The best part of Major League Baseball's All-Star weekend has nothing to do with the top stars playing an exhibition that "counts," but the showcase game for the next wave of young superstars known as the Futures Game.
Thanks to MLB's promotion of the minor leagues, this year will be the 16th showcase for baseball's best and brightest prospects and the game only gets bigger each year. Two years ago in Kansas City, more than 40,000 fans packed Kauffman Stadium.
This year, moving to Minnesota's Target Field, expect to see a similar level of enthusiasm. Below is a look at the announced rosters courtesy of MLB.com and who to watch in the MVP race for the event.
When: Sunday, July 13
Where: Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Watch: MLB Network at 5 p.m. ET
|2014 Futures Game Roster: United States Team|
|Lucas Giolito||RHP||Washington Nationals|
|Henry Owens||LHP||Boston Red Sox|
|Christian Binford||RHP||Kansas City Royals|
|Hunter Harvey||RHP||Baltimore Orioles|
|Braden Shipley||RHP||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|Robert Stephenson||RHP||Cincinnati Reds|
|Noah Syndergaard||RHP||New York Mets|
|Jake Thompson||RHP||Detroit Tigers|
|Marco Gonzales||LHP||Kansas City Royals|
|Daniel Norris||LHP||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Mookie Betts||2B||Boston Red Sox|
|Kris Bryant||3B||Chicago Cubs|
|J.P. Crawford||SS||Philadelphia Phillies|
|Joey Gallo||3B||Texas Rangers|
|Micah Johnson||2B||Chicago White Sox|
|Peter O'Brien||C/3B||New York Yankees|
|D.J. Peterson||3B||Seattle Mariners|
|Corey Seager||SS||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Kevin Plawecki||C||New York Mets|
|Justin O'Conner||C||Tampa Bay Rays|
|Josh Bell||RF||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|James Ramsey||CF||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Hunter Renfroe||RF||San Diego Padres|
|Michael Taylor||RF||Washington Nationals|
|Jesse Winker||LF||Cincinnati Reds|
|2014 Futures Game Roster: World Team|
|Alfonso Alcantara||RHP||Los Angeles Angels|
|Jose Berrios||RHP||Minnesota Twins|
|Edwin Escobar||LHP||San Francisco Giants|
|Domingo German||RHP||Miami Marlins|
|Tayron Guerrero||RHP||San Diego Padres|
|Jorge Lopez||RHP||Milwaukee Brewers|
|Francellis Montas||RHP||Chicago White Sox|
|Enny Romero||LHP||Tampa Bay Rays|
|Luis Severino||RHP||New York Yankees|
|Julio Urias||LHP||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Javier Baez||SS||Chicago Cubs|
|Carlos Correa||SS||Houston Astros|
|Maikel Franco||1B/3B||Philadelphia Phillies|
|Rosell Herrera||SS/3B||Colorado Rockies|
|Francisco Lindor||SS||Cleveland Indians|
|Renato Nunez||3B||Oakland Athletics|
|Jose Peraza||SS||Atlanta Braves|
|Kenny Vargas||1B||Minnesota Twins|
|Jorge Alfaro||C||Texas Rangers|
|Christian Bethancourt||C||Atlanta Braves|
|Dariel Alvarez||CF||Baltimore Orioles|
|Gabriel Guerrero||RF||Seattle Mariners|
|Steven Moya||OF||Detroit Tigers|
|Dalton Pompey||CF||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Domingo Santana||RF||Houston Astros|
Top MVP Candidates
Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) and Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers)
I thought about separating these two, but they belong together because of the ridiculous power numbers they are putting up.
Bryant, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, has been Barry Bonds in the minors. He's played 109 games since the Cubs drafted him, hitting .343/.430/.706 with 35 homers in 394 at-bats. The biggest flaw, because there's always a flaw, is his propensity to swing and miss (120 strikeouts).
Gallo has always had the power to be a star prospect, but his inability to make contact last year was more pronounced than Bryant's. The Rangers' third baseman blasted 40 homers in 111 games during the 2013 season, which helped mask his 172 strikeouts.
This year has been a different story for Gallo. He's still striking out at a high rate (87 times in 236 at-bats), but is more patient with 60 walks and keeps hitting bombs with 27 in 71 games.
If you are looking for power in this game, the U.S. roster has you covered with arguably the two best power hitters in the minors taking center stage. Ben Badler of Baseball America said it best by telling fans what their itinerary for July 13 should be:
That's not hyperbole, either. Even if Bryant and Gallo struggle to hit pitching during the game, they will put on a better show than you will see in the MLB Home Run Derby in batting practice.
Gabriel Guerrero (Seattle Mariners)
No name on either roster made me happier than Gabriel Guerrero, who will be getting his first real exposure to fans in this game. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Yes, he is the nephew of former American League MVP Vladimir Guerrero.
On top of those bloodlines, there are similarities to their game. Gabriel doesn't have the same speed or arm strength that his uncle did, because very few players in history have had that combination, but the younger Guerrero can do things with a bat like Vladimir.
Guerrero unjustly fell off the radar coming into 2014 after a pedestrian .271/.303/.358 line in the Midwest League. The problem with evaluating that line is he was just 19 years old in full season ball and the Midwest League isn't exactly a hitter's haven.
This year in the hitter-friendly California League, Guerrero is hitting .313/.359/.457 with eight home runs. He's still growing into plus raw power and is raw at the plate, but the bat speed and plate coverage are very real.
Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox)
With the exception of Bryant and Gallo, who are freaks of nature thanks to their prodigious power, no position player in the minors has gotten discussed more this season than Red Sox second baseman Mookie Betts.
The 21-year-old was moving up prospect lists after last season, hitting an impressive .314/.417/.506 with 81 walks against 57 strikeouts and 55 extra-base hits. Betts was moved up to Double-A when this season began and picked up right where he left off with a .355/.443/.551 line in 54 games before the Red Sox were forced to move him up just to provide a challenge.
Triple-A has been a struggle for Betts, at least based on his Double-A standards, as he's hitting "only" .321/.402/.457 in 20 games.
Betts is not a physically imposing presence at 5'9" and 156 pounds, but there's bat speed and control to drive the ball with more authority than you would expect. His pitch recognition is tremendous, so he could get on base and score two runs in this game without ever getting a hit.
MVP Prediction: Bryant
Bryant has been the biggest story in the minors so far this season. He has the best combination of hitting prowess and power. There's not a lot of big velocity on the World pitching staff, so fastballs aren't going to get by him.
Cubs fans have been clamoring for Bryant to arrive in Chicago very soon. Whether that happens in 2014 or not will have to wait, but at least they can get a taste of the future when that big bat steps up to the plate on national television against the best prospects in the minors.
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