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

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

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

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.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.

*’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.