I don’t know about you, but the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game have become a complete bore for me. The players aren’t really into it, the HR Derby can be like watching paint dry, and A-Rod wears those goofy white cleats. Maybe it would be different if I was actually able to attend the game, but at the current prices that seems highly unlikely. All-Star Weekend is not a total loss for me though, because for prospect junkies it gets no better than the Celebrity Softball Game Futures Game. Where else can you see Clayton Kershaw relieve Clay Buchholz, or Evan Longoria hit behind The Justin Upton, or Jose Tabata nearly decapitate Phil Hughes? Nowhere.
This year’s Futures Game comes with a little twist: the 2008 Olympic trials team will form the USA squad. Now, the roster that participates in the Futures Game won’t necessarily be the team that heads to Beijing in August, but rather it’ll be a group of players that are being considered for the Olympic squad. Davey Johnson, the man at the helm of the Olympic team, will manage the USA squad during the Futures Game, while Tino Martinez will take charge of the World Team.
Other than the usual citizenship requirements and junk, to be eligible for the Olympic team a player can not be on a Major League 25-man roster as of July 15th. That’s pretty much it. Pitchers aren’t held to a strict pitch count, relievers can be used multiple days in a row, and the team only gets a 24-man roster. I can’t remember/find where I read this for the life of me, but I remember seeing that players will be away from their organization for approzimately 30 days. Therein lies a bit of a problem.
How many teams will allow their best young players to leave the organization for a month? Would the Orioles risk Matt Wieters getting hurt when a player from Australia runs him over at the plate? Would the Rays be willing to let David Price leave their pitching coaches for a month? If USA Baseball comes calling for Mark Melancon, JB Cox or David Robertson, would the Yanks let them go? It’s not likely.
The Gold Medal winning 2000 USA Baseball Team was build on extreme pitching-and-defense end of the winning fomula spectrum. Their ridiculously good defensive infield consisted of Doug Mientkiewicz, Bret Abernathy, Adam Everett and Sean Burroughs, while veteran catcher Pat Borders (he spent all of 2000 in the minors) took charge of a loaded pitching staff that included Ben Sheets (pictured above after throwing a complete game 3-hitter against Cuba in the clincher), CC Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Jon Rauch, Kurt Ainsworth and Chris George. I get the sense that this year’s team will be built in a similar mold.
Who are some candidates for the 2008 squad? There’s already been rumblings that Michael Bowden is on the radar, and I’m sure Chris Tillman and Trevor Cahill aren’t far behind. Melancon, Cox and Robertson should warrant consideration for the bullpen, and they could do worse than having Brett Gardner hitting leadoff. If they decide to go with another veteran catcher, Mike DiFelice and Koyie Hill are toiling away in AAA. Ideally the lineup would be built around Wieters, Matt LaPorta, and Chris Davis (check out those numbers), but it’s unlikely those three will be allowed to make the trip. Look for guys like Brent Clevlen, Chris Getz, Jamie D’Antona and Ryan Roberts to fill out the lineup. It’s also possible that GM Bob Watson brings some college players, specifically SDSU’s Steven Strasburg or UNC’s Dustin Ackley.
Baseball (and softball) were voted off the Olympic docket by the International Olympic Committee back in early 2006, so the 2008 games are the last time we’ll see baseball in the Olympics. Beijing is twelve hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, so we won’t even get to see much of the action, unless you’re a morning person. It’s a shame, really.
USA Baseball does a good job of keeping their site up to date, and the Countdown to the Olympics blog is another good spot to get your USA Baseball fill. I’ll provide updates every now and then, but the Olympic baseball coverage will kick into high gear once the tournament starts on August 13th.