An explosive trio of Wisconsin players will help kick off Major League Baseball’s All-Star extravaganza in Cleveland this weekend.
Jarred Kelenic of Waukesha, Gavin Lux of Kenosha, and central Wisconsin native Daulton Varsho have been invited to take part in the MLB Futures Game on Sunday. The exhibition will be the first time the two former first-round draft picks from the Milwaukee area have gone head-to-head as pros and the closest they’ve ever been to “The Show.”
“Being [like] a pioneer with this core group of guys from Wisconsin is pretty cool,” says Lux, a shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers system who was promoted to AAA Oklahoma City last week. “Baseball is getting a lot better in Wisconsin.” Lux, 21, was the 20th pick in the 2016 draft and signed with the Dodgers for $2.3 million. The authoritative Baseball America index currently rates him as the minor leagues’ No. 13 talent.
Waukesha West High School product Kelenic is just 19 and last June became the highest Wisconsin draft pick ever when the New York Mets selected him No. 6 overall, claiming a player touted by experts as the best pure hitter in the 2018 draft. He signed with the Mets for $4.5 million but was sent to the Seattle Mariners in a blockbuster trade over the winter. Kelenic has been playing center field in the Mariners organization and was promoted to the High A Modesto Nuts on May 29. He’s currently Baseball America’s No. 25 prospect.
“These are the two best left-handed bats I have ever seen in Wisconsin,” says Steve Nielsen, scouting supervisor for the respected Prep Baseball Report, which has covered Wisconsin since 2013. Nielsen calls both Lux and Kelenic “gym rats” who could be found “24/7” in Wisconsin batting cages and on indoor fields, even playing on the same Hitters showcase team. Nielsen calls this a golden era for Wisconsin baseball, in which the longtime handicap of the state’s cold weather no longer means a delay in player development.
Varsho so far lacks the top-prospect status of Kelenic and Lux, but the catcher was a second-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017. The former UW-Milwaukee Panther is the son of former major leaguer Gary Varsho and hails from Chili, near Marshfield.
The Futures Game is considered the most elite annual showcase of major league prospects, featuring many of the top 50 position players and pitchers. The Brewers’ Keston Hiura played in last year’s game. Baseball’s No. 1 consensus minor leaguer is a 18-year-old shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays, Wander Franco, who already has a baseball card that sold for a five-figure price. He will also be featured in the Futures Game.
The game will be broadcast from Progressive Field in Cleveland beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday on MLB Network and SiriusXM radio. A live stream will be available on MLB.com.
In past years, the top U.S.-born minor leaguers faced the top “world” players, but this will be the first year of an American League-National League matchup, which puts Wisconsin bats in a position to make a difference. Kelenic and Lux have remarkably similar batting and overall “tool” profiles. Lux is currently batting an astronomical .476 in his new slot at AAA. Kelenic, coming off a wrist sprain, went 3-for-3 in a recent game, including a home run. Both are hitting near .300 for their minor league careers, with on-base percentages around .370. Lux is considered somewhat fleeter on his feet, while Kelenic is said to hold the edge in power hitting, while both have excellent arms. Fantasy baseball publications have also taken note, putting both players among their top 30 prospects.
Reached at a baseball diamond in Indiana where he is coaching another son aspiring to the major leagues, Tom Kelenic told Milwaukee Magazine that the Futures Game is a “credit to Wisconsin baseball” and that he’s driving to Cleveland with family to see the game. As for who will win the high-level meeting between the two buddies now on opposing teams, Kelenic said, “I’d better say I hope it ends in a tie.”
For the big-league main event, four Milwaukee Brewers – Christian Yelich, Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal and Josh Hader – have been selected to the National League roster for Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff, who’s leading the National League in wins, could join them as an alternate selection.
Jonathan D. Rosenblum is an attorney and baseball dad in Madison. His son, Simon Rosenblum-Larson, was recently drafted as a pitcher by the Tampa Bay Rays.