With the All-Star break soon to begin and the Home Run Derby set for July 15, the official halfway mark of the 2013 MLB season is upon us.
While the Mets will host both the Home Run Derby and the July 16 All-Star Game at Citi Field, one event that precedes both marquee festivities and which often flies under the radar is the Futures Game.
Headlined by the best prospects in the minor leagues, the Futures Game presents the best opportunity for the general public to see its favorite teams' best prospects in action and learn about the future stars of the major leagues.
As is the case for the MLB All-Star Game, each team's farm system is represented by at least one prospect. Prospect will be placed on either the U.S. or World team rosters, with the latter being host to any international prospects.
For those of you who are interested, the U.S. Team has won eight of the first 14 Futures Games.
Like the rest of baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies farm system has some prospects of its own to showcase to the rest of the baseball world. The Phillies will be represented by one player on each squad.
For the U.S., top prospect Jesse Biddle will serve as one of two left-handed pitchers on the roster, while third baseman Maikel Franco will be a reserve for the World Team.
Let's preview each of these prospects and what Phillies and baseball fans will see come Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
Jesse Biddle, LHP
MLB.com Season Ranks: No. 1 (Phillies system), No. 50 (MLB)
Bleacher Report Prospect Pipeline Midseason Top 50 MLB Prospects Rank: "Close Call"
Ever since being drafted with the 27th overall pick in 2010 out of Germantown Friends School, Jesse Biddle has risen through the ranks in both the Phillies organization and around the majors.
Ranked as the team's eighth-best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season, Biddle has steadily increased his stock, rising to No. 2 before 2012 and finally to No. 1 in the Phils' farm system before this season.
There were some doubts about Biddle's ability to last as a pitcher, since he had only tossed 33 innings in his junior year of high school and wasn't especially experienced on the mound. Those concerns have been put to rest, as Biddle has excelled through each of his minor league stages thus far, racking up more strikeouts and lowering his ERA along the way.
The Baseball America 2013 Prospect Handbook likened Biddle to the New York Yankees' Andy Pettitte before the season due to his four-pitch arsenal and frame. In particular, Biddle and Pettitte share a three-quarters arm slot that results in strikeouts and weak ground-ball contact. Biddle's fastball sits at 88-93 mph, while his curveball absolutely drops while ranging from 72 to 75 mph.
While Biddle also throws a changeup, it's still a work in progress at 78-80 mph—albeit one that continues to improve. Biddle's slider and two-seam fastball were introduced to him after his start in the Phillies' system.
His Achilles' heel is his command, which ranks at 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale. If Biddle can harness his control, he could become at least a No. 2 starter in the Phillies' rotation.
This season with Double-A Reading, Biddle hasn't been the luckiest recipient of run support, as he's 3-8. Nevertheless, he has still managed to post a 3.09 ERA and an average 1.20 WHIP. Biddle has struck out 102 batters over 93.1 innings with opponents batting .200 against him and he has allowed just six home runs on the year.
Biddle made headlines earlier this season when he struck out 16 batters in one outing and had a perfect game through 6.1 innings while hitting a double that was nearly a home run. He has a bright future with the Phillies provided they don't trade him, and he could find himself as a starting rotation candidate as soon as next spring training.
Maikel Franco, 3B
Baseball America Preseason Rank: No. 8 (Phillies system)
MLB.com Season Ranks: No. 3 (Phillies system), No. 96 (MLB)
Bleacher Report Prospect Pipeline Midseason Top 50 MLB Prospects Rank: No. 49
Maikel Franco went as an under-the-radar signing by the Phillies on Jan. 13, 2010. Inked to a $100,000 contract by the Phillies' director of international scouting, Sal Agostinelli, Franco came out of the Dominican Republic as a relative no-name.
According to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, he scared off scouts with his lowly 7.7 60-yard dash time, but the Phillies took a flyer on him, thinking he could eventually move to catcher. So far, they have reaped the benefits—and that's with Franco sticking at the hot corner.
Upon promotion to full-season ball, Franco struggled, hitting just a .123 average at Low-A Lakewood in 2011. However, after being demoted and re-promoted to Lakewood, Franco thrived, batting .280 last year.
He started out the 2013 season in High-A Clearwater and was incredibly successful, batting .299 with a .925 OPS, 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 65 games. After his tremendous play, Franco earned a swift promotion to Double-A Reading where he began making a well-known name throughout the minors.
In 18 games in Double-A so far, Franco has been absolutely sensational. He's batting .413 with a 1.128 OPS, five home runs and 15 RBI. Both his OBP and SLG have soared. Granted, it's a small sample size, but Franco has done nothing but impress in 2013.
Franco's swing is a bit unorthodox in that he has a lot of unnecessary slight movements before he actually swings the bat, making the process longer than it should be. Baseball America rates his running on the 20-80 scale at 20, as was evidenced by his 60-yard dash split.
Nevertheless, his glove ability is well above-average, and his arm is arguably his strongest attribute.
Franco can definitely hit, but once he masters seeing and hitting off-speed pitching, he could project into a very good power-hitting third baseman—if not a corner infielder at the very least.
He is certainly giving Cody Asche a run for his money as the Phillies' third baseman of the future, and it wouldn't be shocking to see Asche moved to second base if Franco's play continues to be this outstanding.
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