07/04/05 2:41 PM ET
Futures: World outfield a different breed
Pie, Choo set to return to international stage
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
Futures fans will have get the chance to see Felix Pie and Shin-Soo Choo, two players who have previous experience in this event. There's Nelson Cruz and the unheralded Frank Diaz as well as Yankees prospect Melky Cabrera, who should garner enough attention simply because of the organization for which he plays.
There's a little something for everyone to get excited about when discussing the World outfielders, so here's a closer look at the bunch.
Nelson Cruz, Nashville Sounds (Triple-A, Brewers)
The well-traveled Cruz -- Milwaukee is his third organization and he's only 24 -- seems to have finally found a home with the Brewers. He's got power; he's got a strong arm and is on the verge of moving up to the Pacific Coast League, if not the big leagues before too long.
Cruz was hitting .306 with 16 homers and 54 RBIs with a .388 on-base percentage through 68 games, before being promoted to Nashville -- where he hasn't missed a beat, hitting .385 (5-for-13) with two homers and five RBIs in his first four games. He played at three levels last season with Oakland, combining to hit 26 homers and drive in 99 runs, and was one of five Minor Leaguers to rack up 300 total bases before Milwaukee traded for him.
"He just needs to play against some advanced pitching now," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "We were tempted to send him to Triple-A out of Spring Training but we said, 'Go to Double-A and perform and we'll consider sending you up.' He's done that so we're going to have to back what we say. If he goes there [to Nashville] and hits, we wouldn't be afraid to bring him to the big leagues if we had an injury."
Felix Pie, West Tenn Diamond Jaxx (Double-A, Cubs)
Pie is making his third trip to the Futures Game. His effort through the first half of the Southern League season certainly shows that he is deserving of the honor. A native of the Dominican Republic, Pie was hitting .304 with 11 homers and 25 RBIs through 59 games.
Already a Winter League veteran, Pie has been groomed in the Cubs system for several years and is wowing folks throughout the circuit.
"He reminds me of a young Cesar Cedeno," West Tennessee hitting coach and former Major Leaguer Von Joshua said. "Cesar used to have a lot of flair. He could run and hit for power. For a thin guy he is tremendously strong. You don't realize his power. If I had to pick someone whom he reminded me of it would be a young Cedeno, around 19 or 20.
"He does everything well. He's a little brash and a little confident in his ability. In his mind right now, he's a big leaguer. It's not cocky. He knows he can play. They've been grooming him since he was 14 or 15. He knows the game well for a young kid and he's infectious. He rubs off on everyone."
Frank Diaz, Potomac Nationals (Class A, Washington)
Diaz is probably one of the more unheralded players chosen to participate in the Futures Game, but that certainly doesn't mean he has no right to be there. He's projected as a No. 3 hitter and has shown flashes that he is capable of excelling in that role. He's hitting .305 through 78 games with nine homers and 38 RBIs. While none of those numbers are tops on the team, his 97 hits over the same span are 18 hits better than teammate Kory Casto. He has managed only eight walks but has also fanned only 33 times.
"He was a fairly raw hitter at the time he signed and he's just been able to develop through getting a number of at-bats," Washington director of player development Adam Wogan said. "Prototypically, he would be the ideal on-base guy. He doesn't strike out much, he's a good line-drive hitter and we think he'll develop more power. He really thrives in the three hole.
"He may not walk 20 times this year but for us, that's okay because he doesn't swing and miss a lot. If he sees a pitch he likes, he doesn't let it go by. So I don't know if he'd be the ideal leadoff guy."
Diaz possesses average speed, but has a plus arm and is currently playing.
Shin-Soo Choo, Tacoma Rainiers (Triple-A, Seattle)
Choo, the only Asian player on the World Team, has experience on his side, having already played in a pair of Futures Games. This game might ultimately represent his swan song in the Minor Leagues because he is on the verge of breaking through with the parent club. He's already been called up this season and went 1-for-3 with an RBI in limited duty.
The left-handed-hitting Choo has risen steadily throughout the Seattle system after signing as an undrafted teenager in 2000, culminating with his effort this season. He's hitting .259 with six homers, 23 RBIs and 15 steals. He signed for nearly $1.5 million and the Mariners haven't been disappointed, particularly with his play in the outfield and his arm.
Melky Cabrera, Columbus Clippers (Triple-A, Yankees)
Cabrera is on the move, having been promoted to Triple-A Columbus after hitting .272 with nine homers and 42 RBIs at Double-A Trenton. The move seems to be working as Cabrera is batting .385 (8-for-21) with three homers and seven RBIs in his first six games with the Clippers. Cabrera is one of the Yankees' top outfield prospects, and the club may be accelerating his development.
Whether that means Cabrera actually makes it to New York this season remains to be seen. It would seem highly unlikely but injuries and age have left the Yankees outfield vulnerable and the club has promoted from within with a greater frequency this season than in the past.
Cabrera has good gap power and appears to be an average to above-average center fielder, a position at which the Yanks have had problems with this season.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.