July 9th at 4pm marks the exact time I’m certain Prospector Ralph’s mind will explode with excitement. That feeling of pure elation can only be achieved in one scenario. Watching the game’s budding talents in the 2017 Futures Game – streaming on MLB.com – after spending countless hours researching and following prospects of this caliber (From the Razzball family and its incredible base of readers, we sincerely thank you for your work Ralph!). Well, maybe there are a few other scenarios. According to BuzzFeed there are 42 others where this pure form of joy and satisfaction arises. They include unraveling knittingcrunching leaves, and breaking the yolk. Aside from the fact that I’m certain breaking the yolk is a sexual innuendo for something completely different, we live in a truly sad world if these things make people as happy as Ralph on Futures Game Sunday.

I can’t even blame our resident prospector for how excited he must get; I’m as big a fan of this event as any prior to playoff baseball. While the All-Star game itself falls into oblivion, and the Home Run Derby begins to take the reigns of relevance in the sports world during middle of July, the Futures Game perennially produces both entertainment and the league’s brightest talents. The list of players in the event last season, who I’m sure you’ve interacted with on your waivers or in drafts during 2017, is reason alone to tune in: Andrew Benintendi, Ryon Healy, Dansby Swanson, Hunter Renfroe, Clint Frazier, Gary Sanchez, Raimel Tapia, Manuel Margot, David Dahl, Alex Reyes, Amir Garrett, Josh Hader, and Joe Musgrove. Venture one more year back, to 2015, and you’ll find two players currently ranked number one and 12 respectively on the Player Rater, Aaron Judge and Trea Turner.

If you can even believe it, this season’s crop of talent is debatably held in even higher regard.

Between the two 25-man rosters – teams are broken down based on USA or World heritage – 32 of the games participants were featured in Ralph’s recent masterpiece, Razzball’s mid-season top 100 prospects post. You’ll even get a look at nine of the top 10 players on that list, with the lone omission being the DL’d Alex Reyes. Yet summary statistics regarding just how jam-packed Ralph’s recent list is won’t suffice. We need to go deeper, and what better way to do so than with analysis on the biggest jumps on this recent list compared to the preseason list from late February. Keep in mind a few things before we get going, this doesn’t include players who are new to the list, as even their position on Ralph’s February list couldn’t be determined, I’ll do a brief aside to talk about some of these new entrants (think 2017 draftees, Bo Bichette, etc.). Also, try not to take the rise or fall out of context. Sure, a rise may signify that Ralph is in fact higher on that given player, but intuition would signal it’s harder to rise 10 spots from 90 to 80 than it would be to rise from 15 to 5.

Top 10 Risers

(* = 2017 Futures Game participant)

It comes as no real surprise that two of the biggest names heading into the Futures Game – Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuna – are two of the biggest risers on Ralph’s list. Guerrero is only 18 years old, which is absolutely insane for a player walking more than he is striking out, and slugging .480 at A-ball in Toronto’s system. The fact we’ve heard some say they merely want to see this finally legal adult take batting practice in Miami is praise in itself. Although the comparison to his father is easy to make, Baby Guerrero lacks the arm strength and has a much more refined approach at the plate. With nearly all potential stuffed into his bat, and worries about his glove, it’s amazing that other lists which factor in both sides of the game still have him top 10. He’s a dynasty owner’s dream.

Acuna is another uber-young prospect, with what I’d argue is the strongest five-tool profile in the minor leagues. Already promoted a level this year, the Braves’ future right fielder sits with a 155 wRC+ in AA, one step away from being one step away. Sun Trust Park is only a 9.5 hour drive from Marlins Park, and if you left six hours ago, you’d make it to Miami to see Acuna!

I’d also like to profile the Indians’ Triston McKenzie, who is the number two pitcher on Ralph’s list, taking the spot of Houston’s Francis Martes from the preseason iteration. As many lists in the industry have a rightful tendency to lean offense heavy early on, McKenzie sneaking into Ralph’s top 20 is true praise. After decimating A ball with a 1.97 FIP through 30+ innings, McKenzie’s stint in High-A has been more of the same. An unalarming tick up in walks with the level bump has been matched with a consistent and elite level of swing and miss. His last start was a seven inning masterpiece with 11 strikeouts and goose eggs in walk and run departments. That outing was on the Fourth of July, and McKenzie will continue to showcase his love for America as he suits up for team USA.

A few players that made their inaugural appearance on Ralph’s list, in order of highest rank include *Bo Bichette (23), Scott Kingery (26), Walker Buehler (28), *Ryan McMahon (32), and *Mike Soroka (34). With Buehler unfortunately absent from the Futures Game, I’ll turn some attention to the other three to keep with the game’s rosters front of mind.

Crazy to say Bichette is the biggest breakout prospect of 2017? He’s shot up almost every list in the industry, takes the highest spot of any player not on Ralph’s preseason top 100, and came from relative obscurity in the process (late second round pick in 2016’s Amateur Draft). Earning the call to High-A after paying his dues in this Futures Game, Bichette will take his career 83% stolen base rate and comical .384/.448/.623 slash line to Dunedin, where hopes are that Guerrero Jr. will soon join him.

Soroka on the other hand has beyond elite command for a prospect, failing to post a walk rate above 6% at any level since his start in professional ball back in 2015. I’ve personally had an affinity for Soroka because of his youth and sky high floor, and while I dream of a 9 K/9 arm with a 5% walk rate at the major league level, I’ll temper my expectations for the time being and hope the strikeouts tick back up as he inches towards the majors.

McMahon is a player I had the pleasure of seeing alongside David Dahl and Trevor Story last summer for the Hartford Yard Goats, and felt his potential didn’t differ much from his more highly touted teammates. With Dahl battling a swarm of injury bugs and Story nearly out of a job as Brendan Rodgers – also in the Futures Game – knocks on the door to Coors, McMahon may prove to yield the highest return of that trio. 14 HR and 11 SB between AA and AAA this season, with Coors in his future? Sign me up for his smooth lefty swing any day of the week.

Top 10 Fallers

Only two players among Ralph’s largest fallers will play in the Futures Game. One of which is a prospect who I was disappointed to see drop, Yadier Alvarez. With the unbelieveable major and minor league pitching depth the Dodgers have at their disposal (likely second to only the Braves unfair accumulation of riches), the news that Alvarez is featuring a straight fastball at High-A doesn’t hurt them as much as it might other organizations. Alvarez is a player I personally became smitten with when I first admired the ease at which he generates elite velocity at such a young age (21). Even with an ominous cloud lingering above his head in the recent months, he should light up the radar gun and remind us why some thought about him as the arm with the highest ceiling in the minors not too long ago.

Zack Collins on the other hand takes a hit in Ralph’s ranks after struggling to get below a 27% strikeout rate and above a .250 average at High-A. Ralph and I chatted about how other lists within the industry (more on that soon) are almost always higher on catchers. Rankings of players like Chance Sisco, Carson Kelly, and Collins are one of the bigger differences between “real life” lists and fantasy lists. Ralph only has one catcher inside his top 90 – the extremely advanced bat of Francisco Mejia – while others lean towards three to four in that same window. We have all experienced the putrid production and value catchers return in fantasy, and I’m not convinced this crop of talents will change that anytime soon. Only seven currently fall inside the top 200 players, so unless you can guarantee me Perez or Sanchez-like production, I can only get so excited. Buzz is that Mejia has a real chance to get to that level, while Collins reaching that plateau seems like an optimistic ceiling argument from prospect utopia. I’m still excited to see the White Sox prospect in the Futures Game, but it’s with the understanding that catchers’ developmental process is molasses-like and the position as a whole can be waited on in fantasy drafts.

So how about we get to another industry list that I briefly elluded to? I chose Baseball America’s version as it leans towards a real life ranking and because of their on the ground scouts which it’s sometimes easy to miss the opinions of. Ideal for fantasy? Likely not, but the comparison between BA’s list and Ralph’s can give you a sense of players that differ due to their fantasy production potential alone. In reality, there’s a good chance that’s the focus of you, the reader.

Check out BA‘s list here. Keep in mind the same qualifiers from our prior set of risers/fallers, and add to it the fact that if a player is omitted from either list, there is a good chance he is just barely outside the top 100. Many prospectors acknowledge there is an argument for 120-130 guys to be top 100, so those fringe players around 90-95 rightfully mulled over continually.

Ralph Higher than Baseball America

  • Juan Soto – 27th for Ralph,  95th for BA – difference of 68 spots
  • Willie Calhoun – 12th for Ralph, 74th for BA – difference of 62 spots
  • *Ryan McMahon – 32nd for Ralph, 91st for BA – difference of 59 spots
  • *Rhys Hoskins – 30th for Ralph, 69th for BA – difference of 39 spots
  • Notable omissions from BA’s list?

Ralph Lower than Baseball America

  • Brendan McKay – 92nd for Ralph, 40th for BA – difference of 52 spots
  • Franklin Perez – 83rd for Ralph, 32nd for BA – difference of 51 spots
  • Ian Anderson – 100th for Ralph, 55th for BA – difference of 45 spots
  • *Nick Gordon – 63rd for Ralph, 19th for BA – difference of 44 spots
  • Notable omissions from Ralph’s list?

Continuing to look at just the Futures Game prospects, one of the more notable difference between Ralph and Baseball America is Ralph’s support for the Tommy Joseph replacement Rhys Hoskins, and his lukewarm feeling on the Twins’ number five overall pick back in 2014, Nick Gordon. While the Gordon variance is likely do to the plus glove and that asset’s uselessness in fantasy, the Hoskins difference seems to have a bit more to do with philosophy.

Hoskins, represents a player whom scouts tended to look at with skepticism for future production, even after his torrid Cape League production as he stormed onto the professional league scene. All he has done since is produced at an elite level, and we’re finally dipping our toes back into the water of trusting Phillies prospects not named J.P. Crawford or Dominic Brown. My best bet for BA’s pessimism probably has to do with their stoic stance on his profile translating, but I agree with Ralph on this one.

McMahon we’ve already gone over for his mutli-tool Coors profile. While he finally found his way on to BA’s list for this first time this season, their assessment may be in a vacuum, meaning the glory that Coors brings with it is something that is surely fantasy relevant, but not as applicable to a scouting report in real life.

Enjoy the game, I’ll be watching so don’t be afraid to make this a message board of sorts to pose prospect questions as the game is going on.

I’ll reach out to Ralph to see if he can pop in once or twice for some analysis as well! If you desire the full list of differences between Ralph and Baseball America, or Ralph preseason and now, feel free to shoot me a message on Twitter or in the comments below.

Questions, comments, and Futures Game discussion encouraged.

@LanceBrozdow on Twitter