation.
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