DENVER -- A hot summer day in the Mile High City? That's a recipe for some baseballs to fly a long, long way -- especially considering the glut of talent assembled at Coors Field for the 2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday.
And sure enough, baseballs soared through the thin Colorado air -- for the National League side, at least.
Led by a pair of solo blasts from Cubs No. 2 prospect Brennen Davis, who was named Futures Game MVP, Vinny Castilla's NL squad crushed five homers and held LaTroy Hawkins' AL team scoreless for the first six frames in an 8-3 victory in the seven-inning contest, marking the Senior Circuit's first win since the U.S. vs. World format was retired in 2019.
"Obviously, you saw the display that everyone put on today," said Cardinals No. 2 prospect Nolan Gorman, who hit an RBI double. "A lot of guys hit the ball hard. To be a part of such an elite group of talent was pretty special. For guys who have some power, playing in a ballpark like this is pretty exciting for us."
Exciting indeed -- so let's look at six cool things that happened in this year's Futures Game:
Davis doubles down
The Home Run Derby doesn't take place until Monday evening -- but it doesn't look like anyone told Davis.
Ranked as the No. 45 prospect in baseball, rose to the challenge against some high-octane pitching from the AL, clubbing a pair of solo homers a combined 838 feet against a fastball from Twins No. 12 prospect Josh Winder and a slider from right-hander Marcos Diplan of the Orioles' organization to lead the NL's home run party.
In doing so, Davis got a third of the way to his season total of six, across 39 games with High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee due to his missing the first three weeks of the season after taking a pitch off his head in Spring Training. His pair of big blasts in the Futures Game showed the raw power potential that should make him an impact bat on the North Side in the coming years.
"It was good to be back out on the field, being able to do what I love," said Davis, whose Futures Game bat is headed to Cooperstown as one of the artifacts collected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. "Getting hit, I was really bummed, but being able to come back and find my swing again was a huge step forward."
The AL offense runs through Detroit
Despite the event taking place at hitter-friendly Coors Field, the AL was only held to one hit through the first six innings -- a single by Tigers No. 2 prospect Riley Greene, who hit seventh with teammate and Tigers No. 1 prospect Spencer Torkelson hitting right behind him.
That proved important for the Junior Circuit's only rally, when they surged for three runs in the top of the seventh inning to break up the NL's shutout bid -- with one-out singles from Greene and Torkelson breaking the ice before Red Sox No. 2 prospect Jeter Downs cracked a two-run double and Blue Jays No. 2 prospect Austin Martin slashed an RBI single.
"Me and Tork have grown pretty close over the years," Greene said. "When he got drafted, I was the one he texted, just because I was a young guy, too. We've built a pretty good friendship there, and being able to be teammates on the same Double-A team and then come here and hit right behind each other, it's pretty cool."
Balkovec coaches first base -- and wears one
Hawkins specifically requested that Yankees Minor League hitting coordinator Rachel Balkovec be added to his AL coaching staff for the Futures Game, and though Royals Triple-A hitting coach Brian Buchanan was officially listed as Hawkins' first-base coach, the skipper sent Balkovec to coach first for the entire game.
He probably didn't think he'd be exposing Balkovec to the, well, occupational hazards of the job so soon.
The second batter of the contest, Mariners top prospect Jarred Kelenic, roped a 93.9 mph foul ball in Balkovec's direction, and she barely flinched as the ball caromed off her leg. Instead, she turned toward baseball's No. 4 prospect and threw up her arms in a shrug as Kelenic raised his hands to his helmet.
"I've got the seams and the logo on my pants, so I think I'm going to have Jarred sign it," Balkovec said.
When she wakes up in the morning, the first full-time female hitting coach in a big league organization might well have a painful reminder of her experience as the first female coach selected to the Futures Game.
"Thankfully, caught me in the calf and not the shin, but I had to play it off, let's be honest," Balkovec said. "I think I can go on the record saying I'm the first woman to be absolutely smoked in the Futures Game. It's a big moment in my career, and I'm going to remember it forever."
The Hall of Fame also collected the cap Balkovec wore so her groundbreaking achievement can be recognized in Cooperstown.
Toglia shows off for his future fans
A hot day in Denver will certainly make the baseballs fly, and Rockies first-base prospect Michael Toglia will look to take advantage of that for years to come -- as he did on Sunday.
Though Colorado's No. 3 prospect hasn't played above the High-A level after losing his 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic, Toglia's raw power is already considerable enough that even the deepest parts of Coors Field couldn't rein him in when he punched a 444-foot blast that landed several rows deep in straightaway center field to give the NL a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
"That definitely put me on cloud nine. This was the biggest stage that I've ever been in front of," Toglia said. "To do that in front of the home crowd was pretty unbelievable."
The 103.8 mph shot off Cole Ragans, a lefty in the Rangers' system, showed off the potential that the 22-year-old could have in the thin air of Denver if he can make consistent contact from both sides of the plate (he has 73 strikeouts in 214 at-bats this season) -- and it sure got his first Coors Field homer out of the way early.
The Kid drops in
The first adjustment for many of these prospects was playing in a big league ballpark in a competitive game. Part of that, too, was having so many fans in the stands.
And then, well, Ken Griffey Jr. walked into the clubhouse and hung around throughout the game.
"Seeing that many people in the stands, that's something that I've personally never seen before," Toglia said. "So that really told me that, hey, we're here. This is real. And then, they just dropped that Ken Griffey Jr. was going to be here, last-minute, nonchalantly. And that probably takes the cake."
"It definitely set in whenever Ken Griffey Jr. walked in the clubhouse and you were just talking shop with him," added Rays No. 5 prospect Shane Baz, who threw a scoreless second inning. "It's kind of surreal and goes by quick, and then by the end of the day, everybody's talking to each other and getting to know each other."
Cavalli brings the heat
The 22-year-old right-hander threw the 15 hardest pitches of the game -- and 19 of the top 20 in velocity -- as he fired three in a row in excess of 100 mph against Downs as part of a 29-pitch scoreless fifth inning.
Though the first-round selection from the 2020 Draft owns plus grades on his curveball, slider and changeup, who really needs those offspeed pitches, anyway, when you can just dial up your heat to the highest notch in a shorter-than-normal stint?
Of Cavalli's first 15 pitches, 14 were fastballs -- every one of them clocked at 98.2 mph or higher. Though he struck out Downs and 18-year-old Yankees No. 1 prospect Jasson Dominguez, he also issued walks to Torkelson and Martin -- though walks haven't really been an issue for him this season across High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg.