MINNEAPOLIS -- Christian Binford looked around the home clubhouse at Target Field, glancing at the American prospects for Sunday's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, and marveled at what he was doing there.
Binford had just pitched against Rangers prospect James Ramsey for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He faced White Sox prospect Micah Johnson in A-ball, just as he had faced future Cubs superstar Kris Bryant. Joey Gallo, the Rangers' slugger who hit a car on the right-field pavilion with a ball in batting practice, was a former opponent.
And then there was Red Sox infield prospect Sean Coyle.
"We played in the Pennsylvania state private school championships together," said Binford, who fired a perfect third inning for the U.S Team in its 3-2 win over the World Team. "I remember he hit a ball over a dorm. From then on, I'm like, 'Oh my god, that guy can hit.' And now I'm standing in the Minnesota Twins locker room, playing with him. It's surreal."
Boston selected Coyle in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Binford, who had Tommy John surgery as a junior in high school, went in the 30th round the following year. Nobody else in the Futures Game was drafted later than the 16th; only one other was drafted later than the sixth.
"I was a 30th-round Draft pick, and from the very beginning, I've had to prove myself," Binford said on Sunday. "I don't feel like that's any different today. Just because I'm in this game doesn't mean I'm getting a ticket to the big leagues in two years. I still have to prove myself at every level I go to. I think I've exceeded a lot of expectations from when I was drafted until now, but I haven't exceeded mine. That's a big deal for me just to keep working."
Binford pitched his way to the Futures Game with a chip on his shoulder. He did not do so with a big fastball in his arm. As he showed in his inning on Sunday, big velocity isn't a requirement for big outs.
Binford threw just two pitches in the 90s, topping out with a 91-mph fastball, but he needed just eight pitches to send the World Team down in order in the third inning, capped by back-to-back offspeed pitches for strikes to send down Dalton Pompey swinging.
"There are a lot of guys throwing 100 mph, and God gifted them with that talent," Binford said. "Well, God gifted me with some different talent, being able to pitch. I'm very happy working with the cards I was dealt. It's carried me so far."
So far, it has carried Binford to stingy results at every level he has played since his pro career began in 2012. After posting an 8-7 record, 2.67 ERA and 130 strikeouts over 135 innings at low Class A ball last year, he improved on all his ratios this year between Class A Advanced Wilmington and Double-A, with a WHIP that's just about even.
"I just tried to build on last year," the 21-year-old right-hander said. "Coming out of last year, my last few starts, two of my last three starts were pretty bad. So I was really just trying to build on that, really wanting to focus on starting out the year well and just being consistent throughout the year. That was my big thing.
"I was just able to repeat my mechanics a lot better. And going into games, I knew that any pitch that I wanted to throw, I could throw for a strike."
If Binford is going to succeed with a fastball in the lower 90s, he figures, that's his key. His margin for error is smaller, which makes his focus on the minute details bigger. The fact that it got him here makes him all the more proud.
"If you make a mistake, they're going to make you pay," Binford said. "And I can't make mistakes, because I don't throw 98. So I have to bear down in games and focus, maybe a little bit more than other guys. I can't leave the ball up. I can't make mistakes.
"A big part of my game is being a pitcher more than a thrower. Looking around this room, a lot of guys throw a lot harder than I do, but I think it's kind of cool to recognize somebody who maybe has a little bit better idea how to pitch, which is kind of cool for me."