The World outfielders for the 2007 Futures Game in San Francisco come from all over the globe. They also represent four Major League teams and five levels of Minor League Baseball from Low-A all the way to Triple-A.
Wladimir Balentien and Carlos Gonzalez headline the group of outfielders. Both return to the World roster after participating in the 2006 Futures Game. They are joined by teenagers Gorkys Hernandez and Fernando Martinez, while Canadian Michael Saunders rounds out the speedy group.
Here's a closer look at what to expect from the 2007 World outfielders.
Wladimir Balentien, Tacoma (Triple-A, Mariners)
While his name sounds like a character straight out of a James Bond movie, Wladimir Balentien is no secret-agent man. The outfielder hails from Curacao and ranks as one of the Mariners' most-intriguing prospects.
Since being signed by the Mariners as a 16-year old, Balentien has impressed with his raw power. In 2003, his first year in professional ball, Balentien was named MVP for the Mariners' Peoria team in the Arizona Rookie League. The outfielder belted 16 home runs, breaking the AZL record of 13.
He earned MVP honors again in 2004 for Low-A Wisconsin, batting .277 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs in 76 games. That same year, Balentien represented the Netherlands in the Summer Olympics in Athens, and in 2005 he led the Mariners system in total bases (272), doubles (38), home runs (25), and slugging (.553).
After winning the Texas League All-Star MVP and Home Run Derby in 2006, Balentien was named to the Futures Game in Pittsburgh. He went 2-for-3 with a double.
But despite all the great power numbers and stats, the Mariners brass remained unsure about Balentien's long-term ability to succeed. Heading into this season, Balentien had 442 strikeouts in 380 Minor League games. His feast-or-famine approach at the plate had led to a ratio of one strikeout for every three plate appearances.
This year, though, Balentien has adjusted. The Curacao native is batting .320, 55 points above his career average, and his on-base percentage is up 57 points from last year's pedestrian .337 mark. While changing his approach, Balentien has still been able to maintain his typical power numbers. The outfielder has 19 home runs and a .577 slugging percentage, ranking second and third, respectively, in the Pacific Coast League.
Carlos Gonzalez, Mobile (Double-A, Diamondbacks)
Another returnee to the World roster, Carlos Gonzalez has struggled in his first season in Double-A. The Venezuela native is hitting just .253 with nine home runs and a less-than-stellar on-base percentage of .284.
However, since his abysmal April, when the outfielder batted .210, Gonzalez has shown why he is one of the top players in a Diamondbacks system loaded with top-grade talent. In a two-month span, Gonzalez has collected 56 hits and 37 RBIs. Gonzalez has also displayed superb fielding ability in his first year in Double-A, racking up 11 assists and just six errors.
Gonzalez wasn't on many people's radars until he had his breakout season in 2005. That year, he earned MVP honors after hitting .307 with 18 homers and 92 RBIs in the Midwest League. He followed with a stellar California League campaign where he finished first in slugging percentage (.563), fourth in RBIs (94), fourth in home runs (21), and fifth in doubles (35).
In the 2006 Futures Game in Pittsburgh, Gonzalez went 1-for-4.
Gorkys Hernandez, West Michigan (Tigers, Low-A)
With Curtis Granderson patrolling center at Comerica Park and uber-prospect Cameron Maybin playing the same position on the U.S. Futures Team, the Tigers seem to have a knack for finding center fielders. Unfortunately for other teams, Detroit may have landed their hands on another one.
In just his second year in baseball, Gorkys Hernandez has shot up the prospect rankings. The center fielder put himself on the map in 2006 when he dominated the Golf Coast League as an 18 year-old. He led the circuit in batting average (.327), runs (41), and hits (67). He ranked second with 20 stolen bases.
Hernandez is continuing to progress this year with West Michigan in A-ball. He's hitting .293 with 78 hits and 37 runs. The Venezuela native continues to showcase his blazing speed, as he leads the Midwest League with 28 stolen bases.
"He made everybody watch him and made everybody want to watch him," said Tigers farm director Glenn Ezell. "He has wonderful instincts and is just a pleasure to be around."
Fernando Martinez, Binghamton (Double-A, Mets)
This season, Fernando Martinez has been erratic. At times, he's been good; other times, he's struggled. In April, Martinez batted .231. In May .324. The outfielder closed out June, hitting .222.
Martinez's age might have something to do with his inconsistency. The outfielder is the youngest player in the Double-A Eastern League team. At age 18, Martinez is younger than the majority of high-school picks in the 2007 Draft.
Nonetheless, the Mets and most scouts rave about the Dominican's ability. Martinez tore through three leagues last year: the Gulf Coast League, the Florida State League and the South Atlantic League. This year in Double-A, only his second in professional baseball, Martinez is batting .271 with four home runs and 21 RBIs. He has committed only three errors on the season.
Michael Saunders, High Desert (High-A, Mariners)
Michael Saunders might look more like a hockey player than a baseball player, but boy can he play ball. The multi-sport athlete from Canada has that rare combination of power and speed.
Since struggling in April with a .222 batting average, Saunders has caught fire. In May, the outfielder hit .310 and followed with a .352 mark in June. On the season, Saunders is batting .298 with 11 home runs, 56 RBIs and a .482 slugging percentage.
The Victoria, British Columbia, native has also contributed with his speed. Saunders can play any position in the outfield and has done so for the High Desert Mavs. The versatile outfielder ranks third in the California League in both stolen bases (21) and runs scored (68).