Prospects collide as U.S. meets World
Minors' best face off on Sunday in All-Star kickoff event
ST. LOUIS -- It started with Alfonso Soriano hitting two balls over the Green Monster on All-Star Sunday 11 years ago. Jose Reyes was the MVP three years later with a bases-loaded triple. The next season, 2003, Grady Sizemore starred.
Who will be this year's star, the one who walks away with Most Valuable Player honors and a bee line to the big leagues? It won't be too long until the world finds out. The 11th annual XM All-Star Futures Game, pitting the best Minor League prospects from the United States against the best from the rest of the World, begins at 1 p.m. CT at Busch Stadium.
If you can't see the future unfold in person during All-Star Sunday, MLB.com will provide complete coverage before, during and after the game, which can be seen live on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on Gameday.
It's all tied at five in the 10-year series of the U.S. vs. the World format. The World team, managed by Jose Oquendo, will send Red Sox pitching prospect Junichi Tazawa to the mound while the U.S., led by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, will start Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman.
"It's an honor just to be here, let alone to pitch in the game," said the 21-year-old Tillman, who has gone 7-5 with a 2.50 ERA in Triple-A this year. "I'm excited. I get to do what I do, which is start. I'm starting to get butterflies. I get them pretty much every start, but this will be on a larger scale."
Trying to score runs for Tillman and the rest of the U.S. pitching staff is a talent-laden lineup, starting with the Minors' leading stolen-base threat, Eric Young Jr. The second baseman -- part of the Rockies' organization -- has 48 steals and will serve as a catalyst for the rest of the lineup.
"I'm excited," Young said. "My experience from the big leagues comes from my dad and what he did. This is associated with me and what I've been doing so far. It's always a thrill to be selected for any kind of All-Star Game, especially this one. I'm excited and ready to get going."
If he gets on, it will be up to No. 2 hitter and Rays prospect Desmond Jennings to move him along. He'll be followed by the Cardinals' Brett Wallace, sure to be a crowd favorite, at third base. First baseman Chris Carter (A's) is the cleanup hitter, with the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez hitting fifth as the DH and Reds outfielder Chris Heisey playing left and hitting sixth. Catcher Tyler Flowers of the White Sox will bat seventh, Braves super-talented right fielder Jason Heyward hits eighth and Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa finishes out the lineup.
The Future is Now
|A. Escobar||SS||MIL||1.||E. Young||2B||COL|
|T. Gillies||RF||SEA||2.||D. Jennings||CF||TB|
|A. Liddi||3B||SEA||3.||B. Wallace||3B||STL|
|B. Canizares||1B||ATL||4.||C. Carter||1B||OAK|
|J. Montero||C||NYY||5.||P. Alvarez||DH||PIT|
|N. Weglarz||LF||CLE||6.||C. Heisey||LF||CIN|
|B. Lawrie||DH||MIL||7.||T. Flowers||C||CWS|
|W. Flores||2B||NYM||8.||J. Heyward||RF||ATL|
|L. Durango||CF||SD||9.||D. Espinosa||SS||WAS|
|J. Tazawa||RHP||BOS||SP||C. Tillman||RHP||BAL|
"I'm looking forward to everything that's going on," Jennings said. "I've never been a part of anything like this before. This whole situation, I want to see how it plays out. I'm very excited. I got off the plane excited."
The U.S. hitters will be taking their swings first against Tazawa, the 23-year-old Japanese right-hander who is 8-5 with a 2.79 ERA in the Double-A Eastern League. The lineup backing him isn't exactly full of slouches, starting with exciting Brewers shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar (Venezuela). Mariners outfielder Tyson Gillies (Canada) will hit second while his teammate, Italian third baseman Alex Liddi, hits in the three-hole. The cleanup hitter will be first baseman Barbaro Canizares, the Cuban who was chosen to replace injured Giants prospect Angel Villalona. Behind him comes Yankees catching prospect Miguel Montero, the young Venezuelan making his second straight Futures Game appearance, followed by Canadian, and Indians outfielder, Nick Weglarz, starting in left. The No. 7 hitter is Brewers 2008 first-round pick Brett Lawrie, from Canada, with Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores (Venezuela) sliding over and playing second base and hitting eighth. Padres outfielder Luis Durango, from Panama, will play center and hit ninth.
Regardless of what happens in the game, there's no question that like with Soriano, Reyes and Sizemore before them, the experience of participating in this event will go a long way.
"Being here, it's a good experience," said Liddi, who checked in wearing a suit, feeling it was important to look professional on and off the field. "I'm going to have a good time with all my friends. I know what it feels like to be in the big leagues right now."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.