Felix was Impressive (Photo: Joe Ruiz)
Sunday's Futures Game at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas was the perfect event for huge baseball fans to get a look at some of the top futures stars in the game. The Mariners had three prospects there, more than any other team, and one in particular stood out with his overpowering stuff on the mound. Joe Ruiz was there, a press pass dangling at his side, to report on it for InsidethePark.com.
HOUSTON, Texas – “Wow. Look at this place”
Those were the words of San Antonio Missions OF Shin-Soo Choo prior to the World Team photo shoot in shallow right field at Minute Maid Park for the MLB Futures Game on Sunday.
Eight countries and territories had representatives in the opening event for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game Festivities. The best prospects from the 30 major league clubs suited up in an exhibition between the United States and the World teams. Representing the Seattle Mariners – and with Mariners caps to prove it – were three men.
The two players originally named to the team were RHP Felix Hernandez and Choo, both currently playing for Double-A San Antonio. While MLB rules state that a big league team can only have two prospects in the game, the Mariners were given an exemption. In the Mariners-White Sox trade last month, the M’s acquired Chicago’s top prospect in OF Jeremy Reed, who had already been named to the U.S. squad in the Futures Game. There was little doubt from MLB about allowing Reed to suit up in the game though.
With the nationalities of those playing the game as widespread as they were, the amount of media on hand to cover the game was staggering. Reporters from crews across the world were on hand, even a Korean crew of four interviewed Choo prior to the game.
As Choo walked towards center field prior to the World Team’s group photo, he asked InsideThePark.com a telling question about his desires for the game.
“Is this a hitter’s park,” said Choo?
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Once the game started, all the nervousness was disposed of and the competitive juices began to flow.
In Choo’s first at-bat in the top of the second inning, he struck out swinging on a pitch inside after fouling off pitches in the same spot previously. Choo finished the game 0-3 with one strikeout.
As the teams switched in the middle of the second, Hernandez entered the game as a reliever. Relief work is fairly new to Baseball America’s top pitching prospect, but any jitters were immediately put firmly in the back of his mind.
The first batter Hernandez faced was Milwaukee Brewers first base prospect Prince Fielded, who is the son of former slugger Cecil Fielder. His first pitch was a 97 mph fastball that caught Fielder looking. The young Brewer caught Hernandez’s next pitch and singled through the left side.
Up next was New York Mets top prospect IF David Wright. In this at-bat, Hernandez got ahead in the count with two straight curveballs, proceeded to get Wright to foul off a fastball, then came in with a knee-buckling curveball on his fourth pitch, causing the Mets uber-prospect to check his swing too late.
Felix exited the inning on his next pitch, a 97 mph fastball which Los Angeles prospect C Koyie Hill promptly grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
Hernandez impressed many in attendance and solidified others thoughts of those who attended the game to see the 18-year-old pitcher from Venezuela.
Reed, suiting up for the United States team, went 0-for-1 during his time at the plate, grounding out to the shortstop on the third pitch he saw.
In the bottom of the third inning with two outs, Choo misplayed a pop-up to right off the bat of Tampa Bay SS B.J. Upton. With the runners going on the pitch, two men scored to give the U.S. team a quick two-run lead.
The World team would make a comeback in the seventh inning, but the three runs were not enough to overcome the four-run lead by the United States and the game ended 4-3.
At the end of the game, Choo talked about his misplay to InsideThePark.com.
“I just misplayed it,” said the 21-year-old. “It was just one of those things. I’m just glad I had a chance to be here.”
On the winning side was Reed, who talked about the competitive flow of an exhibition game.
“It was fun,” said Reed. “We enjoyed ourselves. I got one AB, which was fine. I knew we were playing a seven-inning game and that’s the way it was going to be, but we all went out there and enjoyed ourselves from BP all the way on and it couldn’t have been much better.”
“You’re in there to get a knock and go from there.”
One of the main themes of the day from many of the players during the game – and this reporter – was Minute Maid Park itself. Choo reflected earlier in awed amazement as he gazed on the roof and the stands during practice and Reed talked about the park after the game.
“This park is unbelievable,” he said. “This park is by far the best one I’ve ever played in. TV doesn’t give it (Minute Maid Park) enough credit; it’s beautiful once you step out there.”
InsideThePark.com would like to extend a warm thanks to the Houston Astros and Major League Baseball for allowing us to bring the experience of the Futures Game to our readers. We sincerely hope this is the beginning of a long working relationship with MLB.