Tuesday, June 18, 2024

MLB All-Star weekend adds prospect skills competition, including target practice, power display


For years, fans have been longing for Major League Baseball to stage a skills showcase on All-Star Monday night before the Home Run Derby (which will always be the main event), akin to what we’ve seen in the past with basketball, football and hockey. Monday’s announcement from MLB at least gets us in the ballpark, even if it’s not the big-league players. 

On Saturday, July 13, MLB will stage a Futures Skills Showcase with players from the Futures Game. It’ll take place at the conclusion of the Futures Game and feature three events:

·         Round 1: “Hit it Here”: Hitters will aim to hit infield and outfield targets in order to earn points corresponding with each target’s value. Four obstacles (representing traditional infield positions) will be placed on the infield dirt, and hitters will earn points for hitting outfield targets on the fly or on a bounce. Similar to the KBO Bunt King competition, hitters may also earn points by bunting the ball onto bullseye-style targets and earning points corresponding to where the ball rests.

·         Round 2: “Call Your Shot”: Hitters will have a number of swings to showcase their control. To start, they will announce to which field (Left, Right, or Center) they will try to hit the ball. If successful, they then will choose to hit to one of the two remaining fields, and once successful will have to hit the last field. After all fields are cleared, hitters will continue to “call their shot” to any field with their remaining swings. All hits must hit the outfield grass (clear the infield) to count.

·         Round 3: “Swing for the Fences”: Hitters will showcase their all-field power and attempt to hit home runs. Batters will earn bonuses for homers hit to the batter’s opposite field, and will have the opportunity to earn additional bonus points for streaks of home runs hit on consecutive swings.

“The All-Star Futures Game is a premier event on the baseball calendar for the next generation of Major League stars and the addition of the Futures Skills Showcase to All-Star Saturday will enhance the experience for both players and fans,” MLB Chief Baseball Development Officer Tony Reagins said in a statement. “Building on the success and popularity of the inaugural Spring Breakout, this is another exciting opportunity for Baseball to engage with a young audience while providing a platform for these great young players to display their incredible talents in a competitive format.”

Hopefully this is popular enough that MLB realizes it can do something similar with the All-Stars on Monday before the Derby, but I’m dubious. So many of them just want to enjoy the short vacation with their families and it’s difficult enough to fill the entire Derby field. We could even lose the third round there, since the Derby serves as the “swing for the fence” exercise. 

Regardless, seeing the prospects take part in these events will be a nice wrinkle for the Futures Game that has been relegated to playing alongside actual MLB games on Saturday evening instead of getting its own showcase window. 

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