Two callups and an injury have opened up places in the Futures Game. Now we know who will be stepping in.
Fellow Diamondbacks prospect Tyler Skaggs will replace Trevor Bauer as a pitcher on the U.S. team. While now quite as highly regarded as his former teammate at Double-A Mobile, Skaggs does rate as one of the game’s 15- or 20-best pitching prospects. The 20-year-old lefty is 5-4 with a 2.84 ERA and a 71/21 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 innings in the Southern League this year. The Diamondbacks acquired him from the Angels two years ago in the Dan Haren trade. It will be his second straight Futures Game appearance.
Replacing the Rockies’ Edwar Cabrera as a pitcher for the World team is Angels right-hander Ariel Pena. The 22-year-old Pena is 5-4 with a 2.94 ERA and an 86/34 K/BB ratio in 88 2/3 innings for Double-A Arkansas. Some viewed him as a relief prospect entering the season, but he’s made gains with his command, particularly of late, and he might be a mid-rotation guy for the Halos in a couple of years.
Tigers catcher Rob Brantly is the other addition to the U.S. team. He takes the place of the Jays’ Travis d’Arnaud, who suffered a torn PCL in his knee while playing for Triple-A Las Vegas this week. Brantly, 22, has hit .303/.350/.417 between Double- and Triple-A this year, though he has struggled since his promotion. The Tigers likely jumped at the chance to showcase him; while he’s a decent prospect with a chance to be a starting catcher, he’s probably not going to fit in Detroit in any capacity, since he and Alex Avila are both left-handed hitters.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.