DENVER — Brennen Davis saw hitting in Coors Field’s thin air as a fat opportunity, far different from his usual ballparks.
“I’m currently playing in Knoxville, Tennessee,” the Chicago Cubs’ Double-A outfielder said. “It’s noticeable.”
The 21-year-old homered twice and earned MVP of the National League’s 8-3 victory over the American League in the Futures Game on Sunday.
Cincinnati’s Jose Barrero, Colorado’s Michael Toglia and the Mets’ Francisco Alvarez also went deep in the showcase of top young talent at Coors Field, at 5,186 feet the highest altitude in the major leagues.
Monday night’s Home Run Derby and Tuesday night’s All-Star Game will follow.
Last year’s Futures Game was canceled along with all minor league seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the start of this minor league season was delayed a month until May 4. Many prospects were set back.
“Your body’s not used to playing,” said 22-year-old Boston Triple-A infielder Jeter Downs, who hit a two-run double off Milwaukee’s Ethan Small in the seventh and final inning. “I still feel like I have a long way to go.”
Toglia, a 22-year-old with Class A Spokane and familiar with Coors from his time in the Rockies’ system, was cheered loudly by fans in a crowd of 49,012, by far the largest he had played in front of.
“It does definitely carry,” he said of baseballs at Coors. “Anything in the air had a chance to go out.”
Davis was pushed back even more than most minor leaguers when he was hit in the face by a fastball during a spring training game on April 22, delaying his season’s start until May 22.
“It’s good to be back out of the field, being able to do what I love,” he said.
Promoted to Double-A on June 1, Davis sent a fourth-inning fastball from Minnesota’s Josh Winder to the trees beyond the center-field wall, then hit a slider from Baltimore’s Marcos Diplan to left in the sixth, combining with Alvarez for consecutive home runs.
Even before Davis plays a big league game, he will be in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame took his bat along with a cap worn by Yankees minor league hitting coach Rachel Balkovec, the first woman to coach in the Futures Game.
And the prospects got an extra highlight when Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. dropped by to chat.
Top pitchers on display included Tampa Bay’s Shane Baz, a 22-year-old right-hander expected to start for the United States at Olympics. He struck out two in a perfect second inning, throwing a fastball at up to 98.5 mph.
Matthew Liberatore, a 21-year-old St. Louis left-hander blocked from the Olympics by the Cardinals after pitching twice in qualifying, opened with a perfect first for the NL. Cincinnati’s Nick Nodolo, Washington’s Cade Cavalli and the Cubs’ Rodriguez each pitched a hitless inning as the NL carried a one-hit shutout into the seventh.
Barrero played 24 games for the Reds last year as Jose Garcia and changed his name in May to honor his mother, who died of COVID-19. He hit a solo homer in the first on a fastball from Texas’ Cole Winn, who took the loss.
Toglia made it 3-0 in the third on a sinker from the Rangers’ Cole Ragans. Nolan Gorman of the Cardinals added an RBI double against Boston’s Brayan Bello, and San Diego’s Luis Campusano boosted the lead to 5-0 with a sacrifice fly. Toronto’s Austin Martin had an RBI single in the seventh.
“Playing in a ballpark like this,” Gorman said, “is pretty exciting for us.”