U.S. notes: Carter, Walker reunited
Hall of Fame catcher served as mentor for Pirates prospect
PITTSBURGH -- U.S. manager Gary Carter and catcher Neil Walker did not need to be introduced to one another in the U.S. clubhouse prior to the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game on Sunday.
The two go way, way back.
Carter, who began his Hall of Fame career with the Montreal Expos in 1974 as a 20-year-old catcher, roomed with Walker's uncle, Chip Lang, in the Minor Leagues. Carter later became a battery mate of Walker's dad, pitcher Tom Walker, with the Expos.
"That was the beginning of our relationship, and we stayed friends through the years," said Carter. "I remember Tom telling me about how excited his kid was about putting a ball and glove on his hand. He said, 'If you ever have any pointers for him, feel free to share. I came to the house one night for a barbecue, and I shared some tips with him."
According to Walker, the Bucs' top pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Carter would visit the Walker household in Pittsburgh during the offseason and offer the aspiring catcher a few tricks of the trade.
"He's such a close family friend," Walker said. "I still remember when I was a little guy, he was giving me catching tips. I was still young, but I remember being out in the front yard and playing catch with him. He would get me back in a squat position and have me work on throwing to second base.
"When I saw him for the first time the other day, everything really rushed back to me. We haven't seen each other in maybe 10 years, but it was like we haven't skipped a beat."
Carter, who hasn't seen Walker play since the youngster's sandlot days, is anxious to watch his former pupil's development up close.
"He's getting an opportunity to prove himself," said Carter. "I'm looking forward to watching him play. It's enjoyable to be with someone that you know and whose family you know well."
High school teammates reunited: When Eric Hurley learned that he was headed to Pittsburgh for Sunday's Futures Game, the first person he called was his best friend and high school teammate, Billy Butler.
Butler's response when he saw the number on his screen?
"I was just picking up the phone to call you. I'm going to the Futures Game."
"I was speechless to a point," Hurley said.
Drawing back memories of their senior season two years ago at Wolfson High in Jacksonville, the pair of first-round picks in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft called the same clubhouse home again.
"It's awesome, Butler said. "There's a lot of history there. And it's just great to share this success with him here."
Hurley, a right-handed starter with a mid-90s fastball, has risen to high Class A ball in the Rangers farm system, while Butler, a right fielder with a natural power stroke, is already at Double-A in the Royals organization.
Neither one seems to grasp just how impressive and improbable their story is.
"I had a pretty good feeling about him," Hurley said. "And I'm sure he had a good feeling about me, too."
Power class shows strength: It normally takes years to gauge the strength of a draft class.
The 2005 class, however, has already begun to flex its collective muscle.
Of the 25 members on the U.S. team on Sunday, seven were drafted just over a year ago, including first-round picks Ryan Braun (Milwaukee), Alex Gordon (Kansas City), Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado), Travis Buck (Oakland) and Cameron Maybin (Detroit), second-round pick Nolan Reimold (Baltimore) and 10th-round pick Nick Pereira (San Francisco).
The players are not surprised that their class was so well-represented on Sunday.
"I think that draft class was pretty talented, and now it's starting to show," said Tulowitzki.
"I think it is a good honor for all of us to be here this quickly," added Pereira. "I think it speaks for how our draft went last year and what the potential is for this group."
"[Experts] said it was one of the best draft classes in a long time. This shows that it is," said Maybin. "I'm sure there are some other guys in that class who are not here that could be here."
With so many 2005 picks on the fast track, it might not be long before the class makes an impact in the big leagues.
"It's our first full year in professional ball, and we're already in the Futures Game," said Buck. "This says we're only a year or two away from the big leagues.
"We're all doing well in the Minors, and we're all hoping to do the same in the bigs. Hopefully, they'll be saying this is the best [draft class] in years to come."
Hughes hopes to stay put: Mention a trade rumor involving the Yankees, and Philip Hughes' name will undoubtedly be raised.
Such is life when you're the top prospect in the Yankees machine. But the club says that Hughes is not about to become the latest in a line of midseason Yankees casualties. Not with the organization's recent philosophical shift that has it committed to developing its own talent.
"It's stabilizing," Hughes said on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park before pitching in the Futures Game. "It's great they want to hold onto me ... and it feels good that they're keeping most of their Minor League guys. It's very encouraging."
Just look at Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, who represented New York in the past two Futures Games. Seeing their production this year in the Bronx, Hughes figures to be next in line if given the shot. This season at Double-A Trenton, the 20-year-old right-hander has a 2.99 ERA and is striking out a batter an inning.
"Hopefully, they'll take a chance on me later this year," he said.
Still, he knows the reality of who exactly he plays for.
"As much as they say they want to hold onto me, a deal may come up that's too good for them to pass up," Hughes said. "You can't get caught up in that."
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. David Briggs contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.