Billy Hamilton's speed can be accurately described as special. (Getty Images)
Seeing as this is the final Heat Check before the All-Star Futures Game, and the Futures Game represents pretty much everything the Heat Check tries to cover, it only makes sense to tell you who to watch and why to watch them.
This is not a straight ranking of prospects. We'll leave those to the experts. For the sake of pure watchability, a monster talent (crazy speed, light-tower power, triple-digit fastball) triumphs over future expectations.
Sadly, America is likely to miss the violent beauty of St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras' swing. He was No. 4 on the list before the recurrence of an ankle injury. Gone because of injuries, too, is Jorge Soler, who, thanks to his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), power (massive) and, most importantly, country of origin (Cuba), will draw Yasiel Puig comparisons once he arrives with the Chicago Cubs.
Otherwise, the rosters are chock full of tantalizing ballplayers, most of whom are getting their first taste of a real stadium (Citi Field) and a real crowd (not the sellout of last season in Kansas City but at least respectable). So bookmark this, print it, share it – just make sure to pull it back out on the afternoon of July 12 during the Futures Game. Because these are the 25 players in the Futures Game you want to see.
25. Michael Ynoa, RHP, Oakland A's: Remember him? The kid who signed for $4.25 million at 16 and was supposed to change baseball forever? Well, the league cracked down on bonuses to international teenagers, Ynoa blew out an elbow and at 21 he's still in the Midwest League. If he keeps up his performance – 1.95 ERA, nearly a strikeout an inning – he won't be long for there. Watch his: Mid-90s fastball, same as he had at 16.
24. Dilson Herrera, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates: The youngest player in the game is barely 19 and trying to become the third everyday Colombian player, following Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera. Watch his: Ability to get you to scream "Dilson! Diiilsooooon!" when re-enacting Tom Hanks losing his volleyball in "Cast Away."
23. Henry Urrutia, OF, Baltimore Orioles: The second-oldest player in the game (26) has a good excuse: He was stuck in Cuba, defected, found himself in legal limbo in Haiti and only during spring training arrived in the U.S. Now he's hitting .365 at Double-A. Watch his: Cano-smooth left-handed swing.
22. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Boston Red Sox: He was once considered a potential No. 1 overall pick. Then he slumped. He signed with Boston and thrived. Then he bombed out for a year again. Now the 6-foot-7 Ranaudo is back, and beyond Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, he's next in line for a Sox rotation spot. Watch his: Release point. Being 6-7 has its advantages beyond a superior knowledge of others' baldness.
21. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies: A breakout star, Franco destroyed Class A pitching and is doing the same at Double-A. Franco's ability to make contact (zero strikeouts in 29 Double-A at-bats is incredible, even with the small sample) is a testament to his bat speed, because he loads his hands extremely high – something that could prove troublesome against the live arms in the Futures Game. Watch his: Molina-caliber speed. Quite spectacular.
20. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Kansas City Royals: There are almost 90 Miguels in the minor leagues. This one is the second-best. His season's piece de resistance was a 12-strikeout, no-walk outing Tuesday. Watch his: Advanced changeup, especially for a 20-year-old.
19. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals: Was the future second baseman of the Cardinals before Matt Carpenter's emergence. He still may be, thanks to a so very Cardinals all-around game: fundamentally sound, smart and with a little overachieving grit from a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder. He's like Bo Hart with talent. Watch his: Superb bat control.
18. Gregory Polanco, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates: "I see Dexter Fowler," said one scout who has seen Polanco twice this season. And while Polanco no longer is as skinny as his listed 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, his power-speed combination makes him one of the game's highest-upside prospects – and a tantalizing piece of trade bait because he's not supplanting Andrew McCutchen anytime soon. Watch his: High socks. Because high socks are awesome.
17. Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets: The likely starter for the World team is the next Mets prospect being groomed for graduation, following Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. While his fastball isn't as big as theirs, his 92-to-16 strikeout ratio between Double-A and Triple-A speaks to his dominance this season. Watch his: Control. If he walks anyone, it will be an enormous shocker.
16. Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies: Ever since his 16-strikeout game in April, Biddle has played future savior for a Phillies team without a whole lot of prospect depth. A stilted delivery with great results is particularly easy to enjoy. Watch his: Barry Zito curve. It's a beauty.
15. Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers: Another Colombian – and even likelier to star in the major leagues. Alfaro inspires love sonnets from some prospect watchers because of his near-limitless upside. He hits far. He throws hard. If he learns how to take a walk (15 vs. 73 strikeouts), he'll be downright scary. Watch his: Arm. Let's cross our fingers someone tries to steal a base on him.
14. George Springer, CF, Houston Astros: The strength of the World infield means Astros shortstop Carlos Correa didn't get an invitation. He's in the Final Vote, along with Cubs monster Javier Baez. Springer happens to be a perfectly good representative, a veritable belt of tools who derives excitement from his ability to do everything, from hitting a huge home run to stealing one over the fence. Watch his: Go-for-broke swing, a true hit-or-miss affair.
13. Addison Russell, SS, Oakland A's: As much as Oakland wants to pull the reins on the 19-year-old, sometimes you just can't impede the progress of a natural. The A's started Russell with an aggressive assignment in high Class A, and after early injury issues, he's OPSing 1.043 in June. It's not far-fetched to see him starting at shortstop for the A's by June 2014. Watch his: Ability to look like a guy four years older than he is.
12. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets: He'll almost certainly start for the U.S. team and take his place behind Montero as the second in line to help fill out the Mets' dream rotation. Syndergaard might be more fun airing it out over one inning than the five or six he usually throws. Pure Texas power pitcher at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, the radar gun might buckle. Watch his: Fastball, which is almost certain to hit triple digits.
11. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox: Since the trade of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, the Red Sox have cycled through a silly array of shortstops: Cabrera, Pokey Reese, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez, Marco Scutaro, Mike Aviles, Jose Iglesias and Stephen Drew. Bogaerts' ability to stay at the position despite his size (6-foot-3 and filling out) is the biggest question about him. What isn't: The kid can absolutely rake. Watch his: Opposite-field power. For a middle-of-the-diamond player, it's almost unfair.
10. Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: He was the less-heralded of the elite pitching duo that came out of Oklahoma in the 2011 draft. With Dylan Bundy headed for Tommy John surgery, Bradley will beat him back to the big leagues – maybe as soon as this season, when the D-backs are tempted to use him as a power reliever down the stretch. If his fastball hits 99 as a starter, seeing him in short bursts is downright scary. Watch his: Curveball, an A.J. Burnett-style breaker with tremendous depth.
9. Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres: "He's the best defensive catcher I've seen come up since Yadier Molina," said one scout. As a sucker for that – for pitch-framing and sub-1.8-second throws to second base – we're hopeful the bigger stage highlights the sort of thing that isn't often enough highlighted. Watch his: Ability to block pitches in the dirt. It's artful.
8. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians: If not for the No. 1 player on this list, he might be the top prospect in the minor leagues. Lindor is a no-doubt shortstop, with the kind of glove that could be gilded one day, and scouts marvel at the quality of his at-bats. The power isn't there yet, and because he projects maxing out at 15 home runs, the greatness in his game is more in the details. Watch his: Ability to work a pitcher. In what amounts to a showcase game where early swings are prevalent, his willingness to work a plate appearance will stand out.
7. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins: Nobody seems to be able to answer the question of why left-handed swings are so much more aesthetically pleasing than their counterparts from the right. Is it the camera angle? Some sort of an optical illusion? Surely it's not the swing itself. Hold a mirror up to a right-handed hitter. It's like instant plastic surgery on the swing. All of this is relevant because Yelich has a top 5 pretty swing in baseball. Cano, Mauer, Yelich. Watch his: Swing. Did we mention his swing?
6. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals: He seriously might throw 103 mph in a one-inning stint. He's 5-foot-11, maybe 180 pounds. And he seriously might throw 103 mph. Watch his: Fastball.
5. Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners: Because of his size, his rapid ascent and especially his skin color, Walker has drawn Doc Gooden comparisons. Perhaps a better one is within his organization: Felix Hernandez. While Walker's three-pitch arsenal isn't in the same ZIP code as Hernandez's array, the delivery, with a pronounced internal hip rotation, does look a whole lot like the King's. Watch his: Fastball's late life. Unlike Ventura's fastball, which sits rather true, Walker's explodes in on right-handers.
4. Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds: Hamilton's issues at Triple-A this year (.247/.302/.343) once again prompt the question of whether his otherworldly speed is enough to sustain a major league career. Unless Hamilton can't even muster a .200 average, the Reds will find him a spot starting next season. Not only has he proven capable in center field, his base stealing is getting better: 84.4 percent this year, nearly a 4 percent improvement over last season. Watch his: Legs. Don't even bother with the upper body. And make sure to have the stopwatch app on your phone ready when he's up.
3. Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers: Gallo is going to do one of two things in the Futures Game: hit a home run or strike out. Because that's all Gallo does. The 19-year-old averages a home run every 12.3 at-bats. He also has struck out in nearly half his at-bats this season – 124 of 283. At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he is going to be one of two players: Russell Branyan or Adam Dunn. Watch his: Willingness to swing like he wants to park a ball 500 feet from home plate.
2. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins: The only player with power similar to Gallo's is Sano, a highly touted prospect, a movie star and now co-headliner of the most fortunate organization around: the Twins. They bumped Sano up to Double-A recently, and with Trevor Plouffe nobody's idea of an effective defensive third baseman, Sano should arrive early next season. Watch his: Swing's leverage. From toe-tap to extension, Sano uses his hips as well as any hitter in the minor leagues.
1. Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins: He hits home runs. He makes diving catches. He runs to first base in under four seconds from the right side. He is the most exciting man at the Futures Game. And Buxton, the No. 2 pick in last season's draft, has claimed one other title, too: best prospect in baseball. Watch his: Everything. Just everything.
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