MLB’s annual All-Star festivities are nearly upon us, and before big-leaguers take the spotlight in the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game next week, some of the league’s most intriguing young talent will square off in the annual Futures Game on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park in Washington.
Like every year, the Futures Game features a slew of baseball’s best regarded prospects. For fans of rebuilding clubs with an eye on competing in 2019 or beyond, it’s a sneak preview of some players that might soon establish themselves as viable big-league contributors. And for those with any stake in the trade deadline, it’s a look at some guys that might be packaged by a contender in a deal to fortify the Major League roster.
Here are seven Futures Game players in particular that stand out this season:
Arguably the top overall prospect in the Futures Game – it’s either him or fellow second-generation MLB hopeful and Class AA shortstop Bo Bichette of the Blue Jays – Tatis Jr. was only four months old in April of 1999 when his father hit two grand slams in the same inning for the Cardinals against Chan Ho Park and the Dodgers. Like every player in the sport’s history and future, the younger Tatis is unlikely to break his father’s famous record, but he appears to have the all-around game to establish himself as baseball’s premier Fernando Tatis. One of the youngest regulars at the Class AA level, the 19-year-old righty hitter has always shown big power for his age and is reputed as both a capable defender at shortstop and a team leader with precocious baseball intelligence.
Justus Sheffield (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
Acquired in the 2016 deal that put Andrew Miller on the Indians, Sheffield has been and will continue to be mentioned in trade talk approaching the 2018 deadline. An undersized lefty with big fastball and good results throughout his minor-league career, Sheffield pitched his way to Class AAA Scranton this season and has a 2.53 ERA in his first 57 innings at the level. Outside of a fairly high walk rate, the numbers suggest Sheffield is close to big-league ready. He may get a chance later this year, either in the back of the Yankees’ rotation or after being shipped to a rebuilding club.
Another guy who may be prominent in trade talks, Mejia rocketed onto the prospect radar in 2016, when he grabbed national headlines with a 50-game minor-league hitting streak. Generally considered the best catching prospect in the game, Mejia has also spent time in the outfield corners this season in an effort to find other routes to the Majors. As a switch-hitting 22-year-old catcher with gap power and a bat that looks nearly ready, he’s probably too valuable for the Indians to readily deal for a rental.
Signed to a $2 million deal (with a $2 million overage penalty) by the Dodgers out of Cuba in 2016, Alvarez did not make his stateside debut until after getting traded to the Astros later that summer in a deal for reliever Josh Fields. In less than two full seasons in affiliated ball, the poweful 6’5″ 21-year-old has hit his way from low Class A ball to Class AAA. Like Sheffield, Mejia and every other prospect of note on pennant contenders, Alvarez will come up in trade talk a lot in the next month. He’s behind fellow prospect Kyle Tucker on the organizational depth chart, but with Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez both struggling offensively in 2018, Houston’s outfield rotation no longer appears as impenetrable as it did before the season.
Reds prospect Hunter Greene
Though he made headlines as a potential two-way player coming out of high school, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2017 is now focused on pitching full-time. Greene got off to a rocky start in his first full professional season, but has a 2.72 ERA and great rate stats over his last nine starts as the youngest pitcher in the Class A Midwest League. He’s got a long road ahead yet, but his triple-digit heat should help him along the way.
Acquired in the trade that sent All-Star closer Sean Doolittle to the Nationals, Luzardo has a stellar 2.09 ERA with outstanding strikeout and walk rates in his first 121 2/3 minor league innings. Luzardo grew up in the United States and followed in the footsteps of Anthony Rizzo at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., but has the chance to become the first-ever Major League player born in Peru (albeit to a Venezuelan family). In addition to a high-90s fastball, Luzardo also has a name that’s extremely reminiscent of seminal 1990s post-hardcore noise-grunge outfit The Jesus Lizard.
Among the 2018 minor-league homer leaders with 20 across Class AA and AAA this season, Alonso has mashed his way through the Mets’ system since getting drafted by the club in the second round of the 2016 draft. Because he’s limited to first base defensively and reputedly slow of foot, Alonso is only now finding his way onto national lists of top prospects. If you’re hoping to see a monster homer in the Futures Game, he’s probably your guy, but there’s more to his offensive game than that: The 23-year-old maintains a low strikeout rate for a guy with his type of power, which bodes well for his future in an increasingly contact-starved league.