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U.S. Futures strong at corners

U.S. Futures strong at corners

Some are closer to playing in the big leagues than others. Some are a bit more high profile than others.

Yet, all the players who will serve as corner infielders for the United States Team in the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game have one thing in common. They can all put on a show at the plate and will all garner considerable attention on July 10 at Comerica Park.

Here's a closer look at the corner infielders -- Conor Jackson, Andy LaRoche, Daric Barton and Scott Moore -- who will play on the United States team in Detroit.

Conor Jackson, 1B, Tucson (Triple-A, Diamondbacks)
Arizona is content keeping Jackson in the Pacific Coast League for much of this year for some extra seasoning simply because there isn't room for him in Phoenix at the moment. And that's okay because Jackson is using the experience at Triple-A and benefiting from being one of the PCL's biggest stars.

Jackson was hitting .373 through 74 games, which was second best in the league. He had six homers and 58 RBIs, which was tied for third on the circuit. A first-round pick in 2003 (19th overall), Jackson came into this season as a .323 career hitter.

"You can basically write anything you want about Conor; he's been such a closely followed prospect, almost everything there is to say about him has already been written," Diamondbacks assistant general manager Bob Miller said. "He's not scuffling in his first year at Triple-A, is he? "He's only in his second full season and he's got [Chad] Tracy and [Tony] Clark in front of him at first and [Luis] Gonzalez out in left, so we just want to get him as many at-bats as we can until there's a spot for him. There's not really a particular number of at-bats we want him to have -- it's not that scientific.

"It's really hard to compare him to other hitters. He's got the great plate discipline and everything else, plus the great body size. He hits the ball so hard that he gets a lot of top spin on the ball. I guess in terms of how hard he hits the ball, he's similar to [Gary] Sheffield, just in terms of a guy that hits the ball hard just about every time. Here's a guy who's never hit 50 home runs in a season, probably because of how hard he hits the ball. And Conor's similar in that regard. Some people say they're not sure about his power, but the backspin will come. But he hits so many doubles -- who cares? If he hits 50, 60, 70 doubles, I don't think anyone will complain."

Andy LaRoche, 3B, Jacksonville (Double-A, Dodgers)
LaRoche's history has been well-documented, from the signing to the bonus to the stir it created at the time. Well, the Dodgers are the team that's had the last laugh because LaRoche has been everything the organization could have hoped for and more, blistering his way through the Minor League season with frightening ease.

The big third baseman was hitting .333 with 21 homers and 51 RBIs through 63 games at Vero Beach of the Florida State League before earning a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League. Moving up the Florida coast did little to hurt his production. Nine games into his Suns' stint, LaRoche has four homers and 13 RBIs.

"He's had a tremendous year and been a real surprise," said Terry Collins, Los Angeles' director of player development. "We all knew that he'd hit, we just didn't know he'd hit for so much power. He's another guy who switched positions, from shortstop to third base, and he's really become a very good defensive player. We take a lot of pride in developing our players defensively, and Andy has really improved at third base.

"He's only about 6 feet tall, but he's 200, 210 pounds; he's a strong guy, and we saw some power there, we just didn't know it would develop so quickly. His dad [former big leaguer Dave LaRoche] even told us, when he starts using the field, he'll drive the ball."

Scott Moore, 3B, Dayton (Class A, Cubs)
A first-round pick of the Tigers in 2003, Moore began showing the power potential last year when he cracked 14 homers for Lakeland in the Florida State League. He only hit .223, though, and there were some questions about his ability to hit consistently when Detroit included him in the Kyle Farnsworth deal this winter.

Consider the questions answered. Moore was hitting .297 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs through 69 games and has impressed people, reminding many who had forgotten why he was a first-round pick in the first place.

"He might have the most upside of any player in the Florida State League," one Major League scout said. "He's a talent, and he has room on his body to get stronger. He can play defense, he has a plus arm at third, and he has power. His body profiles for the big leagues as a third baseman. It's easy to see that a kid like this could someday become a pretty good big-league player.

"The trade was a nice change of scenery for him. Maybe it jump-started him. I'm not sure, but I think it helped him. He still has things to work on, but he's a pretty good player and better defensively than LaRoche."

Daric Barton, 1B, Stockton (Class A, A's)
Depending on how their respective careers unfold, Daric Barton may always be known as the player for whom the A's traded Mark Mulder away. But who knows? If things work out, Mulder may become known as the player for whom the Cardinals traded Daric Barton away. At least that's how Oakland is hoping it will happen.

Barton, a former first-round pick by St. Louis, is blossoming at Stockton, hitting .319 with eight homers, 51 RBIs and a .467 slugging percentage as the California League finishes up its All-Star break. Drafted as a catcher, Barton played first and third base throughout high school. He caught at the Area Code Games because he thought it would get him noticed and it worked.

"First base is a cool position," he said. "I'm in the game a lot, I get in on a lot of plays and any time you're in there, the action is good. The game is harder and faster here than in high school, but overall I've done well."

Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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