The basic concept behind the All-Star Futures Game, when it was created in 1999, was to shine a spotlight on the best players in the Minor Leagues. The name of the game says it all: Players who are chosen to participate in the annual event held on the Sunday before the Major League All-Star Game are thought to be the future stars of the game.
By now, it's no revelation to say the game has been successful in that mission. But just how prescient have the organizers of the Futures Game been in selecting the rosters every year? With the 12th edition of the XM All-Star Futures Game coming this Sunday in Anaheim (6 p.m. ET, MLB.TV, ESPN2, ESPN2 HD, XM 175), it seemed a perfect time to delve a little deeper to see just how well the game has done in predicting the future.
Using the historical all-time roster as a guide, it's quickly apparent that not only do a vast majority of Futures Gamers make it to the big leagues, but many of the participants use the exhibition as a springboard to hit the Major League scene very quickly.
A quick note on methodology: To keep things consistent, we used the players' first years of participation to determine his speed to the big leagues. For instance, a player like All-Star Miguel Cabrera was a Futures Gamer in 2001 and 2002. For the purposes of this research, he was counted as a 2001 participant.
Not making the big leagues the exception, not the rule
Out of the list of 478 players who have played in at least one Futures Game since its inaugural version at Fenway Park in 1999, it's hard to find players who haven't played at least one game at the Major League level. Only 93 haven't received any service time to date. That means 80.5 percent of all past participants (1999-2009) have at least partially fulfilled the potential they were labeled with when they were chosen to play in the game.
A look at how many Futures Game players have reached the Majors and how many of them have gotten there within a year.
No. in bigs
In 1 yr.**
* The number of first-time participants
** The percentage of Futures Gamers that have reached the Majors who have done so within a year of their Futures Game debut
That first game in 1999 definitely set the tone. Out of 49 participants in that initial game -- a coming out party for Alfonso Soriano, among others -- 44 have made it to the highest level. That's a success rate of 89.8 percent, for those scoring at home. Each of the first five years, in fact, had a success rate over 80 percent.
None, at least thus far, has been as successful as the 2003 Futures Game, when Joe Mauer, Ryan Howard and Zack Greinke, to mention three prominent names, played. But it's not just star power that stands out. Of the 44 players who participated in the Futures Game for the first time in 2003, a whopping 43 -- 97.7 percent -- played at least one Major League game. The 2005 Game (see chart) isn't far off at 92.3 percent. That year featured future stars like Hanley Ramirez and Justin Verlander.
Truth be told, no year was really a slouch, with every season from 1999-2006 over the 80-percent threshold. And the jury is out on the more recent years, with more Major Leaguers sure to come from those rosters. The fact that the 2009 Futures Game has seen nearly half of its participants hit the bigs speaks not only to the overall success of the event, but leads to the next point: It does not take long for Futures Game players to make it up to the big leagues.
Futures Gamers take about a year to be ready
Over the course of the first 11 Futures Games, there have been some players who actually made their big-league debuts before attending the game. A grand total of 35 out of the 385 who have played in the Majors got a taste of big-league life before attending the Futures Game.
As for the other 350 who made their Major League debuts following their Futures Game experience, it hasn't taken all that long for most to get there. Just over a year, in fact -- 374 1/2 days to be precise. That speaks volumes about the quality of the game, as well as how it likely serves as an outstanding motivator -- the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick -- for these young players to reach the highest level.
For some, the leap was almost simultaneous. Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden made his big-league debut just five days after participating in the 2008 game in New York. Future All-Stars Lance Berkman (1999 Futures Game), Mark Buehrle (2000) and David Wright(2004) all made it to the Majors within 10 days of playing in the Futures Game.
On the flip side, there are players like Jose Tabata, who took 1,431 days to make it to the big leagues following his 2006 Futures Game experience. Of course, some of that has to do with being chosen as a teenager in the Class A South Atlantic League. The player who took the longest to go from Futures to the big leagues, however, is an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner. Sometimes, persistence pays off. Just ask Josh Hamilton. Everyone knows his story by now, but the 2000 Futures Gamer took nearly seven years -- 2,459 days to be precise -- to get to the Majors following his experience in Atlanta that hot July.
Overall, over 61 percent of Futures Gamers who made their Major League debuts after the game did so within a calendar year. That first edition, back in 1999, set the tone early, with 69.2 percent of the participants in that game hitting the bigs in less than a year. No other season approached that quick turnaround rate until recently -- perhaps a sign that the Futures Game has helped these players make a beeline to the bigs, or that the Game has targeted more fast track players than in the past.
From last year's game, 21 of the 47 first-time participants have made it to the big leagues already. Over 79 percent of the 2008 Futures Gamers took less than a year to reach the Majors, and 71.4 percent did the same from the 2007 rosters.
the future is now
Former Futures Game players that are making their All-Star Game debut this year:
Plenty of hardware to go around
The Futures Game hasn't just been an indicator of players who will make it to the big leagues. It's been a funnel for stars, those who excel at the highest level and go on to play in Major League All-Star Games and win awards like Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player.
A grand total of 73 players have gone from the Futures Game to being named to at least one All-Star Game. That includes a list of 13 former Futures Gamers who were named to their first Midsummer Classic this season.
No one Futures Game player has been more decorated than Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. It may have taken him 416 games to get to the big leagues after he attended the 2003 Futures Game in Chicago, but he's made the wait worth it, hasn't he? Howard has gone on to win the Rookie of the Year, an MVP and a Silver Slugger award. He was named to his third All-Star team this year and he's finished in the top five in MVP voting for four years in a row.
The only hitter who could come close to Howard in claiming "best Futures Game alum" might be Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who was also at that 2003 game and was in the big leagues 267 days later. The backstop is now a four-time All-Star, an MVP and a three-time Silver Slugger winner.
A look at the number of Futures Game players that have gone on to accumulate major awards in the Major Leagues.
No. of players
Rookies of the Year
As for a top pitcher, that would have to go to 2000 Futures Gamer C.C. Sabathia and his three All-Star appearances and one Cy Young Award. Of course, lefty Barry Zito, who was on the same United States staff as Sabathia, also has a Cy Young Award on his resume. Zack Greinke (2003) has one, too, but has just one All-Star appearance under his belt. Justin Verlander (2005) has a Rookie of the Year under his belt, two All-Star appearances and has finished in the top five for Cy voting twice, so he may yet give the vets a run for their money.
Of course, who knows who else may become stars with Futures Game roots? That -- the future -- is, after all, what this is all about, right?
First time all-stars in 2010 with Futures Game on resume
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.