All-Star Futures Game preview

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Unfortunately, the All-Star Futures Game, while a great idea, still
hasn’t really caught on as an event because of MLB’s insistence on
playing it while all of the major league games are going on the Sunday
afternoon before the All-Star Game. On the plus side, at least they
treated it like a real game for the first time last year and played
nine innings. The previous nine contests were all seven innings in
length.

Since the series began, the U.S. and World teams are tied 5-5, with
the World winning the last two contests. Futures Games MVPs have
included Grady Sizemore, Jose Reyes and Alfonso Soriano. Last year; it
was Red Sox prospect Che-Hsuan Lin, who hit a two-run homer as part of
the 3-0 victory at Yankee Stadium.

This year’s contest will feature 50 players, including at least one
from every team. Here’s a quick look at some of the top prospects to
keep an eye on:

U.S. Team

Madison Bumgarner (LHP Giants) – Bumgarner, the 10th overall
selection in the 2007 draft, has taken over as the game’s No. 1
pitching prospect while going 9-2 with a 1.66 ERA, 64 H and 68/20 K/BB
in 81 1/3 innings between Single-A San Jose and Double-A Connecticut
this year. He has exceptional command for a 19-year-old, which is one
reason I think he could help the Giants next month if the team is
willing to rush him to the majors.

Jason Heyward (OF Braves) – The 19-year-old Heyward gave Atlanta
fans a taste of the future when he hit .300/.364/.475 in 40 at-bats
this season. The Braves played it safe anyway and assigned him to
Single-A Myrtle Beach, where he hit .296/.369/.519 through the end of
June. Since his recent move up to Double-A, he’s hit .346/.438/.615
with no strikeouts through 26 at-bats. He’s baseball’s best prospect,
and it looks like he’ll be ready to make an impact at some point during
2010.

Mike Stanton (OF Marlins) – Stanton and Heyward could face
comparisons throughout their career, given that they’re natural right
fielders with big power potential born two months apart. Stanton had
been posting the bigger numbers: he hit 39 homers last year and he was
at .294/.390/.578 through 50 games at Single-A Jupiter to begin this
year. However, he has fallen to .216/.319/.431 in 116 at-bats since
moving up to Double-A. The big concern with Stanton is strikeouts, and
though he has lowered his K rate this year, he’s still fanned 80 times
in 80 games. Odds are that he’ll have some 40-homer seasons in the
majors, though they probably won’t come with particularly strong OBPs.

Brett Wallace (3B Cardinals) – The U.S. team is loaded at third
base, with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft (Josh Vitters) and
the second overall pick in the 2008 draft (Pedro Alvarez) joining
Wallace. Wallace is the most advanced prospect of the group, but he’s
also the least capable of handling third. He’s hit .294/.375/.443
between Double- and Triple-A this year. Since first base is pretty well
blocked off in St. Louis, Wallace’s name could keep coming up in trade
rumors.

Chris Tillman (RHP Orioles) – Tillman and fellow Orioles prospect
Brian Matusz were both deservedly named to the team. Tillman, who was
part of the Erik Bedard deal with Seattle, should be the first to
arrive to the majors, perhaps next month. He’s 7-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 72
H and 88/22 K/BB in 86 1/3 IP for Triple-A New Orleans.

World Team

Jesus Montero (C Yankees) – Like Heyward and Stanton, Montero is a
19-year-old who opened this year in high-A ball and has since moved on
to Double-A. He has the most impressive numbers of the trio, as he hit
.356/.406/.583 in 180 at-bats at Tampa and is at .285/.353/.472 since
moving up to Trenton. If only he were a legitimate catcher, he’d rival
Heyward as the game’s top prospect. Even viewed strictly as a first
baseman/designated hitter, he’s clearly right up there.

Carlos Santana (C Indians) – Santana, who was acquired from the
Dodgers in the Casey Blake deal last year, started out as an
outfielder, but there’s little doubt now that he’ll make it as a major
league catcher. That he’s a switch-hitter isn’t the only reason he
deserves comparisons to Victor Martinez: he’s hitting .266/.394/.494 in
Double-A this season. He has all of the tools defensively and only
needs to add more polish.

Alcides Escobar (SS Brewers) – The only one of the 50 players with
major league experience, Escobar spent last September on Milwaukee’s
bench. He may not be much more than a singles hitter in the majors, but
he has Gold Glove potential at shortstop. The Brewers will consider
playing him at second base in the second half if Craig Counsell loses
his hold on the job.

Neftali Feliz (RHP Rangers) – The Rangers recently opted to send
Feliz to the bullpen to see if he could be of use later this year. He’s
since allowed one run and posted a 9/1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings.
Feliz, a former Braves prospect who was picked up as part of the Mark
Teixeira trade in 2007, has one of the best arms in the minors.
Durability is a question mark, which is one more reason the Rangers
made the move now. He still projects as a starter for the long haul.

Junichi Tazawa (RHP Red Sox) – Last winter’s controversial import
has gone 8-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 72 H and 79/25 K/BB in 87 innings for
Double-A Portland. If the Red Sox needed help, he’d seem to be about
ready to get a look as a middle reliever. As is, they can continue to
groom him as a starter in Double-A and see what develops. It might be
that he’ll fit best as a setup man.

Report: Extension talks between Mets, Neil Walker are “probably dead”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: Neil Walker #20 of the New York Mets sits in the dugout before the game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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On Sunday, it was reported that second baseman Neil Walker and the Mets were discussing a potential three-year contract extension worth “north of $40 million.” Those discussions took a turn for the worse. The Mets feel extension talks are “probably dead,” according to Mike Puma of the New York Post.

Walker underwent a lumbar microdisectomy in September, ending his 2016 season during which he hit .282/.347/.476 with 23 home runs and 55 RBI over 458 plate appearances.

The Mets may not necessarily need to keep Walker around as it has some potential options up the middle waiting in the minor leagues. Though Amed Rosario is expected to stick at shortstop, Gavin Cecchini — the club’s No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline — could shift over to second base.

Rick Ankiel drank vodka before a start to deal with the yips

9 Apr 2000: Rick Ankiel #66 of the St. Louis Cardinals winds back to pitch the ball during the game against the Milwaukee Brweers at the Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals defeated the Brewers 11-2. Mandatory Credit: Elsa Hasch  /Allsport
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The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.

It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:

On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:

“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”

Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.