Huber, 'Little Pedro' lead World Team to victory
DETROIT -- Justin Huber has been to the All-Star Futures game three times, and he's not real interested in coming back.
"Although it's a tremendous honor, there is another side to it and that side is we're all pushing to get to the major leagues," the hard-hitting Kansas City prospect said. "This is not the highlight of your career."
Huber hit a two-run double that earned him MVP honors, and Texas' Edison Volquez, nicknamed "Little Pedro," led a parade of dazzling pitchers that sent the World team to a 4-0 victory Sunday over the U.S. squad.
Seattle's Shin-Soo Choo, also playing in this minor league showcase for the third time, hit the only home run at spacious Comerica Park to spark a World squad managed by former Detroit Tigers reliever Guillermo Hernandez, the 1984 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner.
Hernandez's counterpart, Royals Hall of Famer George Brett, was especially proud of Huber, even though he beat Brett's team.
The Australian first baseman, who spent 11 days in the big leagues last month when All-Star Mike Sweeney went on the disabled list, gave his team a 3-0 lead with a fifth-inning double off the base of the right-field fence.
"Good for him. I worked with him all spring and was happy to see him do that," said Brett, the Royals' vice president of baseball operations. "I hope he keeps it up."
The Rangers surely hope the same for Volquez, the spitting image of Mets ace Pedro Martinez on the mound. With long fingers, nasty stuff and No. 45 on his back -- all just like his idol -- the 22-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic earned the win by tossing a scoreless inning.
Volquez's delivery is strikingly similar to that of Martinez, who won't appear at Tuesday's All-Star Game because he pitched Sunday, leading New York past Pittsburgh 6-1 for his 10th win.
And it's no wonder. Volquez, slightly built and just 2 inches taller than Martinez, makes it a point to study his hero on TV and in video games, earning him his catchy monicker back home.
"I like it, I like it," Volquez said. "Not only is he a good player, but he's a good person."
In fact, just after Volquez threw his first pitch Sunday, a Washington Nationals scout sitting behind home plate jotted down: "Looks like Pedro."
Connected by a mutual friend, Volquez recently chatted with Martinez on the phone.
"I heard someone said to him, 'There's this kid who's imitating you,' and he said, 'It's OK, we're both Dominicans,'" Volquez said. "When I started, everyone said I had something similar to him. Then my pitching coaches said to me, 'OK, you want to be like Pedro? Let's pitch like him.'"
Choo, a left-handed hitting outfielder for Triple-A Tacoma, connected in the third off Blue Jays lefty Zach Jackson, the losing pitcher. Choo, who had a rough day in right field during last year's Futures game in Houston, went 1-for-3 with an RBI in a brief callup to the Mariners earlier this season.
Another Seattle prospect, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, made a gorgeous play to rob B.J. Upton of a hit.
Detroit fans got a peek at two hard-throwing Tigers prospects: Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya each flashed fastballs in the upper 90s.
Nine World team pitchers combined to allow only four hits in the seven-inning game, including two singles by Dodgers third base prospect Andy LaRoche, the younger brother of Atlanta first baseman Adam and son of former major league pitcher Dave.
Baltimore lefty Adam Loewen entered with two on and got three outs for the save. With the bases loaded, he retired San Francisco's Kevin Fransden on a 1-2-3 double play to end the game.
Huber's pinch-hit double off Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm with the bases loaded was his first hit in four career Futures game at-bats -- and it capped a wild year for the 22-year-old slugger.
"It really did rock my world for a little bit," Huber said before signing helmets and posing for pictures in the clubhouse. "It took me a whole offseason to get hungry to play baseball again."
And in his final game in the Mets' system, Huber tore up his left knee in a home-plate collision, costing him a chance to play for the Australian team that won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
But the injury also prompted the Royals to move him to first base, which probably is helping his offense. Now at Double-A Wichita, he's hitting .332 with nine homers and 50 RBI.
And Huber knows that winning the Futures game MVP is a good sign. All six previous winners are flourishing in the majors: Alfonso Soriano, Sean Burroughs, Toby Hall, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore and Aaron Hill.
"It's definitely a boost of confidence," Huber said. "It's a definite honor to be thrown in the mix with those names. Hopefully, things work out in the big leagues as well as it has for those guys."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press