'Futures' is now for 5 rising prospects
Hard work in Minor Leagues paid off for previously under-the-radar players
As always, the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game will feature many of baseball's most exciting Minor League talents. Slated for July 12 at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, the showcase will include the game's top pitching prospect (Nationals right-hander Lucas Giolito), a dazzling all-around shortstop (Philadelphia's J.P. Crawford) and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft (Astros righty Mark Appel).
In addition to putting the prospect elite in front of a national audience, the Futures Game also will serve as a coming-out party for players who have significantly boosted their stock in the first half of 2015. Here are five such prospects, none of whom made MLBPipeline.com's preseason Top 100 list:
Braves SS Ozhaino Albies
Signed for $350,000 out of Curacao in 2013, Albies isn't the most physical player at 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, but he excels on both sides of the ball. He won the Rookie-level Appalachian League batting title (.356) in his pro debut last year and is leading the Class A South Atlantic League (.322) this year in his first taste of full-season ball. Albies won't hit for much power, but he's a switch-hitter with advanced on-base skills and the plus-plus speed to steal plenty of bases.
Albies has the range and arm strength to stay at shortstop, though dislodging Andrelton Simmons in Atlanta may be a tall task. He is reminiscent of fellow Braves farmhand Jose Peraza, who already has moved to second base and should reach the big leagues in the near future.
Astros 2B/OF Tony Kemp
The 5-foot-6 Kemp was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 2013, but he lasted until the fifth round of the Draft. The Astros have no prejudice against short second basemen -- see Jose Altuve -- and now have Kemp knocking on the door of the Majors. He's leading the Minors in on-base percentage (.449) and providing a dash of pop (13 extra-base hits) and plus speed (21 steals) to his average (.357).
Kemp began his college career at Vanderbilt as an outfielder and has been getting more time there in Triple-A, because Altuve isn't going anywhere. Kemp is a fringy defender at second base, but his below-average arm is less of a liability in left or center field.
Padres RHP Colin Rea
After pitching for three colleges in three seasons, Rea joined the Padres as a 12th-round pick out of Indiana State in 2011. He had middling success as a pro until this year, when his stuff suddenly took a leap forward. Rea missed a month with back spasms, but he hasn't allowed a run in three starts since returning and now leads the Minors with a 1.06 ERA.
Rea has added velocity to his fastball, sitting in the low 90s, reaching 96 mph and carrying deeper into his starts. He also has an upper-80s cutter that can miss bats, as well as a curveball that he's throwing harder now. Rea's command and control also have improved, as evidenced by his 55/11 K/BB ratio in 68 Double-A innings.
Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes
Reyes spent his high school junior season as a third baseman in New Jersey, then decided to go to the Dominican Republic to live with his grandmother and concentrate on baseball full time. The move paid off as his arm strength on the mound got him noticed, and the Cardinals signed him for $950,000 in 2012. Three years later, Reyes may hit 100 mph more regularly than any starter in the Minors.
Reyes usually operates in the mid-90s with his heater and backs it up with a power curveball that's also tough to handle. Though he still needs to refine his changeup and command, but he has the makings of a true front-line starter. Reyes leads the Minors with an average of 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
Rays LHP Blake Snell
Tampa Bay had a record 10 picks before the start of the second round in 2011, yet has little to show from that bounty so far. That may be about to change with Snell, a supplemental first-rounder who was the Rays' seventh choice in that Draft. He opened this year with 46 1/3 straight scoreless innings and ranks second in the Minors behind Rea with a 1.22 ERA.
More important than his gaudy stats, Snell has the stuff to back them up. He has a 93-95 mph fastball that can creep into the upper 90s, and both his curveball and changeup grade as plus pitches when at their best. Snell still needs to throw more strikes, but it's extremely difficult to square up his pitches.