Futures Game Preview: The U.S. Hitters

This is a long-delayed continuation of my series previewing the Futures Game rosters. We have seen the American pitchers and the World hitters. Today, the dangerous and powerful American offense.

Hank Conger | C | Los Angeles Angels | Age 22 | Triple-A (PCL)
.275 AVG / .375 OBP / .408 SLG | 38 BB / 37 K | 278 PA

It’s been a slow and steady development for Conger, because while his OPS numbers have dropped every season for three years, he’s actually a better prospect now than when he hit .303/.333/.517 in the California League. His contact skills are still very good, but with a career-high showing in the walks column, Conger’s become a very tough out. The power is settling in at Major League average, so the big question — the only question — is whether the defense at catcher is good enough.

Austin Romine | C | New York Yankees | Age 21 | Double-A (Eastern)
.286 AVG / .368 OBP / .432 SLG | 33 BB / 59 K | 302 PA

I sort of wondered before the season if Austin Romine and Jesus Montero had closer likely outcomes than we were giving them credit for. Montero is probably a first baseman, and in the Yankees organization, that means probably a DH. Romine, on the other hand, will stick behind the plate, though his ghastly 18% rate of throwing out baserunners this year isn’t encouraging. He’ll need to improve that to convince me, and more importantly, Yankees brass, that he’s Jorge Posada’s successor and Gary Sanchez’ placeholder.

Lonnie Chisenhall | 3B | Cleveland Indians | Age 21 | Double-A (Eastern)
.275 AVG / .342 OBP / .424 SLG | 20 BB / 36 K | 284 PA

I called out Chisenhall when I did my series on the history of first-round third baseman, which found that, without fail, the successful first round draftees at this position hit in Double-A. When I wrote the article, Chisenhall wasn’t, his OPS hanging around .700. But after a return from injury, Chisenhall showed some power in June, so I’m not writing anybody off yet. The juice in his bat — which I’ll only have batting practice to gauge — is the storyline going forward.

Drew Cumberland | SS | San Diego Padres | Age 21 | A+ / AA
.360 AVG / .396 OBP / .516 SLG | 16 BB / 41 K | 314 PA

The last time I saw Cumberland was when he was a high school rising senior at the East Coast Showcase. I liked him, and 10 months later, I wrote this: “Cumberland was on another level during infield practice in Wilmington, showing natural actions at shortstop that should keep him at the position. Cumberland is extremely athletic and has good bat speed,and while he won’t hit for much power, I had his batting practice ranked in my top five at the event.” He’s been oft-injured since then, but it seems he is much the same player — patience is the last thing missing from his game.

Danny Espinosa | SS | Washington Nationals | Age 23 | Double-A (Eastern)
.252 AVG / .330 OBP / .427 SLG | 27 BB / 74 K | 323 PA

The long line of Long Beach State shortstops extends to Espinosa, who burst onto the scene with a big Carolina League season a year ago, and is now settling into the player he’ll become. His contact skills are not good, and as a result, he won’t hit more than .260 in the big leagues consistently. But I hope he’s finding out the importance of walks — his 8.4% rate this year is down from 12.8% last year, which represents 35 really important OBP points. The power in his bat is above average for the position, and he’ll stick at shortstop, so he’s a better prospect than you’d think.

Dee Gordon | SS | Los Angeles Dodgers | Age 22 | Double-A (Southern)
.276 AVG / .329 OBP / .356 SLG | 20 BB / 43 K | 358 PA

In fact, for all the praise that Gordon receives, Espinosa might be a better prospect than this Dodger. Gordon is more exciting, sure, with blinding speed that could very well translate to 50 (or more) steals in the Major Leagues. But the value of that, relative to Espinosa’s obvious power advantage, is minimal. Where Gordon has a chance to close the gap is with his contact ability. His BABIP should be higher than .310 — it needs to be higher — because he’s a guy that will have to hit .300 consistently.

Grant Green | SS | Oakland Athletics | Age 22 | High-A (California)
.320 AVG / .370 OBP / .479 SLG | 24 BB / 75 K | 364 PA

Green was a pick that no one seemed to hate from last year’s draft — he had entered the spring as a potential top 3 pick, so the A’s got real value. But I think we all started second-guessing ourselves when his OPS stood at .700, in the California League, on May 29. Since then, Green has hit .376/.418/.648, and his numbers are far more reflecting his potential. The plate approach needs work, and as a result, he always will be susceptible to the slumps that plagued him for the season’s first two months. I do wonder which West Coast shortstop, Espinosa or Green, will show better pop in BP.

Eric Hosmer | 1B | Kansas City Royals | Age 20 | High-A (Carolina)
.356 AVG / .431 OBP / .551 SLG | 41 BB / 33 K | 350 PA

Because these articles always run long, and because Royals minor league fans have enough going for them, I’m going to keep this short. It’s because I really want to look at Hosmer more in detail next week. Specifically, I want to try and investigate how often highly regarded first baseman have looked like hell in Year 1, managed to keep scouts believing, and validated them in Year 2 and beyond. Article forthcoming…

Logan Morrison | 1B | Florida Marlins | Age 22 | Triple-A (PCL)

.324 AVG / .430 OBP / .514 SLG | 34 BB / 27 K | 223 PA

That walk-to-strikeout ratio is inspiring, isn’t it? The Marlins have a really interesting decision on their hands, as Gaby Sanchez has been very good in his rookie season in Miami. But no one doubts that Morrison is a better long-term commodity. The options: 1) trade Sanchez, 2) platoon. The latter works, as Sanchez has a .978 OPS this year vs. LHPs in 89 PA, following an OPS of 1.007 in 105 PA’s last year. But limiting Morrison in his development against southpaws this early seems foolish, too. What about playing Morrison at 1B vs. RHP and in LF vs. LHP, with Chris Coghlan getting the platoon treatment? Because, if I know anything, it’s that Morrison is a better prospect than last year’s Rookie of the Year.

Mike Moustakas | 3B | Kansas City Royals | Age 21 | Double-A (Texas)
.355 AVG / .417 OBP / .705 SLG | 25 BB / 41 K | 288 PA

I worked for MiLB.com in 2008, and during my summer there, toured the Midwest League with regularity. I probably saw 80% of the players in that league take batting practice, and only one looked like a big league power hitter: Moustakas. I know the bat is going to play, but the question is how he’ll look in infield practice.

Domonic Brown | RF | Philadelphia Phillies | Age 22 | AA / AAA
.332 AVG / .398 OBP / .622 SLG | 32 BB / 60 K | 322 PA

Before the season, I wrote up Brown, and concluded with this: “[The question is] essentially: does Brown’s power develop, or doesn’t it?” The answer is a resounding yes, as we’ve seen Brown develop each of the last two years right before our eyes. In that article, I also listed the 25 players that Baseball America has ranked that stood 6-foot-3 or taller (Brown is 6-foot-5). With this year, it looks like Brown might follow the higher path of comps: Juan Gonzalez, Tim Salmon, Vlad Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, etc.

Brett Jackson | CF | Chicago Cubs | Age 21 | A+ / AA
.320 AVG / .426 OBP / .527 SLG | 49 BB / 70 K | 357 PA

I wasn’t the only one that fancied Jackson as a tweener the day the Cubs drafted him, but I’m probably the happiest of that bunch to admit I might be wrong. Jackson has been on an epic tear of late, gaining praise as a line drive machine. He’ll need to be, as the strikeouts are going to keep his average on the low end. But with very good patience and more power than I thought, Jackson would probably work in a corner spot if centerfield doesn’t stick. Hopefully I’ll get to see what range he brings to the table on Sunday.

Desmond Jennings | OF | Tampa Bay Rays | Age 23 | Triple-A (International)
.295 AVG / .369 OBP / .419 SLG | 23 BB / 39 K | 245 PA

If I know anything, it’s that this is going to be one special defensive outfield on the United States side, as Mike Trout in center, Jennings in right and Revere in left would cover an insane amount of ground. Jennings has been working on his outfield versatility in Durham, as it’s unclear whether he’ll replace B.J. Upton in center, Carl Crawford in left, or make Ben Zobrist move out of right field full-time. Either way, he can’t be denied much longer.

Ben Revere | CF/LF | Minnesota Twins | Age 22 | Double-A (Eastern)
.307 AVG / .380 OBP / .361 SLG | 26 BB / 23 K | 276 PA

In the interest of full disclosure, Revere is probably the nicest ballplayer I have ever interviewed, and a guy you can’t help but root for. His limitations are obvious when you see his diminutive build, as this is a guy that isn’t going to hit Major League home runs. But you can’t strike him out, so I’m almost as confident that he’ll hit .300 in the big leagues, as well. The questions, then, are how often he’ll walk, and how good his defense will be. All signs point to the latter being fantastic, so don’t close the book on Revere — multiple seasons replicating the 2009s had by Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Sweeney are in play.

Mike Trout | CF | Los Angeles Angels | Age 18 | Low-A (Midwest)
.364 AVG / .448 OBP / .531 SLG | 41 BB / 50 K | 355 PA

The assumption by most is that Domonic Brown is the #1 prospect in minor league baseball. Considering that he hasn’t disappointed at all this year — even improving by some respects — and all the players ranked before him have graduated to the Majors, it’s a fair assessment, but I’m not sure it respects just how historic a season Mike Trout is having. To show that kind of patience, to steal 42 bases in 50 attempts, to show power potential, all at the age of 18 in the Midwest League — this is uncharted territory. There is no one I look forward to seeing this weekend more.

Tomorrow, before I jet-set off to Los Angeles, I finish this much-spread-out series. Thanks for your patience.

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You should do a story on the Royals and there prospects from 2007-2008 drafts. Ladnier and his staff produced !!! Duffy. Moustukas, Hosmer, Lough, Giovatella, Mitchell, Montgomery, Lamb, Paukovits, Sample, Robinson, Robinson, Hardy.