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Next stars emerge at Futures Game

Tomorrow's stars emerge at Futures Game

DETROIT -- They're coming from far and wide and though you may not know some of their names, the safe bet is that you will, if not by Sunday evening then certainly sometime down the line.

That's what the XM Satellite Radio Futures Game is all about. When the World Team future stars take on their United States counterparts Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. ET) in Comerica Park, baseball fans will have a chance to get their first real look at some of the players who are being billed as the stars of tomorrow. While the B.J. Upton's, Conor Jackson's and Anibal Sanchez's are already familiar names to some, what about Frank Diaz or Kevin Frandsen or Daric Barton?

All of the players who'll take the field are certainly well known in baseball circles. This game represents a chance for the non-hardcore fan to get a glimpse of the players who are expected to make up baseball's next great class of superstars. So sit back, hide the remote for a few hours and enjoy as U.S. manager and Hall-of-Famer George Brett goes head to head with his World Team counterpart Guillermo Hernandez.

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And if you're near a computer during the game, which will be broadcast on ESPN2 and MLB Radio, you'll have the added bonus of being able to talk to some of the players while they're in the dugout by e-mailing questions to futuresgame@website.MLB.com.

"This is the first I've ever heard of some of these guys," United States manager George Brett said. "And I'm looking forward to seeing the future stars of the game play when no one has really heard of them."

The World team, managed by former Tigers hurler Willie Hernandez, features players from six countries -- the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Canada, Venezuela, Australia and South Korea -- as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. Hernandez also said he wasn't familiar with most of his players but was excited and honored to be back in Detroit, where he won a World Series, a Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Award.

"Being asked to manage this team caught me by surprise," said Hernandez, who saw Brett hit .308 (4-for-13) with a homer against him during their distinguished careers. "They called me a couple of weeks ago and asked me and I didn't realize how big this event was. I'm pretty excited about it and I get to face George Brett again."

Hernandez announced that Minnesota prospect Francisco Liriano (combined 5-5, 3.55 at Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester) will start while Brett is leaning towards starting Tigers' prospect and former first-round pick Justin Verlander. He is a combined 10-3 at Class-A Lakeland, Double-A Erie and with Detroit, for whom he made his Major League debut last week in Cleveland.

"I can promise you that, one of the Tigers guys will start," Brett said regarding Verlander and Joel Zumaya.

The U.S. team would appear to have edge as far as pitching is concerned, though. The pitchers on the American roster are a combined 71-25 this season with a 2.70 ERA in 185 games [149 starts]. They have also recorded 955 strikeouts in 892 innings. In contrast, the World pitchers are 46-45 with a 3.46 ERA in 161 games, All-Starts. They have 920 strikeouts in 914 innings.

"I'm not coming out here to manage to lose," Brett said. "I want to win. At the same time we have to have fun and make sure no one gets hurt."

The United States team has also held the upper hand in Futures Game play since the event began, winning four of the six contests since 1999. The US has won each of the last two events, taking last year's game in Houston, 4-3, behind the exploits of then Toronto prospect Aaron Hill, who drove in a pair of runs in what turned out to be a rousing affair at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Hill used the game as a springboard into what has become a successful rookie season in Toronto, where he was hitting .344 through 43 games to emerge as one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year in the American League. Can it happen again this season?

Perhaps Jackson, who has been tearing up the Pacific Coast League, will take center stage on the big stage and put himself in position to make a splash with the Diamondbacks in 2006. Maybe Yusmeiro Petit, who had a strong showing at least year's Future's Game, will once again take command and position himself to become part of the New York Mets' rotation. Ditto for Liriano, the Minnesota pitching prospect that was recently promoted to Triple-A.

Baseball executives have seen what can happen in these games and lobby for their prospects almost as much as they lobby for the players on their respective parent clubs to play in the Mid-Summer Classic.

"He (Liriano) is in the Futures Game, which we think is an honor," Twins Minor League Director Jim Rantz said. "It's not only the experience but the hoopla of pitching in that setting. Most of these guys have never been in a big-league park. To see that competition that's on the horizon, we treat this very seriously."

Liriano and Petit are two of the four Top-50 Players, as chosen by MLB.com, on the World Team. San Francisco's Merkin Valdez and Boston's Hanley Ramirez are also on the list. The U.S. Team boasts seven players, including Jackson, Barton (Oakland), Jeff Francouer (Atlanta), Jeremy Hermida (Marlins), Lastings Milledge (New York Mets), Delmon Young (Devil Rays) and pitcher Zack Duke, who was recently called up by Pittsburgh where he earned his first big-league victory on Thursday.

"It's a great honor being named a top Minor League prospect," Barton said. "I'm really looking forward to playing with those other guys, Triple-A guys like (Conor) Jackson. I hope to learn a lot of stuff from them. It's going to be awesome.

"I wish I could stay and watch the home run derby. It would be cool if I could run into Pudge (Rodriguez). That would be something else; he's the total package. Overall, it's going to be good to be around a Major League park, play in it and be around the stars from all of the Minor Leagues."

Some you'll know. Some you won't. All, however, deserve to be there.

Kevin 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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