There are no fewer than seven members of the United States and World Team rosters who had yet to turn 20 when the calendar turned to July. All of them are on MLB.com's current Top 100 Prospects list.
These youngsters can be seen live on MLB.com, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, when the Futures Game will be played at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. In addition, XM Radio will broadcast play-by-play coverage of the game live on MLB Network Radio XM 89. MLB.com will also provide complete coverage before, during and after the game. Fans can stay updated by following @MLBFutures on Twitter and can send and receive tweets to and from the U.S. and World team dugouts during the game by following @USDugout and @WorldDugout.
2012 Futures game representatives
MLB, along with the MLB Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America and the 30 Major League baseball clubs, selected the 25-man rosters. George Brett will manage the U.S. Team with Bernie Williams manning the World Team dugout.
Three of the lucky seven youngsters are in the Top 10. Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, the No. 3 overall prospect, will turn 20 on Friday, just two days before the game. Another shortstop, the Rangers' Jurickson Profar, who is ranked No. 4, won't turn 20 until February. Dylan Bundy (No. 7) gives the Orioles two teenaged Futures Gamers.
The others from the teen set are all on the rise and will likely rank higher in the Top 100 in the near future: Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker (No. 13), who will be 20 in mid-August; Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (26), who's the youngest of the group at 18; Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (65), whose birthday is in October; and Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez (94), who will turn 20 at the end of July.
The Futures Game has always been about youth and the next generation, but this seems extreme, especially considering it doesn't include Cardinals left-hander Oscar Taveras, who turned 20 in June, White Sox infielder Carlos Sanchez, who was born 10 days after Taveras, or Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos, who celebrated birthday No. 20 in March.
This isn't just random, a coincidence or a cycle of youth that comes and goes. There appears to be at least some explanation for this flood of teenaged talent.
"Two things come to mind," one professional scouting director said. "One, the kids were signing more out of high school in the Draft. The better talent, prior to the Draft rules changing, with the money at the top of the Draft, these kids were signing."
In the past, players like Bundy and Lindor, both 2011 top-10 picks, may have gone on to college. But the industry did a much better job of identifying the best high school players and getting them to sign. Seventeen of the 25 players on the U.S. Team roster were high school draftees. Three of the World Team players were also prep picks.
This youth movement isn't just in the Draft. The international signing period began on Monday, with teams signing players at age 16. That's how Profar and Bogaerts came two years ago to the Rangers and Red Sox, who have been very aggressive in recent years in other countries. It used to be that few teams had setups in place in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. Now every team has a presence of some sort.
"The other factor is the commitment to Latin America," the scouting director agreed. These kids are signing quicker and moving faster."
That's another important point. These aren't just teenagers, they are teenagers who are moving up organizational ladders quickly. Lindor is the only one of the seven in low-A ball and even that can be seen as aggressive compared to the past, when a draftee that young may not have always gone straight to full-season ball to start the year.
Bundy and Fernandez started at that rung, but have already been promoted. Bogaerts is in the Class A Advanced Carolina League with Bundy, and has been there all year. Castellanos recently got bumped up to Double-A, where Profar and Walker have been playing all season.
"I've been doing pro coverage [for 15 years]," the scouting director said. "There are fewer players, so the gifted ones are going to move fast. It used to be a safe bet that you'd see five to seven legitimate prospects on any team. Now, the demand is quicker than the supply, so some of these guys have been moved more quickly than maybe they should."
That's one of the amazing things about this teen group. They're not just being moved aggressively. They're rising to the challenges, making All-Star teams, leading leagues in various statistical categories and, of course, making Futures Game rosters.
"You have to look at the strength and intelligence factor," the scouting director said. "They are stronger at a younger age and they've played baseball for all of their lives."
It's allowed them to get the invite to Kansas City and show what they can do against the best the Minor Leagues have to offer, all on a stage larger than they've likely ever performed on. That's why those in the industry don't want to miss seeing how these young players respond to the spotlight.
"It's great," the scouting director said. "We do our best to cover all the Minor League All-Star Games, too, for that reason. You get to see them on a slightly bigger stage. This will be the first time most of them will play in front of 20,000 or more fans. The really good ones, they want to take it to another level when they're on the field with that many good players. That's an intangible, you find out about the kids who have a real personal pride in their game."