AFL Rising Stars Game is Major for prospects
History says many in Saturday's contest will go on to have big league careers
They say there are no guarantees in life, and certainly not in baseball. But the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars Game is as close to a sure thing as there is in terms of predicting Major League playing careers.
So attending, or watching, this year's edition on Saturday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., (8 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius/XM Radio), is the best preview of what Major League Baseball will look like in the future.
That future will start almost immediately, with many of this year's Rising Stars not only reaching the big leagues in 2013, but making an impact. Proof of that comes from the 2011 game, when Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, among others, played in it before starring as rookies this past season.
Since the game was instituted in 2006, 72.6 percent of Rising Stars participants have seen time in the big leagues, numbers that aren't lost on this year's invitees.
"It's a great feeling," said the Marlins' Christian Yelich, who ranks No. 17 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects. "But not to sound cliche, I'm still far away. I don't want to be part of that percent [that didn't make it]. Being included in the group this year is an honor. Hopefully, I'll be playing against these guys for the rest of our careers [in the big leagues].
"This league is already an All-Star Game every day. To have, well, an All-Star Game in this league, it's special to be a part of it."
rising stars rosters
|East Division||West Division|
|Chase Anderson||ARI||P||Michael Brady||MIA|
|Aaron Barrett||WAS||P||Grant Dayton||MIA|
|Mike Belfiore||BAL||P||Kyle Gibson||MIN|
|Victor Black||PIT||P||Johnny Hellweg||MIL|
|Jarred Cosart||HOU||P||Chase Huchingson||NYM|
|Trey Haley||CLE||P||Curtis Partch||CIN|
|Heath Hembree||SF||P||James Paxton||SEA|
|Mark Montgomery||NYY||P||Kevin Quackenbush||SD|
|Santos Rodriguez||CWS||P||C.J. Riefenhauser||TB|
|Coty Woods||COL||P||James Simmons||OAK|
|Tony Zych||CHC||P||Michael Tonkin||MIN|
|Alex Monsalve||CLE||C||Tommy Joseph||PHI|
|Austin Romine||NYY||C||Mike Zunino||SEA|
|Corey Dickerson||COL||OF/IF||Michael Almanzar||BOS|
|David Adams||NYY||INF||Nick Ahmed||ATL|
|Kaleb Cowart||LAA||INF||Cody Asche||PHI|
|Ricky Oropesa||SF||INF||Nick Franklin||SEA|
|Chris Owings||ARI||INF||Hak-Ju Lee||TB|
|Anthony Rendon||WAS||INF||Chris McGuiness||TEX|
|Jonathan Schoop||BAL||INF||Hunter Morris||MIL|
|Jonathan Singleton||HOU||INF||Kolten Wong||STL|
|Gary Brown||SF||OF||Bryce Brentz||BOS|
|Nick Castellanos||DET||OF||Brian Fletcher||KC|
|Brian Goodwin||WAS||OF||Billy Hamilton||CIN|
|Joc Pederson||LAD||OF||Rymer Liriano||SD|
|George Springer||HOU||OF||Christian Yelich||MIA|
Yelich is one of 17 members of the Top 100 on the rosters for Saturday's game, with Detroit's Nick Castellanos (No. 10) and Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton (No. 14) joining Yelich from the Top 20. Most of the other players on the East and West rosters are on their organization's Top 20 lists, making it the All-Star Game within an All-Star league Yelich is referring to.
"I see it as a blessing for all the hard work that is starting to pay off," said Corey Dickerson, No. 20 on the Colorado Rockies' list. "I'm going to keep going to make it up. There's some satisfaction in getting invited to games like this, knowing the percentage is so high to make it to the big leagues. It's nice to have the percentages leaning in your favor for once."
In 2011, all of the pregame buzz was about the matchup of starting pitchers, with the top two picks from the previous June's Draft -- Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen -- getting the ball. It may not have completely lived up to advanced billing, with Cole not having his "A" game that night, but Hultzen pitched well and fellow Mariners prospect Nick Franklin, a middle infielder, went 4-for-5 in front of a crowd of more than 3,000.
The Rising Stars Game, the AFL's version of the Futures Game, has been the most highly attended game on the Fall League's docket since its inception in 2006.
The AFL provides a relatively low-key atmosphere for the game's best prospects to hone their skills, in the hopes it will help them to make the leap to the big leagues sooner rather than later. As good as the graduation rate from the Rising Stars game is, the AFL as a whole has a pretty good track record, having sent 60 percent of its alumni to the game's highest level.
The Rising Stars may be an exhibition, with the starting pitchers -- Jarred Cosart of the Astros and Kyle Gibson of the Twins this year -- expected to go only a couple of innings at most, but don't let that fool you. The players will be there to win. They will undoubtedly want to provide the large crowd and national TV audience with the best version of themselves. And there's the extra incentive of a cash prize.
"It's a great opportunity to go and compete," said Nationals outfielder Brian Goodwin, No. 67 on the Top 100. "I understand how big of a deal it is. Every day you see great talent here. I'm ready. Saturday can't get here fast enough."
For several of the participants, selection to the game is vindication. Coming back from injuries, a number of players go to the AFL to make up for lost at-bats or innings. Being asked to play in the Rising Stars Game is icing on a cake they never really expected.
"I was a little surprised," said A's pitcher James Simmons, who played in the Rising Stars Game in 2007 and pitched in the league again in 2009, having dealt with shoulder issues for much of his career. "I figured an older guy  wouldn't be selected. I had a goal of what I wanted to accomplish here. I want to show everyone that just because I had shoulder surgery, that doesn't mean I'm not the pitcher I was before. This is a showcase for me."
"Words don't describe being able to play in the Rising Stars," said pitching prospect Chase Anderson, who is ranked No. 19 on the D-backs' Top 20 and missed most of the 2011 season with elbow trouble. "I hope I can impact this organization in the future [in the big leagues]."
"It's crazy," Anthony Rendon, No. 33 on the overall Top 100, laughed. "When I look back where I've been. ... A couple of months ago, I was sitting on my butt doing nothing. I couldn't walk. Now I'm here, playing with these guys in the Rising Stars."