Beware, Kyle Schwarber, the Curse of the Futures Game MVP
Getting invited to play in Major League Baseball's Futures Game, which pits the very best minor league prospects against each other in a matchup of the United States versus the World, is an honor. The invitation alone signals that you are one of the best young players in the minors, with most among the top three prospects in their respective teams' farm systems.
Not everyone who plays in the game is going to be a star, but the players who participate in this annual contest, always played the weekend before the MLB All-Star Game, are part of a showcase that features the players who could be the next superstars of the game.
On Sunday, Chicago Cubs catching prospect Kyle Schwarber was named the game's MVP after hitting a tie-breaking two-run triple and also throwing out a baserunner trying to steal. Last year's fourth pick overall in the draft, Schwarber has done nothing but hit since he joined the Cubs' organization.
He started this season in Double-A and, in 243 plate appearances, hit .320/.438/.579 with 13 home runs. He was moved up to Triple-A where, in 67 plate appearances, he's hit .333/.403/.633.
He even got a little face time with the big league club when the team went to Interleague play this year. As the designated hitter, he hit .364/.391/.591 with a homer and a triple, in what is obviously a very small sample size.
Schwarber was sent back down to Triple-A after his brief Interleague call-up because the organization wants him to work on his defense. However, he appeared to have a good "pop time" at the Futures Game ("pop time" is how long it takes for a catcher to catch a pitch, pop out of his stance and throw the ball to second), although he did also have a passed ball. Whether he's able to be a catcher long-term in the Majors is an open question, but there seems to be no doubt that he is a legitimate hitting prospect.
In their mid-season top-50 prospect rankings, both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had him as the sixth-best minor leaguer in all of baseball.
And while being named the Futures Game MVP on Sunday was certainly an honor and nothing to sneeze at, one wonders if it isn't also a curse, given how past winners have fared at the Major League level. Especially in recent years.
|2004||Aaron Hill||Blue Jays||1352||19.8|
|2008||Che-Hsuan Lin||Red Sox||9||-0.2|
Last year's MVP, Joey Gallo, was recently sent back down to Triple-A after having far too much trouble making contact at the Major League level. However, he did show some scary power when he was up and remains one of the most lethal power-hitting prospects in all of baseball.
Who can forget that three-year stretch where household names such as Chin-lung Hu, Che-Hsuan Lin and Rene Tosoni took home the MVP awards? I've got all their baseball cards. But take a look at this list. Hank Conger. Nick Castellanos. Matt Davidson. Justin Huber. Not a lot of memorable guys there.
The last player to make a true impact in the Majors on that list is Billy Butler, now with the Oakland A's. Butler has had a nice career so far, mostly with the Kansas City Royals, but has struggled after signing a free agent deal with Oakland this offseason. He is not a superstar.
Aaron Hill has had a long career as a second baseman with the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks but has played at a sub-replacement-player level over the last few years. He's had a couple productive seasons here and there but has never been a star either.
Grady Sizemore was on his way to being one of the truly great players in the game, but injuries derailed his career right in its prime, forcing him to miss two full seasons. Now at 32 years old, he's just trying to hang on, playing with the Tampa Bay Rays after joining the Phillies for parts of two seasons.
The last true superstar to win Futures Game MVP was Jose Reyes, who has tallied the highest fWAR of all the players listed above. When healthy, Reyes is still a dynamic player. The other true superstar on this list is Alfonso Soriano, the very first guy to win the award.
But it's clear that winning Futures Game MVP does not guarantee Major League success. In fact, given recent history, one wonders if this award is, dare we say, cursed?
Will Schwarber be a Reyes or a Soriano? Or will he be another Hank Conger?
Only the future will tell.