Futures Game: July 13

July, 8, 2008

5:22 p.m. ET

Frank Sinatra is singing "New York, New York." That's because the softball game has come to an end (Kenny Mayne flew out to right field to end it), and so has this blog for today. But it will be back tomorrow (the blog, not the softball game) as we get ready for the Home Run Derby, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. on ESPN.

5:08 p.m. ET

After Team USA managed only three hits in a 3-0 Futures Game loss to the World squad, manager Davey Johnson conceded that some of his players might have been a tad nervous.

Part of it was playing in Yankee Stadium with several Hall of Famers passing through the dugout during batting practice. And the game was perceived by many as a final audition for the U.S. Olympic team that will play in Beijing in August.

Johnson tried to dispel that notion during a pregame meeting. He said he had a pretty firm idea of his team's composition before Sunday. The U.S. squad is expected to be announced Tuesday.

"A lot of guys want to be in the Olympics and represent their country,'' Johnson said. "That's pressure on these guys. If you try to do too much, you don't relax and just go out there and express your talent. Everybody will play a lot better once they've been named to the team.''

Johnson wants to take at least a couple of veteran minor leaguers along to China to provide leadership and experience, as Pat Borders and Ernie Young did for the 2000 U.S. gold medal team in Sydney.

One thing is clear: The U.S. squad will only take veteran players who are active minor leaguers. That means there's no interest in players such as Steve Finley or Kenny Lofton, who failed to receive offers as free agents last winter and are still out of work.
--Jerry Crasnick

4:45 p.m. ET
Andrew McCutchen, the top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates' system, is a natural center fielder and -- in the estimation of many scouts -- a Gold Glover waiting to happen.

McCutchen played left field for Team USA in the Futures Game while Colorado prospect Dexter Fowler handled the center-field duties. If they're both on the Olympic team and that continues to be the arrangement, McCutchen is fine with it.

"It's cool,'' McCutchen said. "I love center field because you can see the pitch, the location, everything. In the corners, you can't really see it. So you have to react before the pitch is hit.

"Whatever it takes to get to the big leagues, I'll do it. If it's left field, so be it. If I have to play catcher, I'll play catcher.''

Pittsburgh's outfield has been strong this year, with Jason Bay in left, Xavier Nady in right and Nate McLouth having an All-Star season in center. It remains to be seen how the Pirates will make room for McCutchen, 21. McLouth, who has 19 homers and a .548 slugging percentage at the break, appears to have enough power to shift to a corner spot and open up center field for McCutchen if the Pirates decide to go that route.
--Jerry Crasnick

4:32 p.m. ET
OK, first of all, I really like Mike Golic -- he's one of the nicest guys around, a great personality and an outstanding radio co-host. But Chris Rock now has some competition for the worst swing exhibited so far in the softball game. Golic missed badly with his first swing, and then on his next swing he meekly fouled the ball back to catcher Gary Carter for the out.

Let the record show that Mike Greenberg has shown more hitting ability than his bigger and normally more athletic radio partner.

4:18 p.m. ET
Some highlights from the softball game so far: Chris Rock is the leader in the clubhouse as the player with the worst swing. He just whiffed against Goose Gossage, who wasn't quite bringing his best fastball. Good thing Chris is a very funny guy.

Justin Tuck, a defensive end for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, got thrown out at home plate when he had the perfect opportunity to bowl over the catcher like a freight train; Kenny Mayne made a baserunning blunder and got thrown out at second base; Wade Boggs and Paul O'Neill each crushed long home runs to right field; and last but not least, Spike Lee showed off his wheels going around the bases as he laced a ground-rule double to right.

There's definitely more interest in this game, from a fan perspective, than there was in the Futures Game.

4:07 p.m. ET
Just got the box score from the Futures Game. And one thing really jumps off the sheet -- the baserunning mistakes. Two World players were picked off by U.S. lefty Brett Anderson (Wilkin Ramirez and Elvis Andrus), and two were gunned down at second base by U.S. catcher Taylor Teagarden (Ivan DeJesus and Pablo Sandoval). Only Andrus, in the first inning, had a successful steal attempt -- and it was a steal of third base.

Without Che-Hsuan Lin's exploits, DeJesus could have been a worthy MVP candidate. He was the only World player to reach base three times (two hits and a walk). Another one was Henry Rodriguez; highlighting the World's pitching dominance, the A's prospect, who can reach 100 mph with his fastball, struck out the side in the eighth inning.

That's all we'll say about the Futures Game, for now. The celebrity softball game is under way, with Ozzie Smith leading off.

3:40 p.m. ET
Talk about transformations. As soon as the last out in the Futures Game was recorded, the setup crew was on the field, en masse, prepping the field for the celebrity softball game. They've already erected the makeshift outfield fence, which appears to be roughly 200 feet from home plate. I wonder if any U.S. players hit a ball that far all game. Probably not.

And now warming up in right field … Paul O'Neill. The Yankees crowd started up a chant for the former right fielder, who was just playing catch with someone (identity unknown) just beyond the infield. Now, he's signing autographs. And so is the other guy. If I find out who this mystery person is, I'll let you know.

3:28 p.m. ET
Game over! The World wins, 3-0. The U.S. team gets a grand total of three hits. And the crowd finally comes alive: As Che-Hsuan Lin was announced as the MVP, the bitter truth was finally revealed. Yes, Lin is a Red Sox prospect! Gotta love it. Absolutely, this is the highlight of the day so far, the boos cascading from the stands as a picture of Lin, in a Red Sox hat, is flashed on the JumboTron. Now it feels like we're at Yankee Stadium!

3:10 p.m. ET
Che-Hsuan Lin secured the MVP trophy with a hit on a flare to short left, but he got quite a bit of help from Greg Golson. The U.S. left fielder should have easily caught the ball, but he failed to call off the shortstop and let the ball drop in front of him.

Again, supporting my theory that the crowd doesn't know who these players are, the stadium was virtually silent when Yankees prospect Jesus Montero (remember, he's 18!) came to the plate in the ninth and singled to right field. Give him a few years. and Montero might end up being a household name in New York.

I sent a note to Keith Law, who's scouting the game for us, and asked him to explain the U.S. team's lack of contact, overall. I don't have the exact count on strikeouts, but there have been a ton on the U.S. side. His response: "Big velo from World arms." You can catch Keith's full report on the Futures Game later today. Plus, he will be taping a Fantasy vs. Reality segment with Fantasy scouting compadre Jason Grey.

2:58 p.m. ET
The crowd has been remarkably docile, at least by Yankee Stadium standards. But a few spirited fans in right field finally started a short-lived "U-S-A, U-S-A" chant, which was then followed by "The rest of the world sucks. The rest of the world sucks. …" Go tell that to the U.S. team players, which might be thinking otherwise at the moment.

Anyway, U.S. reliever Casey Weathers pitched the eighth inning and got himself into a jam, loading the bases with one out. But he got out of it with consecutive strikeouts of Villalona and Juan Francisco to end the threat with the score still 3-0 in favor of the World. Look for Weathers, drafted with the eighth overall pick in 2007 out of Vanderbilt, to be the Rockies' closer in the very near future.

2:32 p.m. ET
Che-Hsuan Lin finally provided some much-needed offense, with a two-run shot to left field to make it 3-0 World team in the seventh. And unbelievably, he received cheers from the crowd (I guess maybe they didn't realize that Lin is a Red Sox prospect, playing for Class A Greenville, where he has five home runs this season.).

That easily puts the 19-year-old Lin atop the leaderboard of MVP candidates for the game. And if Lin wins, he'd be the second straight player from Taiwan to win the honor. Last year's MVP was Chin-Lung Hu of the Dodgers.

Also watched with interest as young Angel Villalona led off the seventh for the World and bounced out to the pitcher. Villalona, a Giants prospect and one of seven Dominican prospects on the World team, is 17. That's right -- 17! To put this in perspective, he'd be entering his senior year of high school if he were attending school here in the U.S. Unbelievable. And yes, he's the youngest player in the game, nine months behind World catcher Jesus Montero (Yankees), who's 18.

2:05 p.m. ET
As promised, here's who's playing in the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET:

American League

Wade Boggs
George Brett
Goose Gossage
Rollie Fingers
Tino Martinez
Paul O'Neill
Billy Crystal (actor/comedian)
Spike Lee (director)
Whoopi Goldberg (actress)
Kenny Mayne (ESPN)
Mike Golic (ESPN)
Billy Baldwin (actor)
Maria Menounos (Access Hollywood)

National League

Ozzie Smith
Dave Winfield
Gary Carter
Paul Molitor
Tony Perez
Tim Raines
Bobby Flay (celebrity chef)
Kyle Massey (actor, Disney's Corey in the House)
Marlee Matlin (actress)
George Lopez (actor/comedian)
Mike Greenberg (ESPN)
James Denton (actor, "Desperate Housewives")
AJ Calloway (EXTRA)
Chris Rock (comedian)
Justin Tuck (NY Giants DL)

Well, you wanted to know, right?

1:46 p.m. ET
News flash II: It was just announced that Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol will replace teammate Kerry Wood on the NL All-Star team. Wood won't play, but he'll attend the event. Marmol was picked because he was the relief pitcher who received the next-highest vote total on the player ballot.

Of course, that vote undoubtedly came before the month of July, in which Marmol now has a 17.06 ERA after yesterday's debacle against the Giants. For the month, he's given up 12 earned runs, allowed two home runs and walked five batters in 6 1/3 innings. So now I wonder who finished right behind Marmol in the voting? If I find out, I'll let you know.

1:24 p.m. ET
News flash: Justin Morneau has now officially become the eighth and final participant to be confirmed for Monday's Home Run Derby. Nothing against the Twins' first baseman, who's obviously an outstanding hitter and a former AL MVP. But someone please explain this: How can a Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium (The House That Ruth Built, for goodness sakes) not have a Yankee? Uh, hello, Alex Rodriguez!

1:19 p.m. ET
From one A's prospect to the other -- Anderson is now pitching for the U.S. in the third inning after Cahill struck out two and walked one in the second. Great running catch by U.S. center fielder Dexter Fowler (Rockies) on a long line drive to deep center off the bat of Ivan DeJesus.

Just so you know: This year's Futures Game will last nine innings, instead of seven. And if there's a tie after nine innings, a 10th inning will be played, but the game will end in a tie if it remains a stalemate after the 10th.

Immediately following the game is the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. In an upcoming blog post, I'll include a list of the folks playing in that game (for those who might be interested). Like the Futures Game, the softball game can be seen live on ESPN360.

1:01 p.m. ET
A's prospect Trevor Cahill is now pitching for the U.S., and in one of his most recent blog posts, Rob Neyer wrote about how Billy Beane has stockpiled his farm system with quality arms. Three of them are in this year's Futures Game: Cahill, Brett Anderson and Henry Rodriguez.

Beyond that, there's also 22-year-old Sean Gallagher, who was just acquired from the Cubs and beat the Angels in his A's debut; Gio Gonzalez, who's at Triple-A Sacramento; and James Simmons and Vincent Mazzaro, both teammates of Cahill and Anderson at Double-A Midland. Before the deals they made this past winter, the A's farm system was fairly dry. Not anymore. Now it's flush with arguably the best contingent of pitching prospects in the game. Think Beane knows what he's doing?

12:54 p.m. ET
Need one reason why to pay attention to the Futures Game? Here are some of the players who played in last year's Futures Game in San Francisco: Justin Upton, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Geovany Soto, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Rick VandenHurk, J.R. Towles, Luke Hochevar, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Gonzalez, Evan Longoria and, of course, Joba Chamberlain. Heard of these guys before?

In Keith Law's preview of the Futures Game, he says the players we'll most likely see in the majors this season are reliever Casey Weathers (Rockies) and outfielder Andrew McCutchen (Pirates). By the way, McCutchen led off for the U.S. and popped out to first base. He was the only one to make contact against Carrasco, who blew away both Pennington and D'Antona.

12:44 p.m. ET
The World team gets one run in the first inning, with some help from U.S. shortstop Jason Donald, who airmailed one past first base, throwing it into the seats. If the people behind the first-base dugout weren't awake, they are now. Donald made up for it later in the inning with a nice flip to second baseman Cliff Pennington on a play up the middle, getting the force at second.

12:24 p.m. ET
Tino Martinez just got a nice hand from the crowd when he was introduced as the manager of the World team. But there's really only a smattering of fans here at the moment -- maybe 5,000 fans or so at the most.

Davey Johnson is managing the U.S. team, as he is the U.S. Olympic team. At least some of the players on this team will represent the U.S. in the Olympic Games next month in Beijing, but it's still unknown how many.

While Johnson currently has a pool of around 60 players that includes the players on the U.S. Futures team, many major league teams might not allow their top prospects to go. So Johnson could end up with a team of second- or third-tier prospects.
--David Kull

12:15 p.m. ET
Here are the starting lineups for the Futures Game:

For the World:

    Ivan DeJesus, 2B
    Elvis Andrus, SS
    Wilkin Ramirez, LF
    Pablo Sandoval, 1B
    Luke Hughes, 3B
    Scott Campbell, DH
    Fernando Martinez, CF
    Welington Castillo, C
    Gorkys Hernandez, RF

    The starting pitcher is right-hander and Phillies prospect Carlos Carrasco.

For the U.S.:

    Andrew McCutchen, LF
    Cliff Pennington, 2B
    Mat Gamel, 3B
    Jamie D'Antona, DH
    Nate Schierholtz, RF
    Matt LaPorta, 1B
    Dexter Fowler, CF
    Lou Marson, C
    Jason Donald, SS

    The starting pitcher is left-hander and White Sox prospect Clayton Richard.

I've spoke to our resident scouting expert, Keith Law, after the World team's batting practice and asked him if he saw anything impressive. His response: "Martinez hit one into the third deck in right field. Is that impressive enough?" Uh, yeah, I'd say so.
--David Kull

12 p.m. ET
Welcome to ESPN.com's live All-Star blog! It's a beautiful, sunny day here in the Bronx for today's All-Star festivities. Check this blog throughout the day (at least while there's still activity at the ballpark) as we try to tell you what we're seeing and hearing from Yankee Stadium.

Kicking things off today is the Futures Game, featuring some of the best young prospects in the game. Both teams have already taken batting practice (and team photos as well), and the grounds crew is doing last-minute work on the field.

The first pitch is scheduled for 12:37 p.m. ET, and you have two options for watching the game live -- you can see it on ESPN2, beginning at 12:30 ET, or on ESPN360. Click here if you'd like to watch it on ESPN360.
--David Kull, senior baseball editor


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