It is well-established that when it comes to marketing and promoting its players, MLB comes up very short compared to the other major sports league. Some of that is the nature of nature of baseball being less inherently star-driven than other sports, but a good deal more of that is their own myopic shortcomings.
That naturally extends to prospects. Perhaps even moreso, given the inherent handicap that baseball prospects have longer developmental timelines than the top prospects in other sports, who often jump right into the major leagues as impact players post-draft or do so very quickly.
So MLB came up with the Futures Game to showcase its top prospects, bringing them to the All-Star venue to ostensibly highlight and bring attention to the high wave of talent. The timing’s always been somewhat awkward, taking place on the weekend right before the break when MLB teams are still playing and so most of the focus is elsewhere. But at least it was something with some profile, with a broadcast that was widely accessible to fans who wanted to check it out.
Until this year at least. Every year I’ll pull up the online broadcast, and at least have it on in the background, while following the normal minor league games in the Blue Jays system. And then really focus in when Blue Jays prospects are involved. So that’s what I expected to do last night when the Futures Game began at 7PM eastern.
Except there was a twist this year: there was no MLB.com broadcast this year. Instead, MLB included the rights in the package of games they sold to NBC for its streaming service Peacock, so it was exclusively available there. A fairly new service that has only something like 10-million paid subscribers and 30-million subscribers total (the latter of I don’t think can watch live sports). And frankly, a service most people probably ever have, at least as a standalone offering, since it’s largely the dregs of legacy TV.
Needless to say, for something that is purely a marketing exercise in the first place, this is completely asinine. Significantly limiting its distribution is completely counterproductive to promotions. But I hope MLB enjoys whatever few pieces of gold they managed to extract in the short-run from NBC by including this in the package (which I can’t imagine is much, I guess theoretically some sort of signature event to anchor the Sunday matinee package).
As it turned out, it was no big loss even with two of the top pitching prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays system at the game in Yosver Zulueta and Ricky Tiedemann. It would have been nice to see the latter’s inning, but there was hardly anything to see of the former.
After the National League jumped on Astros pitcher Hunter Brown in the second inning for three runs, Zulueta came in to clean up the inning and limit the damage. It took him exactly one pitch — a 97 MPH fastball — to retire Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez on a weak groundout to second. And that was it. A new pitcher came out for the 3rd inning.
While this seemed quite parsimonious, according to Shi Davidi, Zulueta wasn’t even supposed to throw Saturday instead serving as a backend guy (which kind of defeats the point it seems to me). So one pitch is better than nothing. And illustrating the absurdity of pitching wins, for that one pitch effort Zulueta was credited with the win after AL came back in the top of the next inning to retake the lead which they held.
For his part, Tiedemann got a full inning, though it only amounted to a grand total of nine pitches. Coming into the 5th, he got the first batter on a first pitch comebacker, worked a full count to Reds top prospect Elly De La Cruz before getting him to hit a high fly ball that carried out to reasonably deep left field (343 ft).
The final batter, Darren Baker (who you may best remember from almost being run over home plate in the 2002 World Series) did square him for a hard line drive, but right at the centrefielder. Of the nine pitches, seven were fastballs, all in a tight 94-95 MPH range. He added two breaking balls at 80 MPH, the last of which was hit for the line drive.
So, that’s a summary of the 10 Blue Jay prospect pitches that MLB didn’t want to see last night.