Pitching, defense prosper at Futures Game
Hurlers combine to strike out 18, walk just two; Rondon makes play of the day
MINNEAPOLIS -- All told, 20 blue-chip pitching prospects appeared in Sunday's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field, and nearly all 20 pitched effectively. That group combined to strike out 18 batters and walk just two. The most electric of them dialed their fastballs up to 95, 96, 97 mph.
They also relied once or twice on their defense, which should have been unsurprising; in an exhibition of the top prospects in baseball, pitching and glovework ruled the day in the U.S. Team's 3-2 win over the World Team. Here are four examples of how:
German whiffs the Minors' top sluggers in succession
Hometown prospect Jose Berrios set a fine pitching benchmark for the World Team, opening the game with a perfect inning. But Miami's Domingo German one-upped him with his own 1-2-3 inning in the second, striking out Minor League home run co-leaders Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo in consecutive at-bats.
First it was Bryant, the Cubs' No. 2 overall Draft pick last season; German dealt the first baseman six straight fastballs at 94 and 95 mph, whiffing him on the last of them.
Next came the Rangers' Gallo, who fell into a two-strike hole before German snapped off a hellacious breaking ball that bounced near his toes. Gallo swung anyway, hitting nothing but air.
"I was very emotional about it," German said of his appearance. "I had to calm myself down, calm my emotions down to face these guys. But it was great to face the best hitters in the Minor Leagues, best hitters in the United States."
For good measure, German capped his perfect inning with a groundout of Mariners first-base prospect D.J. Peterson, who only -- ho hum -- ranks 14th in the Minors with 21 homers. Bryant and Gallo each have 31 -- not counting Gallo's 419-foot moon shot off Astros prospect Michael Feliz in the sixth inning Sunday.
Meyer: Now you see him, now you don't
Thankfully, this was not Alex Meyer's first Futures Game appearance, because he certainly didn't make it last.
Meyer, the Twins' third-ranked prospect, needed just four pitches to dispatch three batters in the fifth inning, relying heavily on the eight men behind him.
The World Team actually hit Meyer relatively hard, which few International League lineups have been able to do this season. Vladimir Guerrero's nephew, Gabby Guerrero (Mariners), opened the inning with a first-pitch line drive to left field, which Jesse Winker (Reds) snagged. Then Renato Nunez (A's) took a called strike, before redirecting a 98-mph fastball into left for a single.
Meyer responded with a 97-mph first-pitch heater to Rangers prospect Jorge Alfaro, who rolled over it for an inning-ending double play. And with that, Meyer retreated to the U.S. dugout, his day's work complete.
"If I can do that a few times, I wouldn't be upset," Meyer said, laughing. "I didn't get to throw any of my pitches, really. I threw four four-seam fastballs. It was quick -- I blinked and then it was over."
Rondon dazzles in game's top play
Perhaps it said something about the quality of arms in Sunday's showcase that there was only one defensive play worthy of a star on the scorecard.
It was the work of Angels prospect Jose Rondon, who was manning second base in the bottom of the eighth inning when J.P. Crawford of the Phillies led off with a ground ball toward center field. Rondon fielded the ball backhanded and threw a one-hopper to first base for the out.
"I know it looks like a really difficult play, and it's not something you practice, but it's really basic instinct and being in the right position," Rondon said. "That play was all about anticipation. You have to be ready for anything in a game like this, when both teams are really good."
Besides Rondon's play, the defense was routine. World pitchers allowed three runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts, and U.S. pitchers allowed only two runs on eight hits with 10 strikeouts.
"It was excellent pitching on both sides," Rondon said. "There was a whole lot of competition going on out there."
Syndergaard channels his inner Mariano Rivera
One year ago, Noah Syndergaard started the Futures Game for the U.S. Team at Citi Field in New York. He arrived at the park this year expecting something similar -- until manager Tom Kelly told him he would actually be closing.
So Syndergaard waited around until the ninth, before buzzing through four World Team batters without much trouble.
"It was pretty cool," said Syndergaard, who pumped his fastball as high as 97 mph and struck out one batter on a changeup. "Last year I got the start, and this year I got to close the game out. It was something different and it was a lot of fun, actually."
The Mets, of course, are banking on Syndergaard's development as a starting pitcher, so the right-hander isn't expecting this bullpen success to go to his head.
"I'll leave that to someone else," Syndergaard said of closing. "That's a lot of pressure."