Nothing's too big for the World
Futures players familiar with spotlight of Olympics, Classic
As the World Team attempts to win its third straight XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game, one thing is fairly clear: The squad won't shy away from the big stage or the feeling of international competition in the World vs. the United States format.
Of the 25 players on the 2009 roster announced on Thursday, six played in this spring's World Baseball Classic, four of whom went to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. One nine-inning game in a jam-packed Busch Stadium? No sweat.
"I think that's really helped me," said Brewers prospect and Canadian Brett Lawrie. "Being in the Olympics and then the World Baseball Classic, having the full Major League stadium there going nuts, it's obviously helped me. I don't think I'll be too overwhelmed. I've played in a lot of places where there's going to be a lot of people. There'll be some butterflies, but that's all good stuff. I'm just going to to have fun with it and have a good experience with it."
"All of those things, if I ever make the Major Leagues, I'll have to put all of those things together to progress in the game," said Reds prospect J.C. Sulbaran, a native of Curacao who pitched both in the Classic and the Olympics for the Netherlands. "In Puerto Rico, for the Classic, everyone was screaming against us, at least 18,000 at that game. To me, it was pretty fun.
"It's one of the best things. I'm playing the game I love and getting so much experience, getting to know places I never thought I'd know, like China. It's just fun, especially being this young."
The 11th annual XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game can be seen live on MLB.TV, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 12. MLB.com will provide complete coverage before, during and after the game.
Sulbaran and Lawrie are two of six players on the World team, piloted by former Cardinals player and current coach Jose Oquendo, who will still be teenagers when the game takes place. Two of the other teens -- the Giants' Angel Villalona and the Yankees' Jesus Montero -- are also the only two participants in this year's contest who have been to a previous Futures Game, having played last year in New York. The average age of the roster, which has representatives from 11 countries or territories, is just under 21 years old.
Joining Sulbaran on the World pitching staff are teeny-boppers Manny Banuelos of the Yankees (Mexico), who's just 18 and Dominican Jenrry Mejia of the Mets, who's 19 but has already pitching in Double-A. Chia-Jen Lo (Astros) is another double-duty international participant, having been on Olympic and Classic rosters for Taiwan.
Mejia has four other Dominicans with him on the staff, as the DR has the largest contingent on the roster with nine. He's joined by Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz, D-backs lefty Leyson Septimo and Phillies southpaw Yohan Flande. Rockies righty Jhoulys Chacin, from Venezuela, rounds out the staff.
Catching this exciting and young staff will be Montero (Venezuela), the Yankees prospect recently promoted to Double-A at age 19, and Dominican Carlos Santana from the Indians organization, perhaps best known for being traded from the Dodgers to the Indians for Casey Blake last summer in the midst of one of the better offensive seasons in the Minor Leagues.
Villalona, a Giants prospect from the Dominican, will hold down first base for the World team for the second straight year. He's joined at the corners by a trio of third basemen: Italy's Alex Liddi (Mariners); Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox, who's Cuban; and Dominican Pedro Baez (Dodgers).
Up the middle, Lawrie, a second baseman, could team up with fellow Brewers prospect Alcides Escobar, who hails from Venezuela. Or maybe it will be another Venezuelan in Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores. The Cubs' Starlin Castro (DR), recently crowned the MVP of the Florida State League All-Star Game, fills out the middle infield.
There's the potential to have an all-Canadian outfield. Indians prospect Nick Weglarz, also a Classic and Olympic veteran, could join the Mariners' Tyson Gillies and the Twins' Rene Tosoni to roam Busch Stadium's expanse. The other options are Panama's Luis Durango (Padres), who played in the World Baseball Classic, and Korea's Kyeong Kang of the Rays.
Major League Baseball, in conjunction with all 30 clubs, worked with MLB.com and Baseball America to select the players to play in the game. All 30 teams must be represented and no organization is allowed to have more than two players named to the initial rosters.
Lawrie, for one, understands how special it is to have been named and knows things such as the Futures Game will serve as a very good carrot at the end of the stick to work toward getting back to a big league stadium full-time, though he won't let that keep him from soaking it all in.
"Obviously, I have some people out there who are rooting for me, who want to see me get there," he said. "It's good to know I have all these people on my side. It makes me want to strive harder, and get to the next level. That's the ultimate goal."
Fellow Canadian Phillipe Aumont, a Mariners pitching prospect, "went to it and had a ball," added Lawrie. "It sounds like an awesome time and it's going to be fun."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.