Futures' stars set to align today
Fifty Minor Leaguers ready to take the field at AT&T Park
The stars of baseball's Minor Leagues are ready to align today in the 2007 XM Satellite Radio Futures Game, which is set to be held at AT&T Park in San Francisco at 4 p.m. ET.
Fifty elite Minor League players have been sorted onto the U.S. and World Team rosters, with each of the 30 Major League organizations represented. This year's contest will provide fans with even more access to the players, thanks to live bloggers and commentary from both dugouts throughout batting practice and the game.
MLB.com will broadcast, via BaseballChannel.TV , the Futures Pregame Show at 3 p.m. ET, then stream ESPN's coverage of the game at 4 p.m. ET, with bonus and exclusive coverage during the breaks in the action.
The blogging will allow fans to keep tabs on players like U.S. pitcher Luke Hochevar (Kansas City), who is shooting to become the third Royals player in as many years to take home the Futures Game Most Valuable Player honor.
Or perhaps the story will be World outfielder Wladimir Balentien (Seattle), who enters the All-Star weekend hitting .323 with 20 home runs and 64 RBIs for Triple-A Tacoma, as he hopes to write a few headlines with his bat.
Who sees action in what situation comes down the decision of the game's managers, of course, and the Futures Game has as much talent on the clubs' coaching staffs as there is on the field.
Hometown favorite Juan Marichal, a pitcher for the Giants from 1960-73 who finished his career 243-142 with a 2.89 ERA and 2,303 strikeouts, is at the helm of the World Team, with 12-time All-Star outfielder David Winfield in control of the U.S. Team.
"We're going to try and win, but at the same time, we have to try to use every player," Marichal said. "So we're going to try and do that, and at the same time, we're going to use some strategy, maybe, to end up with a victory."
"We're going to try to win, for sure," Winfield said. "We'll try to get everyone in, but you want to win. That's how we played All-Star Games when I played."
Marichal has a youthful bunch available to take the mound for the World Team, including Pedro Beato (Baltimore), Carlos Carrasco (Philadelphia), Fautino De Los Santos (Chicago AL), Emiliano Fruto (Washington), Deolis Guerra (New York NL), Serguey Linares (Pittsburgh), Franklin Morales (Colorado), Henry Sosa (San Francisco), Rick Thompson (Los Angeles AL) and Rick Vanden Hurk (Florida).
Sosa is sure to catch the eye of Giants fans. The right-hander enters the Futures Game a combined 6-1 with a 1.82 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 17 games this season between Class A Augusta and Class A Advanced San Jose.
"I wish him the best," said Marichal about Sosa. "Every time I see a player, I wish for the best, especially someone who is with the Giants. I can't wait to watch him."
The hometown Giants also have Brian Bocock in the U.S. infield.
Winfield will be able to counter with a slew of talented pitchers at his disposal, like Triple-A Portland hurler Clay Buchholz (Boston). The 22-year-old is 7-2 with a 1.77 ERA and 116 strikeouts for the Sea Dogs this season.
Buchholz is set to be joined by fellow pitchers Collin Balester (Washington), Joba Chamberlain (New York AL), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles NL), Chuck Lofgren (Cleveland), Michael Madsen (Oakland), Jeff Niemann (Tampa Bay), Garrett Olson (Baltimore) and Hochevar.
Matt Garza (Minnesota), who was selected to pitch but since has been called up by the Twins, was replaced on the U.S. roster by Kevin Mulvey (New York NL).
The only other lineup switch is on the World Team side, where outfielder James Van Ostrand (Houston) is filling in for Fernando Martinez (New York NL), who is missing the game due to injury.
Each club has a talented duo ready to backstop its pitching corps, with Robinzon Diaz (Toronto) and Max Ramirez (Cleveland) at catcher for the World Team, and J.R. Towles (Houston) and Bryan Anderson (St. Louis) behind the plate for the U.S. Team.
For some power at the plate, the World Team has Elvis Andrus (Atlanta), German Duran (Texas), Alcides Escobar (Milwaukee), Chin-Lung Hu (Los Angeles NL), Freddy Sandoval (Los Angeles AL), Craig Stansberry (San Diego) and Joey Votto (Cincinnati) available in the infield, along with Carlos Gonzalez (Arizona), Gorkys Hernandez (Detroit), Michael Saunders (Seattle), Van Ostrand and Balentien in the outfield.
Hernandez has been one of the brightest gems in the Tigers' Minor League system this season. The 19-year-old is hitting .292 with 14 doubles, 37 RBIs and 31 stolen bases on the year for Class A West Michigan.
The U.S. Team's position players include Adrian Cardenas (Philadelphia), Chris Coghlan (Florida), Brent Lillibridge (Atlanta), Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay), Steve Pearce (Pittsburgh), Ian Stewart (Colorado), Johnny Whittleman (Texas) and Bocock in the infield, as well as Jay Bruce (Cincinnati), Cameron Maybin (Detroit), Colby Rasmus (St. Louis), Justin Upton (Arizona) and Tolbert in the field.
Winfield said he would keep an especially close eye on the U.S. outfielders, who have been titled by many as the best handful of outfielders ever assembled in a Futures Game.
"We will see," Winfield said. "I will impart some wisdom onto those guys on what they can do and what they should do to keep preparing themselves to do well in the Major Leagues. Because you've got to play defense, too, you have got to show an arm. It takes practice, and that takes some pride in that part of your game.
"I'm not impressed with a lot of Major Leaguers who don't want to take infield and their arm is like -- it's kind of like there were certain dinosaurs, some could fly and they quit flying, all of a sudden they don't have any wings -- ballplayers quit throwing. If you quit throwing, you're not going to throw very well; you have to keep practicing."
It is the first time the Futures Game will be held at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants and long-ball magnet McCovey Cove, since the exhibition's inception in 1999.
The U.S. holds a 5-3 advantage in the series after winning the 2006 Futures Game, 8-5, at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Mark Shugar is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.