The Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game is now a mainstay of All-Star Weekend festivities, about to take place for the 15th time. That doesn't mean it can't use a fresh coat of paint every year.
That largely comes in the form of players that make up the United States and World Team rosters annually. It's always a veritable who's who of the game's future stars, and this year's collection of 50 prospects, announced on Wednesday, is no exception. A total of 40 of the 50 will be attending the Minor League exhibition for the first time, with 10 players on the two squads returning to show the newbies the ropes.
But the names aren't the only new wrinkles. For the first time, you can help determine the final roster spot on the U.S. and World team rosters by voting in the Futures Finalists.
For the first time, fans will determine the final player on both the U.S. and World team rosters by casting their votes in the All-Star Sunday Futures Finalists (#FuturesFinalists) ballot, available exclusively on MLB.com and the Club sites. Fans may begin voting immediately and cast their ballots until Sunday, June 30 at 11:59 p.m. EDT.
The 15th annual SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game takes place at 2 p.m. ET on All-Star Sunday, July 14, at Citi Field in New York and can be seen live on MLB.com, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday. 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 tagging tweets with the hashtags #USDugout and #WorldDugout.
Fans will determine the final player on the U.S. and World Team rosters by casting their votes in the All-Star Sunday Futures Finalists ballot. There are five candidates for each team, and voting ends on Sunday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Patrolling the dugout as managers will be former Mets Mookie Wilson for the U.S. and Edgardo Alfonzo for the World. They will have the best talent the Minor Leagues has to offer at their disposal.
"There's a lot of great, great prospects out there," Alfonzo said. "My recommendation for those guys is to come in and just have fun."
Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America and the 30 Major League Clubs, selected the 25-man rosters for each club, the U.S. Team and the World Team. Each Major League organization is represented and players from all full-season Minor Leagues were eligible to participate.
There are 24 players in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list on this year's rosters, headlined by three in the Top 10 who all are attending the Futures Game for the second time: Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras (No. 3), Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker (No. 5) and Reds speedster Billy Hamilton (No. 10).
The highest-ranked newbie is Twins slugging third baseman Miguel Sano, who comes in at No. 11. Paired with Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2012 Draft who is ranked No. 18 overall, it's hard to imagine an organization with a more dynamic duo at All-Star Sunday festivities this year.
"It means a lot," said Buxton, who was recently promoted from the Class A Midwest League to the Class A-Advanced Florida State League. "It's another goal I've been trying to reach, to go out there and play against some of the best people in the Minor Leagues. It will give me more motivation and determination to get up there to the big leagues."
After the Twins' twins, the next highest-rated first-timers are both on the U.S. pitching staff. The Diamondbacks' Archie Bradley, who was recently moved up to Double-A, is the No. 23 overall prospect, while Noah Syndergaard (No. 27) will get the chance to see what his future home might be like after pitching extremely well in his first season in the Mets organization.
"It's a really big honor," Bradley said. "I wish I could've participated in it last year. As soon as I was drafted, I watched Tyler Skaggs doing it. I wanted to do it in my career. I thought it was something I was capable of. To hear I'll be a part of it is something special to me."
While the Top 100 guys may get most of the attention, the other 26 players aren't exactly unknown entities. All but four are on their respective organization's Top 20 lists. Nineteen organizations will be represented by a prospect ranked in their top three. There are 11 former first-round picks on the rosters, including six from the 2011 Draft (three from 2010 and two from 2012).
The World Team features players from 10 different countries and territories outside the 50 United States. The Dominican Republic is represented by 13 players. Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia each have two players. There are also players representing Aruba, Brazil, Canada, Panama, Taiwan and Venezuela. And that doesn't include the Futures Finalists selected in the coming days.
The five candidates for the U.S. are: OF Tyler Austin (Trenton/NYY; #VoteAustin); OF Nick Castellanos (Toledo/DET; #VoteCastellanos); 3B Garin Cecchini (Portland/BOS; #VoteCecchini); OF Courtney Hawkins (Winston-Salem/CWS; #VoteHawkins); and OF Brandon Nimmo (Savannah/NYM; #VoteNimmo). The players vying for the final roster spot on the World Team are: SS Javier Baez (Dayton/CHI; Puerto Rico; #VoteBaez); 1B Ji-Man Choi (Jackson/SEA; South Korea; #VoteChoi); SS Carlos Correa (Quad Cities/HOU; Puerto Rico; #VoteCorrea); 3B Renato Nunez (Beloit/OAK; Venezuela; #VoteNunez); and 2B Rougned Odor (Myrtle Beach/TEX; Venezuela; #VoteOdor).
In addition to voting on the web at MLB.com/futuresfinalists, fans also may use their mobile phones to cast votes via text message. To receive the All-Star Sunday Futures Finalists ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. Individual player votes may be cast directly via text by sending a player's code to 89269. For example, Text "U3" to vote for U.S. Team Player 3. Player codes are as follows: Austin (U1), Cecchini (U2), Castellanos (U3), Hawkins (U4), Nimmo (U5), Baez (W1), Choi (W2), Correa (W3), Nunez (W4) and Odor (W5). All votes are final. Standard rate text messaging fees apply - check with mobile carriers for details.
Since its inception in 1999 at Fenway Park, the Futures Game has grown in stature and importance. Perhaps a seeming experiment at the outset, the game now becomes a career ambition, as evidenced by the reactions of both Buxton and Bradley to the game.
It has proven to be a very firm stepping stone for alumni of the game, with 99 former Futures Gamers going on to appear in at least one Major League All-Star Game. In last year's Midsummer Classic alone, there were 30 former Futures Gamers on the American and National League rosters. Perhaps the biggest sign that the Futures Game has become an exciting motivator for the game's young stars is that some have admitted to pressing a bit too much to get there.
"It's one of those things where I try to only worry about the things I can control, but along with getting to the big leagues, I've thought about it," Bradley said. "Last year, I worried about too many things I couldn't control. Moving up, the Futures Game, All-Star Games. I think it's common for a first-year player. This year, I've worried only about playing baseball.
"I'm just focused on my day-to-day activities, on pitching every fifth day. If I pitch well, things like this and moving up will happen. Pitching-wise, I've always thought I'm there."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.