Futures: U.S. Team deep up middle

Futures: U.S. Team deep up middle

Teams like to build their future up the middle.

Any time an organization can develop shortstops or second baseman in their Minor League systems, it's a huge plus, a feather in their development cap.

So it's understandable that the four organizations represented in the U.S. Team's middle infield for the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game on July 10 at Comerica Park are pretty pumped up about what lies ahead.

It should be noted that while the U.S. team technically has three shortstops listed, one -- Marcus Sanders -- does have second base experience and would likely slide over for the Futures Game. Here's what things will look like up the middle for the U.S. Team:

Josh Barfield, 2B, Portland (Triple-A, Padres)
The son of former big leaguer Jesse, Barfield is making his second trip to the Futures Game. Just 22, he's already playing at Triple-A, where he was hitting .282 with eight homers and nine steals in 78 games for Portland. He's gotten better as the season has progressed, making adjustments to the higher level and hitting .336 in June.

"His style is pretty unorthodox, but he gets it done so I can't argue with it," one American League scout said. "He has a late trigger on his swing, but his bat is so fast that it makes up for it."

Early in his career, many felt Barfield would eventually have to move to the outfield because of defensive inefficiencies. But he's worked tirelessly with the glove, to the point where position switch talk has quieted down.

"He's a better defender at second than people give him credit for," the scout said. "He can stay at second. ... He's never going to win a Gold Glove, but he can stay there."

Marcus Sanders, SS, Augusta (Class A, Giants)
The Giants were thrilled to get Sanders as a 17th-round draft-and-follow in the 2003 draft. A high school football injury forced him from shortstop to second base, though he led all Florida junior college players with 44 steals in his one season of juco ball.

After getting his feet wet in the Arizona League last summer, the Giants moved him back to shortstop (another year removed from that shoulder surgery) in the South Atlantic League for the 2005 season.

Obviously a plus runner -- he's got 40 steals in 71 games for Augusta -- he's not just legs. Sanders understands the value of getting on base, and he's got more power than you'd expect from his appearance.

"He's a lot like a Rickey Henderson or Bobby Bonds, a guy who used to lead off and hit [with power]," Giants farm director Jack Hiatt said. "We look at Marcus as a table setter."

B.J. Upton, SS, Durham (Triple-A, Devil Rays)
Some may be surprised to see Upton making a repeat performance at the Futures Game, not because of a lack of potential, but because his days as a Minor Leaguer seemed over.

Upton got 159 big league at-bats last year, ending his rookie status. Many thought he'd never leave the Tampa lineup after that. But the Rays decided to allow their shortstop phenom get some more development time at Triple-A Durham, a level he breezed through in 2004.

"I think he's handled it well," said Devil Rays director of player development and scouting Cam Bonifay about Upton's return to the Minors. "He's continuing to work on his game and continuing to improve on all facets. I'm sure he's looking forward to participating in this game."

Upton has hit .292 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 22 steals in 81 games with Durham this season. But the biggest question mark has been about his defense. He's made 29 errors at short in the International League this year, but the organization has seen improvement, reminding people he's still just 20 years old.

"We've seen better preparation, a better of understanding of what it takes to play a premier position at a higher level," Bonifay said. "Even though he's made errors, I think all young shortstops make errors as they make their way to the big leagues. People forget how young he is and how skilled an athlete he is."

Brandon Wood, SS, Rancho Cucamonga (Class A Advanced, Angels)
To say that 2005 has been a breakout for the Angels' prospect would be a bit of an understatement. After hitting 11 homers all year in the Midwest League a year ago, Wood has knocked 26 out of Californa League parks to tie for the overall Minor League lead (with Jacksonville's Andy LaRoche).

"He's having a tremendous year; he's swinging the bat very well," Angels farm director Tony Reagins said about the organziation's top pick from the 2003 draft. "He is producing power numbers we didn't expect this early."

Like with some of the others on this list, there has been some talk of Wood needing to find a new defensive home. Third has been most often mentioned, with Wood eventually outgrowing shortstop. But so far, he's done fine up the middle, and there's no plan to move him right now.

"Defenisvely, he's been solid," Reagins said. "That's the mindset: Until he proves he can't play short, he's a shortstop. So far, there's been no indication of that."

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