MIAMI -- The Futures Game kicks off the All-Star break festivities every year on Sunday, showcasing the best players in the minor leagues with a USA vs. World format.
The event has been around since 1999, when some Yankees prospect named Alfonso Soriano won the game's MVP. Ever heard of him?
How about Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano, Joey Votto, Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Zach Britton, Manny Machado, Joe Mauer, Adam Wainwright and, well, let's just stop now.
You get the point, but let's throw a specific number on it: 154.
There have been 154 players who took part in the Futures Game eventually make an MLB All-Star team. The game has only been around since 1999, so if we take 1999-2016, an average of 8.5 players from each game who eventually became All-Stars. Nearly all of them make the majors and most are successful.
So it's a fun showcase of the next generation of great baseball players.
And yet, it's buried. I said earlier it kicks off the All-Star break, only it actually doesn't. When the game started Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on the MLB Network, there was tons of MLB action. Once the first inning of the Futures Game ended, there were 14 MLB games in action. We know MLB fans are regional, in that they watch their favorite team. So many are likely going to be watching the big-league product instead of tuning in to see the minor leaguers.
Fans who did tune in or attend the game -- the crowd was rather sparse, with maybe half of Marlins Park full -- saw some very exciting things.
Right-hander Brent Honeywell (Triple-A, Rays) showcased his nasty screwball (yes, a screwball!) and ended up winning the game MVP after striking out four in his two innings of work. Fellow Team USA righty Michael Kopech (Double-A, White Sox) was hitting triple digits on the radar gun, as he's wont to do.
Team USA knocked the ball all around the yard early, scoring seven runs through the first four innings, routinely squaring up the ball with a beautifully loud barrel sound. Catcher Chance Sisco (Triple-A, Orioles) even tripled.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Class A, Blue Jays) collected a line drive single and scored the first run for the World team. His swing looks almost identical to that of his future Hall of Fame father, as those who tuned in or attended got to see.
The World team made it a game by scoring four runs in the fifth through seventh innings to make it 7-4, heading to the ninth.
In the top of the ninth, the World actually scored two runs and had the tying run on first base before USA pitcher A.J. Puk (Double-A, A's) nailed it down. During the inning, first baseman Ryan McMahon (Triple-A, Rockies) made a catch hanging over the dugout railing and almost falling over.
It was an exciting game with loads of young talent. Fun stuff like this happened!
I just wish there was more of a national platform here.
Sure, the die-hard prospect fans are going to tune in, but shouldn't MLB be giving this showcase a better platform in the interest of grabbing some casual fans just looking for some baseball on an off-day?
What about something like the last games of the first half being played on a Wednesday or Thursday, the Futures Game goes on a Friday night, the Home Run Derby takes place late Saturday afternoon and the All-Star Game is in the Sunday night time slot that is a ratings boon? Then MLB action could resume on the following Tuesday.
It doesn't even have to be exactly like that. I'm just throwing out a possible solution because I generally hate when people offer up complaints without a solution.
Perhaps the simplest solution would be to get rid of the usual Sunday Night Game on ESPN and make the Sunday night showcase the Futures Game, instead playing all 15 MLB games slated for Sunday during the day. Then the All-Stars all get to fly to the All-Star destination before the middle of the night.
I feel strongly that there needs to be a solution here. The Futures Game is fun. It's a good place to get fans, especially those of sub-par teams, excited about some future stars.
Instead, it's virtually buried in front of a lacking crowd on a Sunday afternoon while there are 14 games of actual Major League Baseball.