Meet the Future: U.S. outfielders
Latest crop carries lofty expectations into Yankee Stadium
Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Jacoby Ellsbury did it last year. In 2006, there was Hunter Pence, Travis Buck and Cameron Maybin. Go back to 2005 and you'll see Chris Young, Delmon Young and Jeremy Hermida in the box score.
Needless to say, the bar for outfielders on the U.S. Team in the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game has been set fairly high. The quintet on this year's roster has a lot to live up to, and a lot to look forward to, as every one on the above list has seen the big leagues.
This year's outfield crop has one more thing to anticipate when it comes together at Yankee Stadium on Sunday: a possible trip to Beijing for the Olympics. Which of the outfielders will be able to wear the USA jersey beyond Sunday's game remains to be seen, but as the details below indicate, the group has tools-a-plenty to work with.
Dexter Fowler, Tulsa (Double-A Rockies)
Fowler is a quintessential high-ceiling, toolsy outfielder. The Rockies selected him in the 14th round of the 2004 Draft as his stock fell mostly because of a baseball commitment to Miami as well as the possibility of the athletic outfielder heading to an Ivy League school to play basketball. Colorado was able to get him signed and has been cultivating his talent ever since.
The road has been a bit rocky as Fowler has had his past two seasons derailed by injuries -- he played just 99 games in 2006 and 65 a year ago. He's been healthy this year, and all that tremendous raw ability is starting to come together for the center fielder.
The 6-4, 175-pound switch-hitter has always shown terrific speed, both offensively and in center. Playing at age 22 in the Double-A Texas League, Fowler has begun to sharpen his other skills. He's hit .330 through his first 84 games, and the power is starting to come as well: His .517 SLG (nine homers, six triples, 23 doubles) is by far a career high. He's also drawing walks at a nice clip, leading to a .409 OBP. He started the Texas League All-Star Game for the North squad, walking twice and stealing a base. He's tied for the league lead in total bases, and he's in the top 10 in a host of offensive categories. When the Rockies drafted him, the hope was he'd develop into a terrific all-around star. It's looking like he's a lot closer to becoming that than some anticipated before this year began.
Greg Golson, Reading (Double-A Phillies)
Like Fowler, Golson was a 2004 draftee, though he was taken in the first round by Philadelphia. Also like Fowler, he's got tools galore and it's taken him a while to turn ability into performance.
He spent the better part of two seasons in Class A Lakewood, but he started to put some things together in 2007. He's got terrific speed (114 steals in his career, 33 caught) and began to show more ability at the plate. Between Clearwater and Reading, Golson had 15 homers, 32 doubles, 68 RBIs and 30 steals.
He's kept it going in 2008, his first full season in Double-A. The 22-year-old hit .299 over his first 62 games with 17 steals, 13 doubles, two triples and seven homers to earn a spot in the Eastern League All-Star Game. A wrist injury has kept him out of the lineup since mid-June, but he's been hitting this week and should be good to go on Sunday.
Andrew McCutchen, Indianapolis (Triple-A Pirates)
The 2005 Draft has already produced a ridiculous amount of talent in the big leagues. McCutchen, taken No. 11 overall by Pittsburgh, should join that group in the not-too-distant future.
Yet another toolsy center fielder, he's shown somewhat surprising pop for a guy listed at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds. He's reached double digits in both home runs and stolen bases in each of his first two full pro seasons and will get to those plateaus shortly as a 21-year-old in Triple-A.
Through his first 88 games, the International League All-Star has hit .286 with 19 doubles and eight homers to go along with 24 stolen bases. Forty-two walks has led to a .372 OBP, and he's been especially hot of late, hitting .364 over his first seven games in July. It's a question of when, not if, he gets called up to Pittsburgh, and it shouldn't surprise anyone to see him with a starting outfield spot at PNC Park on Opening Day in 2009.
Colby Rasmus, Memphis (Triple-A Cardinals)
The Twins' Denard Span was originally slated to be on the roster, but he's in the big leagues. It's a nice luxury to have a talent like Rasmus to step in.
A 2007 Futures Gamer and a 2005 first-round pick (28th overall), it looked for a while this spring like Rasmus would also be on a big-league roster by now. Instead, the 21-year-old center fielder has spent the season in Triple-A. He's hit .249 with 11 homers and 14 doubles to go along with 13 steals. That's right, another five-tool center fielder for manager Davey Johnson to utilize on Sunday.
Those stats only tell a partial story. Rasmus, who led the Texas League in homers with 29 a year ago, got off to an awful start this season. He hit just .210 in April and .218 in May with an OPS of .683 and .630, respectively. He shook that off with a torrid June in which he hit .333 with four homers and eight doubles for a .535 SLG and .976 OPS. A hip flexor has kept him out of the lineup since July 1, leaving his availability a bit in question.
Nate Schierholtz, Fresno (Triple-A Giants)
The Giants' second-round pick in 2003, Shierholtz has made a slow and steady climb up the ladder. He's done nothing but hit every step of the way, hitting .304 in his Minor League career and slugging .508.
He's in his second year at Fresno, but he hasn't let that get him down. The corner outfielder has hit .294 this year with 12 homers and 52 RBIs through 76 games. He's added nine steals to boot. After making his big-league debut last year -- and hitting .304 over 39 games -- the hope was he'd stick in San Francisco out of Spring Training. But he pressed a bit and got caught in a numbers game. He's likely to get another call to the bigs with the way he's been producing, but don't be shocked if the Giants have to wait until he returns from China to do so.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.