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Futures Game a portent of stardom

Futures Game: Launchpad to stardom

Ten XM All-Star Futures Games are in the books. They've produced 39 Major League All-Stars and well over 200 big leaguers.

Just how the second decade improves on the first remains to be seen, but fans will get their first glimpse on All-Star Sunday, July 12 at 2 p.m. ET, in St. Louis.

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One thing this year's game will provide is a leader in the United States vs. the World series. The World team has won two in a row to even things at five games apiece, so whichever squad leaves Busch Stadium with a victory will have a 6-5 edge.

The 11th annual Futures Game can be seen live on MLB.TV, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday. MLB.com will provide complete coverage before, during and after the game.

The previous 10 games have provided an exciting glimpse into baseball's future. It started with a bang in its debut when then-Yankees prospect Alfonso Soriano hit two balls over the Green Monster at Boston's Fenway Park to capture 1999 MVP honors. Adam Dunn hit a monster home run of his own in Safeco Field in Seattle in 2001, while Chase Utley homered there, as well.

Jose Reyes had three RBIs in 2002 to win MVP honors in a game held in Milwaukee. The next year, in Chicago, it was Grady Sizemore's turn to be Most Valuable Player, going 2-for-3 with a homer. Billy Butler hit a two-run shot in Pittsburgh (2006) to be the second straight Royal to be named MVP (Justin Huber won in 2005). And while the World team won in 2007 in San Francisco, Justin Upton served notice that perhaps he was big league ready with a home run.

See a pattern here? Perhaps there are no guarantees, but a good performance in the Futures Game often leads to some good things in the Major Leagues.

Which of the 50 players listed on the rosters announced on Thursday will be the next stars? Only time will tell, but U.S. manager Ozzie Smith and World skipper Jose Oquendo, along with the Minor League coaches in each dugout, certainly have a ridiculous amount of talent to choose from to fill out lineup cards.

Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America, USA Baseball and the 30 Major League Baseball Clubs, selected the 25-man rosters for each club. Each Major League organization is represented and the World Team features players from 11 countries and territories. Players from all full-season Minor Leagues were eligible to participate.

More than a dozen of Futures Game players found their way onto league All-Star rosters this season, a sign that not only do they have bright futures, but these prospects are performing now. Four were 2008 Olympians and six participated in the last World Baseball Classic.

"It means a lot," said Reds pitching prospect J.C. Sulbaran, who'll represent Curacao on the World Team. "Since my last day of high school, I've had so many good things happen: Getting drafted, the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic. What can I say? This is one more opportunity to have fun playing the game I love."

The U.S. team has six players who were chosen in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft: Pedro Alvarez, Brian Matusz, Jason Castro, Jemile Weeks, Brett Wallace and Casey Kelly. Throw in Canadian Brett Lawrie on the World team and that's a lucky seven from last year's first round. Add four first-rounders from 2007 and that brings the number to 11.

"When they told me, I was really pumped, and I called my dad and let him know, and they were really excited," D-backs pitching prospect Jarrod Parker, a 2007 first-round pick, said. "To have friends and family there who haven't seen me throw in a long time will be great."

Eleven seems to be a good number for this year's game. The 11th edition not only has 11 first-rounders, but also 11 members of MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list, which came out last December, starting with No. 3 Jason Heyward and stretching down to No. 48 Angel Villalona.

The game will last nine innings, only the third time the exhibition has gone that long, with the other eight being seven-inning affairs. The 2000 game in Atlanta and last year's contest in New York were also nine-inning contests. If there's a tie, a 10th inning will be played, but the game will go no further than that. Players and coaches will wear special XM All-Star Futures Game jerseys while sporting the caps of their Major League organizations.

Jonathan Mayo 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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