Memories of All-Stars…before they were stars

One of the best things about my job in covering prospects is that I get to know players at the very beginning and see them “before they are stars.”  Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to meet and cover a vast number of young players on their way up who have now gone on to bigger and better things. I must admit, I take a certain kind of pride when I see someone I knew in the Minors (or as an amateur) make it to an All-Star Game.

When Adam Jones made the All-Star team in 2009, I was able to talk to him about the journal he used to write for us (you can sample one here if you like) when he was an up-and-comer in the Mariners system, just making the transition to center field.

When Shane Victorino was an All-Star that very same season (perhaps he’ll go again as the Final Man), we joked about the times we talked about him being a two-time Rule 5 pick and how they might need to re-name the rule after him.

The list goes on and on. So I looked through this year’s All-Star rosters to keep an eye on anyone I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with when they were prospects on the way up. I’ll do the American League now, with the NL later on today:

Robinson Cano, 2B: I didn’t make it to the 2004 Futures Game (it’s the only one I’ve missed, but I had a good reason: my daughter, Elena, was born that week), but I was there in Chicago in 2003 to see him play.

Curtis Granderson, OF: Granderson, then a Minor Leaguer with the Tigers, wrote an Arizona Fall League journal for us back in 2004. Here’s a sample of that journal, where he talks about dressing up as Rick James for Halloween.

Josh Hamilton, OF: When we saw Hamilton play in the 2000 Futures Game in Atlanta — and get three hits, if my memory serves — we knew he had special talent. We obviously didn’t know the adversity he’d face, but the pure on-field skills were apparent back then.

Josh Beckett, RHP: That was a pretty good U.S. squad in 2000, wasn’t it? Hamilton and Beckett went 1-2 in the 1999 Draft and both made it to the Futures Game a year after being drafted. He was in the big leagues the following year, at age 21.

Gio Gonzalez, LHP: Ahh, Gio. Gotta love Gio. Gio played in the Futures game in 2006 and also played in the Arizona Fall League. Back in the day when we had MLB Radio, he did a weekly segment from the AFL with us. It wasn’t always so easy to track him down, but when we did, it was about as much fun on the radio as we had.

Russ Martin, C: I met Martin when he was the catcher for the Double-A Jacksonville Suns, the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate at the time. They won the Southern League title that year and that was a squad with just a ridiculous amount of talent on it (James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, to name a few).

Miguel Cabrera, 1B: He was a 19-year-old third baseman  when he played in the Futures Game for the first time, in 2001. He was there again in 2002 and there was plenty of buzz around him any time he hit, with it pretty apparent what was to come.

Howard Kendrick, 2B: He was Howie when I met him for the first time and he did an AFL journal for us (here’s an example) which was fantastic. Even if he’s Howard now, he still stands out as one of the all-time good guys I’ve covered.

Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B: Youk played in the 2003 Futures Game and he was still getting a lot of attention for his “role” in the book Moneyball. We had a good laugh over how he should be called “The Jewish God of Walks” instead of the “Greek God of Walks.”

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: He was in the 2007 Futures Game in San Francisco. The year before that, in 2006, I got to chat with him during the Eastern League playoffs, when he was playing for the Portland SeaDogs.

David Price, LHP: Price didn’t spend too much time as a prospect, did he? But when he was at Vanderbilt, the year he became the No.  overall pick in the first televised Draft, he did a Draft journal for our site.

Ricky Romero, LHP: Romero was the first pitcher take in the 2005 Draft’s first round (the one with Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun taken ahead of him, along with Jeff Clement). In 2007, the Cal State Fullerton product wrote a season-long journal for us and was probably one of the most reliable journal writers we’ve ever had.

C.C. Sabathia, LHP: Remember what I said about the 2000 U.S. Team in the Futures Game? Sabathia was there as well.

James Shields, RHP: He was Jamie when I first saw him pitch. But anyone who saw him throw his changeup in the Arizona Fall League championship game back in 2005 knew he was going to be a big leaguer soon thereafter.

Justin Verlander, RHP: In 2004, I went to Virginia to see Verlander and his Old Dominion team take on Justin Orenduff and Virginia Commonwealth (Orenduff would be a supplemental first-round pick of the Dodgers, but arm troubles derailed his career). Verlander struck out 16 in that game for the win. The result of that trip was a two-part Q&A with both Justins (Part I and Part II)


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