The SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game always assembles the best talent the Minor Leagues has to offer, but when looking at the United States Team's pitching, it's safe to say no one has seen a more powerful staff of prospects assembled in recent memory.
The 10 pitchers on the U.S. club for Sunday's game are a veritable who's who of pitching prospects. All of them are among MLB.com's Top 100, starting with the Orioles' Dylan Bundy, who is ranked No. 7, and finishing with an under-valued Matt Barnes of the Red Sox, who is No. 95.
Seven are former first-round Draft picks, including five from 2011. The Pirates' Gerrit Cole and the Mariners' Danny Hultzen were the top two picks a year ago. Bundy went No. 4. Barnes was the No. 19 overall pick in 2011, while Alex Meyer of the Nationals went four picks later at No. 23. The Mets' Zack Wheeler went No. 6 in 2009, and Jameson Taillon on the Pirates was the No. 2 pick in 2010.
The other three, all supplement first-round selections -- Jake Odorizzi of the hometown Royals; Trevor Bauer's replacement, fellow Diamondback Tyler Skaggs, Taijuan Walker of the Mariners -- aren't far behind.
"Wow," an American League professional scouting director said. "What you're talking about is the No. 1 pitching prospect from each of those guys' organizations. I don't think there's been a more talented staff. That's a pretty impressive group right there."
Said a National League pro scouting director: "First and foremost, they all have the chance to be impact pitchers. Sometimes when you're putting rosters for All-Star games together, you have to balance who's available. This time, there's a legit chance every one of them ends up at least in the front end of a Major League rotation, and that's kind of unusual."
Before seeing them fronting those rotations, fans can watch this staff in action live on MLB.com, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and follow live on MLB.com's Gameday on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. In addition, XM Radio will broadcast play-by-play coverage of the event live on MLB Network Radio XM 89. MLB.com will also provide complete coverage before, during and after the game. Fans can stay updated by following @MLBFutures on Twitter and can send/receive tweets to/from the U.S. and World team dugouts during the game by following @USDugout and @WorldDugout.
Major League Baseball, along with the MLB Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America and the 30 MLB clubs, selected the 25-man rosters. Hall of Famer George Brett will manage the U.S. Team, with former Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams doing the honors for the World Team.
The fact that the U.S. pitching staff is so stacked is a direct testament to what teams have been doing in the First-Year Player Draft, especially in recent years. The first round of the 2011 Draft -- so well represented on the roster -- saw 19 pitchers selected out of 33 picks. Led by Taillon, 14 more, out of 32 picks, went in 2010's first round. Walker was taken No. 43 overall in that Draft. In 2009, Wheeler's year, half of the first round (16) were pitchers. Skaggs was the 40th pick in 2009, while Odorizzi went No. 32 in 2008.
"If you look at the last couple of Drafts, there's been a pitching-heavy [slant]," the NL scouting director said. "That's starting to show up in Minor League All-Star games."
What's even more impressive is that these arms are not that far off from the ultimate goal: hitting a big league rotation. One day on a Major League mound for the Futures Game is great, but the idea is for them to call that home for the long-term. As the NL scout pointed out, all 10 heading to Kansas City this weekend have the chance to do that. And quickly.
Hultzen, Odorizzi and Skaggs are all currently in Triple-A, each having earned promotions after starting the year in Double-A. Cole recently moved up to Double-A, joining Walker and Wheeler at that level. Barnes and Bundy are both in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, having both earned bumps up with their performances this season. Taillon, in the Florida State League, has been at that level all year, leaving just Meyer as the lone member of the staff in the lowest level of full-season ball.
"I think all of these guys are within a calendar year of impacting their clubs, easily," the AL scouting director said.
The timing is right, too, in that all of these pitchers were available for the Futures Game in the first place. The stars were definitely aligned that each player's organization allowed them to be chosen, that each has been performing well for stretches, if not all, of this season, that all were healthy and that none of them other than Bauer had been called up to the big leagues.
"Pitching, especially dominant pitching, tends not to spend too much time in the Minor Leagues," the NL pro scouting director said. "[With this roster] you have college pitching right on track. The high school pitcher have forced their way up and haven't hit any bumps. They haven't seen a lot of hiccups yet. They all fit with the Futures Game mix at this point."