Major League Baseball has done a fantastic job of helping fans get acquainted with the next generation of stars by using the All-Star stage to give prospects an opportunity to shine. The 2014 Futures Game is the latest step on the journey from minor league trials to big league success.
Of course, a lot of the names taking part in Sunday's exhibition will be familiar to even the newest prospect junkies because they've been on this stage before or are well-known within their respective organizations.
The anticipation is building for this year's game, which takes place at Minnesota's Target Field, so it's time to take a closer look at the rosters for the United States and World teams, as well as the names to keep a close eye on.
|2014 Futures Game Rosters - Pitchers|
|Team USA (MLB Team)||World (MLB Team)|
|Christian Binford, RHP (Kansas City Royals)||Alfonso Alcantara, RHP (Los Angeles Angels)|
|Lucas Giolito, RHP (Washington Nationals)||Jose Berrios, RHP (Minnesota Twins)|
|Alex Meyer, RHP (Minnesota Twins)||Edwin Escobar, LHP (San Francisco Giants)|
|Hunter Harvey, RHP (Baltimore Orioles)||Michael Feliz, RHP (Houston Astros)|
|Daniel Norris, LHP (Toronto Blue Jays)||Domingo German, RHP (Miami Marlins)|
|Henry Owens, LHP (Boston Red Sox)||Tayron Guerrero, RHP (San Diego Padres)|
|Braden Shipley, RHP (Arizona Diamondbacks)||Jorge Lopez, LHP (Milwaukee Brewers)|
|Robert Stephenson, RHP (Cincinnati Reds)||Enny Romero, LHP (Tampa Bay Rays)|
|Noah Syndergaard, RHP (New York Mets)||Luis Severino, RHP (New York Yankees)|
|Jake Thompson, RHP (Detroit Tigers)||Julio Urias, LHP (Los Angeles Dodgers)|
|Marco Gonzales, LHP (St. Louis Cardinals)*||Francellis Montas, RHP (Chicago White Sox)*|
|Trevor May, RHP (Minnesota Twins)*||-|
|2014 Futures Game Rosters - Position Players|
|Team USA (MLB Team)||World (MLB Team)|
|Kevin Plawecki, C (New York Mets)||Jorge Alfaro, C (Texas Rangers)|
|Justin O'Conner, C (Tampa Bay Rays)||A.J. Jimenez, C (Toronto Blue Jays)|
|Kris Bryant, 3B (Chicago Cubs)||Javier Baez, SS (Chicago Cubs)|
|J.P. Crawford, SS (Philadelphia Phillies)||Jose Rondon, SS (Los Angeles Angels)|
|Sean Coyle, 2B (Boston Red Sox)||Maikel Franco, 1B/3B (Philadelphia Phillies)|
|Joey Gallo, 3B (Texas Rangers)||Rossell Herrera, SS (Colorado Rockies)|
|Micah Johnson, 2B (Chicago White Sox)||Francisco Lindor, SS (Cleveland Indians)|
|Peter O'Brien, C/DH (New York Yankees)||Renato Nunez, 3B (Oakland Athletics)|
|D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B (Seattle Mariners)||Jose Peraza, SS (Atlanta Braves)|
|Corey Seager, SS (Los Angeles Dodgers)||Kennys Vargas, 1B (Minnesota Twins)|
|Josh Bell, OF (Pittsburgh Pirates)||Dariel Alvarez, OF (Baltimore Orioles)|
|James Ramsey, OF (St. Louis Cardinals)||Gabriel Guerrero, OF (Seattle Mariners)|
|Hunter Renfroe, OF (San Diego Padres)||Steven Moya, OF (Detroit Tigers)|
|Michael Taylor, OF (Washington Nationals)||Dalton Pompey, OF (Toronto Blue Jays)|
|Jesse Winker, OF (Cincinnati Reds)||Domingo Santana, OF (Houston Astros)|
|Mookie Betts, 2B (Boston Red Sox)*||Christian Bethancourt, C (Atlanta Braves)*|
|-||Carlos Correa, SS (Houston Astros)*|
|-||Christian Vazquez, C (Boston Red Sox)*|
*Player will not participate due to injury or MLB promotion
Marquee Position Player to Watch: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
The battle for the top player to watch comes down to Chicago's Kris Bryant and Texas' Joey Gallo. While the latter has superior power—arguably the best in baseball at the minor or major league level—and has turned into a solid hitter with a better approach and plan of attack, the former is a better pure hitter without as much swing-and-miss in his game.
Even though it's a revisionist argument, Jim Callis of MLB.com had an interesting response on Twitter to a question about the top of last year's draft:
Appel still has the potential to be a dominating starting pitcher at the MLB level, but it's not helping his cause that the right-hander has struggled mightily this year (8.91 ERA in 32.1 innings) while Bryant is tearing the cover off the ball.
Bryant trails Gallo in homers this year (31-30), but the Cubs' prospect is doing his damage in Triple-A and is closer to the big leagues. It's not likely we will see the No. 2 pick in last year's draft at Wrigley this season since he's not on the 40-man roster, but he will be in the middle of Chicago's lineup early in 2015.
Marquee Pitcher to Watch: Lucas Giolito, Washington Nationals
This one is almost too easy. Lucas Giolito has come back from his 2012 Tommy John surgery with no signs of rust at all. He's looking like one of the great bargains in recent draft history, taken 16th overall by Washington due to concerns about his elbow.
The 6'6" right-hander is showing two top-of-the-charts pitches (fastball, curveball) and has a changeup that would be the best offering for most pitchers in the minors. He's got a commanding presence on the mound, above-average control and won't be overmatched against more advanced hitters in this game.
Underrated Prospect to Watch: Jose Rondon, SS, Los Angeles Angels
Jose Rondon is a poor man's version of Cleveland prospect Francisco Lindor. His skills aren't going to jump off the screen in a short burst, like you will see at the Futures Game, but the 20-year-old has an excellent, well-refined all-around game that deserves appreciation.
The Angels don't have much in the farm system to be excited about right now, so Rondon gets elevated on prospect lists higher than he would in an average system. But he's also an improving shortstop with solid actions and instincts in the field.
Denny Hocking, who manages Rondon at High-A Inland, told Josh Jackson of MiLB.com that the shortstop's defense has improved dramatically this year:
I spent the last three days talking to a Red Sox scout, and he says he loves [Rondon's] action. P.J. Forbes, who manages the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers affiliate, is somebody I've known a long time—I played against him in the Arizona Fall League—and he told me he likes [Rondon's] action.
Rondon isn't going to rake like other marquee hitters in the game, but he's got tremendous contact skills and knows how to place the ball where the defense can't get to it.
If Rondon can continue his defensive evolution, or drive the ball with more authority, the Angels will have an above-average middle infielder on their hands. In a system that needs all kinds of help, that's a tremendous asset to have.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.