All-Star Futures Game wrap: U.S. beats World 4-2

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Not that the score really matters, but the U.S. team topped the World squad in the All-Star Futures Game again this year, winning 4-2 and outhitting the competition 9-3. Of course, this game is more fun to watch for the individual performances that any sort of team effort. So, let’s get right to the prospects who shined and those that fell flat:

The standouts

– Xander Bogaerts (SS Red Sox): The world team’s best prospect, Bogaerts singled back up the middle in each of his first two at-bats and walked in the fourth. In the first, he fouled off a two-strike slider from Noah Syndergaard and then grounded a 96-mph heater back through the box. He was caught stealing in the first, mostly because of an odd slide that caused him to miss the bag with his front leg. He showed much better instincts in the fourth, when he raced home on a sac fly and evaded the catcher’s tag by going inside the baseline and hooking around it.

– Eddie Butler (RHP Rockies): The 22-year-old Butler turned in the most impressive inning of the game, even if he did allow a single before getting a double play. He topped out at 98 mph with his fastball, and he struck out Bogaerts on three pitches, including a 90-mph changeup with lethal movement down and in to the right-handed hitter. There are questions about how Butler will hold up as a starter, but he could probably help the Rockies as a reliever right now if they want to go that route.

– Arismendy Alcantara (2B Cubs): Showing his emerging power, Alcantara pulled an Anthony Ranaudo fastball into the second deck at Citi Field. Alcantara has 13 homers in 389 at-bats in Double-A this year after hitting seven in 359 at-bats in the FSL last year and two in 390 at-bats in the Midwest League in 2011. The Cubs just recently moved him from shortstop to second base to make room for Javier Baez on the Smokies. He’s always profiled better there anywhere, and he could be the team’s replacement for Darwin Barney next summer or in 2015.

– Christian Yelich (OF Marlins): A couple of other guys might have more potential, but Yelich is the best hitter, as of July 14, 2013, of anyone who was playing today. He showed it by doubling over center fielder Gregory Polanco’s head in his first at-bat and singling in his second. The Marlins might make room for him in the outfield soon by trading Justin Ruggiano.

– Jesse Biddle (LHP Phillies): It was a tough call whether Biddle or Archie Bradley showed the best curve of the day. Biddle’s is reminiscent of Barry Zito’s, and while he doesn’t have the ceiling of a Bradley or a Taijuan Walker, he doesn’t lack for polish. He stranded two runners in the fifth, and he was the one pitcher to get four outs today.

– Rafael Montero (RHP Mets): With the game being played at Citi Field, the Mets had the starting pitchers for both sides today, with Montero going for the World team and Syndergaard pitching for the U.S. Montero needed just nine pitches in his inning of work, but he still managed to mix in a couple of nice sliders.

The disappointments

– Michael Ynoa (RHP Athletics): After battling injuries, Ynoa, one of the biggest Latin American signings ever, broke through in the Midwest League this year, posting a 2.14 ERA in 15 starts (54 2/3 innings) for Beloit. However, he’s given up 11 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings since moving up to the California League and he didn’t impressive with his command or stuff today. He gave up a two-run homer to the Diamondbacks’ Matt Davidson in his inning of work.

– Reymond Fuentes (OF Padres): Fuentes was the World Team’s leadoff man because of his .412 OBP in Double-A this year, but he made first-pitch outs in two of his three at-bats today. One was a routine fly to center and the other was a pop to shortstop. Fuentes did have a better at-bat in between, battling back from an 0-2 count to eventually ground out on Archie Bradley’s seventh pitch.

– Byron Buxton (OF Twins): It was more a disappointment for us watching than any reflection on Buxton as a prospect, but Buxton saw 11 pitches today, swung at three and made contact just once, hitting a foul ball. He struck out swinging in both of his appearances.

– Henry Urrutia (OF Orioles): Some think the 26-year-old Urrutia, a Cuban defector in his first year in the minors, could come up and help the Orioles down the stretch, but he didn’t show much today. He grounded out in each of his first three at-bats, with the third going for a double play, before drawing a four-pitch walk from a wild Kyle Crick his last time up. Maybe that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s hit .365/.427/.531 in the minors this year, but his tools aren’t all that impressive.

– Addison Russell (SS Athletics): I think Russell is a tremendous prospect, but he was overmatched at the plate today, particularly in his first at-bat against Enny Romero, when he went down swinging at a slider off the plate. He was also Ynoa’s lone strikeout victim. Russell, though, is just 19. He may well be back as the U.S. team’s starting shortstop in this game again next year.

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.