WEYMOUTH, Mass. (December 29, 2023) - The Futures League’s successful track record of producing next-level talent reached new heights with a league-record 13 alumni playing in Major League Baseball (MLB) games in 2023.
The 2023 season was the second straight in which six former Futures Leaguers were promoted to the highest level for the first time. Over that span, the number of league graduates to reach MLB has tripled from six to the present 18.
Wachusett Dirt Dawgs and Boston College product Jake Alu’s call to the Washington Nationals on May 9 was a historic one. Not only was it the first MLB debut for a Futures League alum in 2023, but Alu 一 a 24th-round draft selection in 2019 一 became Washington’s lowest drafted position player to ever debut for the organization. Alu went on to play in 51 games for the Nationals this season, remaining with the big club from August through season’s end. He recorded his first hit in only his second career game and hit his first homer on Aug. 11.
A former Worcester Bravehearts and University of New Haven southpaw, Josh Walker made his MLB debut exactly one week after Alu and wound up striking out 25 percent of the batters he faced (12 of 48) over 14 relief appearances for the New York Mets. Following a scoreless May 16 debut against Tampa Bay, the majority of Walker’s work came in June and August including his two-inning outing with three strikeouts June 16 against St. Louis.
After stops with the Bristol Blues and New Britain Bees during his Boston College career, Emmet Sheehan spun six no-hit innings in his June 16 MLB debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers against San Francisco. Sheehan became only the second-ever Dodger to post such a line in his debut and the first MLB starting pitcher since at least 1967 to begin his career with eight consecutive hitless innings, when factoring in his second outing. Before his Postseason debut in the National League Division Series, he had a career-high 10 strikeouts on Sept. 27 against Colorado.
Although his debut didn’t come until July 14, none of the Futures League’s MLB rookies played more games in 2023 than Zack Gelof of the Oakland Athletics. The former Brockton Rox and University of Virginia infielder hit .267 with 40 runs scored, 20 doubles (the most by an MLB rookie after the All-Star break), one triple, 14 home runs, 32 RBI and an .840 OPS across 69 games. Gelof hit his first 10 career homers in a span of 41 games, breaking an A’s franchise record previously held by 12-time All-Star Mark McGwire. He reached base in 19 straight games in August on his way to earning American League Rookie of the Month honors.
The only two-time Top Pro Prospect in Futures League history, former Boston College and North Shore Navigators outfielder Sal Frelick made an instant impact for the Milwaukee Brewers down the stretch as they successfully chased down a National League playoff berth. He finished his first regular season with a .246 average, three home runs, 24 RBI, 29 runs scored and seven stolen bases in 57 games before getting his first taste of the Postseason during the Wild Card Series against Arizona. In a July 22 MLB debut for the ages, Frelick went 3-for-3 with a run scored, the tying and winning RBI, and two highlight-reel catches in the outfield to rob Atlanta of extra-base hits.
Pittsfield Suns and College of the Holy Cross alum Declan Cronin was the last Futures Leaguer to debut in 2023, toeing the rubber for his first of nine pitching appearances with the Chicago White Sox on July 30. The fifth-year pro worked at least one inning in all but one of his outings, highlighted by striking out five over two scoreless innings Aug. 8 against the New York Yankees.
Walker and Cronin became the first Futures League graduates to make their MLB debuts after being drafted later than the 35th round and represent the sixth and seventh New England college programs to provide the league with one of its eventual big leaguers. Walker is the first alum to reach “The Show” from a non-Division 1 program in the region.
Among the seven other Futures Leaguers with major-league experience in 2023, former Worcester and Northeastern University pitcher Aaron Civale was traded from the Cleveland Guardians to the Tampa Bay Rays at the July 31 deadline. He finished with a combined 3.46 ERA and seven wins, both the second-best totals of his five-year MLB career.
The leap of once-Torrington Titans and University of Maine standout Jeremy Peña started off the Futures League’s two-year run of unprecedented MLB success in April 2022, and he would go on to a historic rookie year that finished with World Series MVP honors and a Gold Glove at shortstop for the Houston Astros. This season, Peña hit .263 and set career-high marks with 32 doubles, 81 runs and 13 steals.
Infielder Zack Short enjoyed the best of his three MLB seasons with the Detroit Tigers in 2023. The one-time Brockton Rox and Sacred Heart University standout hit a career-high nine doubles, seven homers, drove in 33 and stole five bases across 110 games. Former Torrington and Quinnipiac University infielder Matthew Batten hit .258 with his first two career homers, six doubles, 11 RBI and 19 runs scored in 43 games for the San Diego Padres. Northeastern grad Jason Vosler, who played in the league for the Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide, had three homers and 10 RBI in 20 games with a new club in the Cincinnati Reds.
On the mound, Nashua Silver Knights and St. John’s University product Gavin Hollowell stuck with the Colorado Rockies for 26 relief outings in his first full season, going 2-0 with one save and 32 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. Former Pittsfield and Siena College left-hander Matt Gage joined Peña with Houston, pitching in five games for his new organization.
Adding in the 17 alumni chosen in the 2023 MLB Draft, more than 250 players have gone on from the Futures League to be drafted or signed into the affiliated ranks since the league’s inception in 2011. The No. 15 overall pick in 2021, Frelick had been the highest-ever Futures League draftee until two-time Worcester standout Matt Shaw was the Chicago Cubs’ 13th overall selection out of the University of Maryland in July.
While Peña and the Astros did not repeat as World Series champions, the Futures League was not without representation within the title-winning organization. Inaugural league office staffer Mike Parnell currently serves as the director of pro scouting for the Texas Rangers, who beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in five games to win their first-ever World Series.
For the latest Futures League news and information throughout the year, visit thefuturesleague.com and follow the league’s Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram pages.