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Futures Game kicks off ASG action
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07/11/2004 7:32 AM ET
Futures Game kicks off ASG action
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Prince Fielder hit .313 with 27 home runs and 112 RBIs last year. (Scott Paulus/Brewers)
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The Futures Game seems so close to the Majors and literally is so close to the All-Star Game itself, the top prospects can almost taste the big time.

Now in its sixth year, the New York Mercantile Exchange All-Star Futures Game is the marquee event of All-Star Sunday, which gets the baseball action started leading up to Tuesday's 75th All-Star Game. The showcase of the best talent the minor leagues have to offer will match the U.S. team vs. the World team at 4 p.m. ET at Houston's Minute Maid Park.

For those players getting their first crack at such an event, it can't help but be the highlight of a young pro career.

"Playing in a game like that, growing up watching it, seeing all those guys, seeing how close you are to the Show, it's definitely a confidence booster," said Diamondbacks outfield prospect and 2003 first-round pick Conor Jackson.

For the fourth straight year, fans will be able to find out just what it's like to be a young star among stars in the dugout at the Futures Game by e-mailing the players themselves, and players from both teams will actually answer fans' e-mail questions during the game. Fans may submit their questions to futuresgame@website.mlb.com.

This no doubt will be a major event for these minor leaguers. This is, after all, just a step or two away from the Majors.

For instance, A's right-hander Rich Harden, a Canadian who was last year's starter for the World team, went right to the big leagues after his Futures Game appearance. A total of 93 players from the first five Futures Games are in the Majors, and 12 players have gone from playing in the Futures Game to reaching the All-Star Game.

Last year, Indians prospect Grady Sizemore took the Larry Doby Award as the game's MVP in 2003 at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, going 2-for-3 before U.S. teammate Stephen Smitherman (Reds) hit a two-run homer to beat the World, 3-2.

This year's rosters include the highly touted Milwaukee prospect tandem of first baseman Prince Fielder and second baseman Rickie Weeks, as well as top prospects B.J. Upton of Tampa Bay, Jeff Francis of Colorado and Justin Morneau of Minnesota. The hot corner is a hot spot, with Dallas McPherson of the Angels manning the position for the U.S., and Andy Marte of the Braves and Edwin Encarnacion of the Reds available for the World team.

The 25-man rosters for both the U.S. and World teams were selected by Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the 30 Major League clubs and Baseball America. Each Major League organization is represented and the World team features players from six countries -- the Dominican Republic, Canada, Venezuela, South Korea, Colombia and Mexico -- and Puerto Rico.

Eight of the players in this year's game competed in last year's contest, while two prospects participated in the 2002 game in Milwaukee's Miller Park.

A couple of former All-Stars will lend their services as managers of the teams. Goose Gossage will manage the U.S. team and Fernando Valenzuela will pilot the World team.

"Just to have this game as part of the All-Star Game and to have these kids perform in a big league stadium like that, in front of all those great fans, what a thrill it is for them," Gossage told MLB Radio earlier this week. "Talk about a feather in your cap for being selected for this team and being able to play on that kind of a stage.

"And it's a thrill for me to be able to sit in the dugout, be their manager and watch them play. We're going to have fun. I can guarantee that."

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporter Jonathan Mayo contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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