In the past four years, 17 of the 24 players who have won a Most Valuable Player, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year Award were former Futures Gamers. Since the first event was held in 1999, 120 of its participants have made it to an All-Star Game, including Clayton Kershaw, Joe Mauer, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Troy Tulowitzki, Chase Utley, Justin Verlander and David Wright -- and that's just from the U.S. team. Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Joey Votto are among those who have gone from the Futures Game's World squad to a Midsummer Classic.
Several of those guys didn't waste much time, as Cabrera, Cano, Trout, Verlander and Wright played in their first All-Star Games just two years after appearing in the Futures Game. An even dozen players were even quicker, appearing in the events in consecutive years, with Jose Fernandez, Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, Evan Longoria and Manny Machado among them.
So who will be the first player from this year's Futures Game to reach an All-Star Game? My colleague Jonathan Mayo and I agree that the obvious choice is Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who currently shares the Minor League home run lead with 31 in 92 games. For the purposes of this Pipeline Perspective, we'll both exclude Bryant from the discussion.
While Jonathan believes that Reds outfielder Jesse Winker is the next-best candidate, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is the better choice. Selected to play in the Futures Game in each of his three full years in pro ball -- making him just the eighth player to make that many appearances -- he likely will see that streak come to an end in 2015 because he'll be in Cleveland. Lindor is batting .284/.361/.400 in Double-A, and he is on pace to set career highs in most offensive categories despite being the Eastern League's youngest everyday player at age 20, so he could get the call to Progressive Field by the end of this season.
Lindor has all the ingredients to become a complete shortstop. His defense gets the most praise, and deservedly so. The game has several outstanding shortstop prospects, including Carlos Correa (Astros), Javier Baez (Cubs) and Addison Russell (Cubs), and Lindor is clearly the top defender among them. Some scouts go a step further and call him the best defender in the Minor Leagues.
A potential Gold Glover, Lindor covers plenty of ground on both sides. He has the arm strength to make plays from deep in the hole and also has soft hands. Lindor has the tools to make difficult plays and the consistency to make the routine ones.
Lindor's defense is so good that it overshadows his offense. Though he consistently has ranked among the youngest regulars in his league each year, he never has been overmatched at the plate. A switch-hitter, Lindor excels at making contact and getting on base.
While Lindor won't be a power hitter like Correa, Baez or Russell, he won't be a slap hitter, either. He has some wiry strength in his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame and eventually could produce 30 doubles and 10 homers on an annual basis. With his solid speed, he could add 15-20 steals per year.
As gifted as he is physically, Lindor stands out just as much for his exceptionally advanced instincts that help him make the most of his ability. When Lindor was breaking into pro ball as an 18-year-old shortstop in the low Class A Midwest League in 2012, opposing manager Jose Valentin compared his approach and mental toughness to that of a 20-year big league veteran.
In addition to talent, Lindor also has opportunity on his side. Derek Jeter, who has started eight of the Past 11 All-Star Games for the American League, will retire after the season. The only other shortstop on the AL's All-Star roster this year, Alexei Ramirez, is 32 and nearing the end of his prime. Of the top five shortstops in the AL this year based on Wins Above Replacement -- Erick Aybar, Ramirez, Alcides Escobar, Jose Reyes and J.J. Hardy -- all but Escobar are on the wrong side of 30.
With his offense, defense and instincts, Lindor quickly should become one of the best shortstops in the Major Leagues. He already has become a regular at the Futures Game, and he should do the same at the All-Star Game as well.