Since speedy players like Alfonso Soriano and Jose Reyes have earned MVP trophies for the World team before, it won't be surprising if one of the budding leadoff men changes the game's tempo with a stolen base or sterling defensive effort. The latter should be a strength for the World squad as well, given that the team's speed will afford the pitching staff with significant range behind it.
Gorkys Hernandez, Myrtle Beach (Class A Advanced Braves)
While Jair Jurrjens has been one of the best rookie pitchers in the National League this season, it should be pointed out that Hernandez was the belle of the trade that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to the Tigers. And if Jurrjens' development has come as a bit of a surprise, the progress of Hernandez has provided continued reassurance in his talent.
The Venezuelan burst onto the scene in 2006 at the age of 18 with the Tigers' Gulf Coast League affiliate. He hit .327, stole 20 bases and showed some power to boot. His highly anticipated full-season debut last season came in the league where teenage position players go to fail -- the pitcher-friendly Midwest League.
However, despite cold weather and cavernous stadiums, Hernandez hit .293 and stole an astounding 54 bases. His future as a leadoff hitter was set.
An offseason trade to the Braves had little impact on Hernandez as the 20-year-old has never seemed so polished. While his productivity on the base paths has decreased this season with only 10 steals in 48 games, Hernandez' .467 slugging percentage suggests increased power. The former can be blamed on a strained hamstring that sidelined Hernandez in May, but the power development only further completes his overall game.
Che-Hsuan Lin, Greenville (Class A Red Sox)
Following Hernandez is another promising leadoff prospect and also the only member of the World Roster representing Asia. The Red Sox signed Lin out of Taiwan for $400,000 in 2007 and Boston wasted no time bringing him over to the United States. The summer after signing, Lin was tossed into professional baseball in the Gulf Coast League. He thrived in 43 games, posting a .787 OPS with 14 steals before an 11-game struggle in the New York-Penn League derailed his cumulative 2007 numbers.
Continuing their aggressive assignments, the Red Sox started Lin in the South Atlantic League this season where he's been one of the only teenage regulars. While Lin is hitting .259 atop the Drive batting order, his 37 steals and 25-for-31 success rate on the bases has still made his presence in the lineup a plus. Though his speed and patience seem perfect for the leadoff role, Lin has shown a propensity for situational hitting that might place his future in the middle of the order. He is hitting .354 with runners in scoring position this season, collecting 31 RBIs in 65 at-bats.
Fernando Martinez, Binghamton (Double-A Mets)
Believe it or not, while Martinez is the fourth-youngest player on the World Roster -- younger than Lin by three weeks -- he'll also enter Yankee Stadium as prepared for the moment as anyone on the team. After all, Martinez has been in the spotlight of the Big Apple since he was 17 and is a Futures Game veteran after being selected to the World Roster in 2007.
The Mets were aggressive with Martinez from the very beginning as the outfielder was one of the youngest players in both the South Atlantic and Florida State leagues in his first full season in the Minor Leagues at 17 in 2006. In 78 games at two levels that season, Martinez hit 10 home runs and earned praise for his work ethic and the promise of enhanced future power.
Since 2006, Martinez has played 111 games and hit eight home runs. The Mets continue to preach patience from their anxious fan base. Martinez seemed to be the one untouchable in the Johan Santana negotiations last winter, clearly an indication of the Mets' feelings about their blue-chipper. While injuries have shortened the Dominican's season in 2008, his second tour with Binghamton has provided more power than last year. Martinez's age has been a rarity at every level he has played in professional baseball, so while Double-A has hardly proven a breeze, being a teenager comes with a fair share of apologists.
Gerardo Parra, Mobile (Double-A Diamondbacks)
One of the purest prospects in the Minors, Parra will enter Yankee Stadium with a career .309 batting average in nearly 300 professional games. He hit .328 during his debut season in the Pioneer League in 2006. Parra hit .320 in the Midwest League in his full-season debut in 2007 and batted .301 in the California League before a promotion.
While Parra doesn't possess the raw speed of Hernandez or Lin, he's been just as successful on the bases this year. Parra has struggled a bit in the Southern League since his promotion, but he's 17-for-22 in stolen base attempts in 2008. Parra has also been far more patient, with five fewer walks than he amassed in all of 2007, despite playing 56 less games.
Now at the highest level of his career, Parra is again being plagued by his weakness against left-handed pitching. Since joining the BayBears, he is hitting .216 with two extra-base hits in 51 at-bats against southpaws. Power continues to be the lone flaw in Parra's otherwise polished game.
Wilkin Ramirez, Erie (Double-A Tigers)
In 2003, Ramirez was a hotshot teenage prospect in the Tigers organization who showed the promise of power and speed at third base. However, injuries sidelined Ramirez for the entire 2004 season and continued to bog him down in 2006. When he took the field, Ramirez was disappointing, striking out 336 times in 319 games from 2005-2007.
A move to the outfield and better health seem to be responsible for Ramirez' breakout performance this season as the Dominican has taken extremely well to his new position and assignment. Now 22, Ramirez is still striking out a lot (98 times this season), but he's hit 12 homers and stolen 17 bases.
After a good Spring Training, Ramirez hit .330 with 17 extra-base hits in 100 April at-bats. While an 11-game trial at Triple-A Toledo proved a struggle in early June, Ramirez hasn't missed a beat since rejoining the SeaWolves. It's likely his propensity for swings and misses will demand a shorter swing, but there's no question that there's few players more dangerous when they make contact.