A year ago, outfielder Travis Buck garnered a Futures Game nod during an incredible season that began with Class A Advanced Stockton and ended with Double-A Midland.
Buck can now be found starting in left field for the Oakland A's.
The five players selected for the U.S. outfield for the 2007 Futures Game know Buck's success story well, and while they have all forged their own paths to the Futures Game, they all want the same end result -- to play in the Major Leagues.
Some of baseball's most sought-after draft picks in the past three years have worked their way up the Minor League ladder and are now ready to showcase their skills at the 2007 Futures Game in San Francisco Sunday afternoon. Take a closer look at them below.
Jay Bruce, Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A, Reds)
Bruce has been on the fast track to the Major Leagues since the Reds selected him in the first round -- No. 12 overall -- in the 2005 Draft.
The only bump in the road thus far came in the form of a pulled quadriceps muscle that led the Reds to keep him with Class A Dayton for the entirety of the 2006 season as a precaution. The injury hardly slowed him down, though, as he finished the Midwest League season first in extra-base hits (63) and doubles (42), and fifth in RBIs (81) and home runs (16).
Bruce was the youngest player to appear in the 2006 Midwest League All-Star Game, and walked away from the event with the game's Most Valuable Player honor after a 3-for-5 performance that included a two-run homer.
He debuted with Class A Advanced Sarasota this season, where the 20-year-old hit .325 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs in 67 games before being promoted to Double-A Chattanooga on June 21. Since then, the 6-foot-2 Texan is hitting .293 with three doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Pawtucket Red Sox (Triple-A, Red Sox)
If not for some pitcher named Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ellsbury may have generated the most talk in Red Sox Nation during the offseason.
Drafted out of Oregon State University in the first round of 2005 (No. 23 overall), Ellsbury has done nothing but prove he's worth the $1.4 million Boston signed him for. He finished 2006 hitting a combined .303 with 51 RBIs and 41 stolen bases after splitting his time at Class A Advanced Wilmington and Double-A Portland.
Ellsbury was honored during his stint in each league, earning Eastern League Player of the Week and Carolina League Mid-Season All-Star nods, respectively. He opened 2007 with Portland and hit .452 with 13 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 17 games before being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on April 23.
Since then, the 23-year old is hitting .277 with 21 stolen bases, which shows that he is a threat at the plate and on the bases at any level. If Ellsbury's success continues, he may have Red Sox fans welcoming him as the second coming of Johnny Damon by Opening Day 2008.
Cameron Maybin, Lakeland Flying Tigers (Class A Advanced, Tigers)
The Tigers have shown in the past few years that they're not afraid of drafting players who come with a few dollar signs attached. Such was the case when Detroit selected Maybin in the first round of 2005, No. 10 overall.
The organization withstood a delay in his development as he sat out the season while negotiating a $2.65 million signing bonus. He's also battled some minor injuries since getting started in 2006. The good news for Detroit is that he has been well worth the wait.
Maybin hit .304 with nine home runs, 20 doubles and 69 RBIs with Class A West Michigan in his debut season. The Whitecaps finished with the Midwest League title behind Maybin's .343 batting average and six extra-base hits in the postseason. His performance earned him a slew of awards, including Midwest League Prospect of the Year, MiLB.com Class A Best Playoff Performer and Baseball America Low Class A All-Star.
The 6-foot-4 North Carolina native moved up to Class A Advanced Lakeland to start this season, and has hit .303 with 37 RBIs and 23 stolen bases for the Flying Tigers. This is Maybin's second straight Futures Game appearance.
Colby Rasmus, Springfield Cardinals (Double-A, Cardinals)
The Futures Game nod is just another entry on a laundry list of accomplishments for Rasmus, which includes breaking Bo Jackson's Alabama state home run record when he hit 24 long balls after switching from pitcher to hitter during his high school years.
The Cardinals first-round pick, No. 28 overall, in the 2005 draft has been shaky at times during his professional career, but has not done anything to soften the Cardinals' hopes that he will evolve into a 20-20 threat for them at the Major League level.
Rasmus battled through slumps upon his arrival at both the Class A (Quad Cities) and Class A Advanced (Palm Beach) levels last season but finished the year combining for an impressive .288 with 26 doubles and 16 home runs for 85 RBIs. He was named a Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star for his efforts. His performance this season with Double-A Springfield has been more consistent if not quite as sparkling yet.
The 6-foot-2 left-hander has hit .258 with 15 home runs, 25 doubles and 46 RBIs in 76 games. He is first in the Texas League with 41 extra-base hits and has shown speed on the basepaths, as well, with 12 steals in as many tries.
Justin Upton, Mobile BayBears (Double-A, Diamondbacks)
The name Upton grabs its share of attention in the baseball community these days. That's chiefly because Justin and his brother B.J. stand as the highest-drafted brother combination in baseball history.
While B.J. went No. 2 overall to the Devil Rays in 2002, Justin one-upped that by going first overall to the Diamondbacks in 2005 and set a (since topped) record when he signed for $6.1 million.
Since then, his Minor League career has been under the microscope. While that may have affected his numbers a bit, Upton still hit .263 with 12 homers, 28 doubles and 66 RBIs in his first season of professional baseball for Class A South Bend. He began 2007 at Class A Advanced Visalia and was promoted to Double-A Mobile after hitting .341 with 43 hits in 32 games for the Oaks.
Since joining the BayBears, Upton is batting .312 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs. The Futures Game invitation should not really come as much of a surprise as Upton has been on scouts' radar since his appearance as a 14-year-old in the 2002 Area Code Games.