The marathon of the Major League Baseball season lends itself to both patience and context in some very constant fashions. For example, here in June it is too early to declare anybody having established himself as a "frontrunner" for anything, but it is not too early to declare a few teams out of it already. Also, it is too soon to start counting MVP votes but not too early to begin to figure out who's over- and underachieving. Basically, context is everything.
In that vein comes the chance to take a look at what a 2014 MLB All-Star team would look like if the game took place today. We are slightly over a month away from the Midsummer Classic, which will take place at the home of the Minnesota Twins, Target Field, on July 15th. However, it is not too soon (or later on, too late) to break out who represents as legitimate MLB All-Stars this year.
A generation ago, when the nationwide thirst for baseball was at its peak, there were two All-Star Games per season — one at the halfway point and another after the season — so the efforts of both parts of the year were properly recognized. While that was curtailed in the 1960s, the idea of what that effort accomplished is still intriguing. After all, isn’t what a player does when the stakes are at their highest matter most? So, throughout the year around the end/beginning of each month here at TSFJ, there will be a heat check posted of where the best of each league is at in an effort to bring that old honor back of pointing out the most constantly superb players in each league. And today, we start with the “Just A Bit Early” clubs.
The rules are simple and follow the official All-Star Team makeup: 34 players per team, each MLB club represented. That's it. Otherwise, it is a free-for-all of the players who represent as 2014 MLB All-Stars … in the moment at least.
Catcher—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: The perennial best behind the plate in the game is having another great all-around year. His average is over .300, leading a great staff and regularly reminding runners to be afraid.
First Base—Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks: He’s picked up right where he left off in 2013 and has left NL pitching in his wake. He leads the NL in extra-base hits with 32 and is singlehandedly holding Arizona within range of relevancy.
Second Base—Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies: The rebirth of Utley has lasted surprisingly long considering his recent (lack of) track record. However, he is leading the MLB in doubles and reminding everyone of why he has long been the default answer to best second sacker in the senior circuit.
Third Base—David Wright, New York Mets: Steady as ever, Wright has continued to be the class of NL third basemen, leading his position in hits and doubles, while coming in second in average, on-base percentage and RBI.
Shortstop—Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies: He’s playing better baseball than anybody on the planet this year, as his MLB-best batting average clearly shows. He’s also in the top three in runs, on-base percentage and home runs, while reinvigorating baseball in Denver.
Outfield—Giancarlo Stanton, Florida Marlins: He’s been fully healthy and fully coming into the mountain of potential he’s held for years now. He is tops in the NL in home runs and far and away the most frequently devastating author of these prodigious hits. His average homer has carried 432 feet, while traveling 109 miles per hour.
Outfield—Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: The do-it all reigning MVP has smoothed his way through yet another year. While the Bucs haven’t quite caught on to his wave yet, he is reaching base at a career-best clip while on pace to reach 40 doubles.
Outfield—Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers: The virtuoso of all talents has continued to be an unmatched spark for the Dodgers, while finding a way to contribute each day. He has authored a 30+ game on-base streak already and was the "Master of May" yet again, hitting .398 during the month.
Starting Pitcher—Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds: He is dominating in both volume and quality thus far. Batters are managing only a .156 average against him, and he is carrying insane MLB-best figures of three complete games, two shutouts, a 1.68 ERA and only 4.7 hits per game while throwing an MLB high of innings thus far on the year.
Bench: Jonathan Lucroy— Milwaukee Brewers, Adrian Gonzalez— Los Angeles Dodgers, Freddie Freeman—Atlanta Braves, Dee Gordon—Los Angeles Dodgers, Todd Frazier—Cincinnati Reds, Hanley Ramirez—Los Angeles Dodgers, Andrelton Simmons—Atlant Braves, Justin Upton—Atlanta Braves, Carlos Gomez—Milwaukee Brewers, Angel Pagan—San Francisco Giants, Charlie Blackmon—Colorado Rockies, Ryan Braun—Milwaukee Brewers
Pitchers: Adam Wainwright—St. Louis Cardinals, Zack Greinke—Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw—Los Angeles Dodgers, Tim Hudson—San Francisco Giants, Madison Bumgarner—San Francisco Giants, Stephen Strasburg—Washington Nationals, Jeff Samardzija—Chicago Cubs, Julio Teheran—Atlanta Braves, Kyle Lohse—Milwaukee Brewers, Huston Street—San Diego Padres, Francisco Rodriguez—Milwaukee Brewers, Craig Kimbrel—Atlanta Braves, Will Smith—Milwaukee Brewers
Unfortunate Exceptions: Nolan Arenado—Colorado Rockies (Injury), Mike Morse—San Francisco Giants (Last off), Pablo Sandoval—San francisco Giants (On the verge), Justin Morneau—Colorado Rockies (Numbers Game), Mark Melancon—Pittsburgh Pirates (tough out)
Catcher—Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals: Catcher has not been a position of particular strength in the AL this year outside of the injured Matt Wieters, but Perez has been solid across the board to warrant a nod among the group.
First Base—Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: He started off slow, but his decline was greatly overrated. Since May broke, he has hit .380 and driven in more runs than the month had days. In other words, he’s still Miggy.
Second Base—Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers: Even before Prince Fielder’s season ended early in Texas, the Tigers were the winners of the offseason’s biggest trade by netting Kinsler. He has lit the Detroit lineup on fire out of the lead-off spot, sitting prominently among the league’s leaders in hits and runs scored.
Third Base—Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics: It has been safe to say that last year was no fluke for Donaldson, and it is also safe to say that last year’s biggest All-Star snub will relinquish that title this year. He could very well be the league’s MVP thus far, as his league-best totals in both offensive and defensive WAR attest to. He’s doing irreplaceable work for the AL’s best team.
Shortstop—Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox: It is a "flame on" season for the sometimes erratic but always talented Ramirez. He is leading all AL shortstops in hits, and his average sits in the top three in the league overall. It will be impossible to beat the departing Derek Jeter in the ballot box, but he is deserving of a starting nod.
Outfield—Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays: Joey Bats’ wrist is 100%, and his bat is back at it too. He leads the AL in on-base percentage and is top five in his trademark column as well too, with 14 home runs. The Blue Jays are living up to their billing headed into last year, and his resurgence is no coincidence.
Outfield—Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: The game’s best player is putting up his usual buffet of stat spreads, and if he can overcome a bad back that has curbed him down to some mortal totals of late (although he still hit a 430-foot homer this weekend before sitting for a few days), he’ll be the center attraction in the AL lineup in Minnesota.
Outfield—Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays: He is putting the “steroids-equal-stats” crowd into a resoundingly deep sleep with his performance thus far, which looks shockingly similar to the 2012 batting title that never happened for him.
Designated Hitter—Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles: Speaking of stunning returns, this year’s biggest value free-agent signing is already nearly halfway to 50 home runs in his image resurrection season for the O’s. He leads the Majors in home runs, RBI, on-base + slugging percentage and total bases. “Cruz control” is officially locked in.
Starting Pitcher—Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees: He is on pace to win 23 games and strike out 255 in his debut, so it is safe to say while the language is lagging behind, his stuff is not. Japan’s former best has been the pole setter for the AL so far as well. He has jumped out to an 8-1 record with a league-leading 2.06 ERA. The hype was not only legit, but maybe even understated.
Bench: Kurt Suzuki—Minnesota Twins, Jose Abreu—Chicago White Sox, Robinson Cano—Seattle Mariners, Jose Altuve—Houston Astros, Adrian Beltre—Texas Rangers, Xander Bogaerts—Boston Red Sox, Yoenis Cespedes—Oakland A’s, Alex Gordon—Kansas City Royals, Michael Brantley—Cleveland Indians, Victor Martinez—Detroit Tigers, Edwin Encarnacion—Toronto Blue Jays
Pitchers: Mark Buehrle—Toronto Blue Jays, Felix Hernandez—Seattle Mariners, Sonny Gray—Oakland A’s, Scott Kazmir—Oakland A’s, Yu Darvish—Texas Rangers, David Price—Tampa Bay Rays, Corey Kluber—Cleveland Indians, Max Scherzer—Detroit Tigers, Chris Sale—Chicago White Sox, Jon Lester—Boston Red Sox, Greg Holland—Kansas City Royals, Koji Uehara—Boston Red Sox, Glen Perkins—Minnesota Twins
Unfortunate Exceptions: Matt Wieters—Baltimore Orioles (Injury), Alex Rios—Texas Rangers (Odd man out), Yangervis Solarte—New York Yankees (Do it all edged by vet), Joe Mauer—Minnesota Twins (Hometown guy can’t get going), Derek Jeter—New York Yankees (You know he’ll make it), George Springer—Houston Astros (Keep swinging kid), Jered Weaver—Los Angeles Angles (Needs a few more show outs)
Matt Whitener is an American Treasure for pieces like this, because he shows me that I've been following all the wrong guys this season. Great catch-up piece.
He's still a Kappa doe.
I have a hard time arguing with any of the starters you selected. My ballot I filled out looks almost identical. May have a little debate over the reserves, but great stuff as always.
He is on pace to win 23 games and strike out 255 in his debut, so it is safe to say while the language is lagging behind, his stuff is not.
Uh, what? 23 wins? 255 K's? SHEESH lol. Wow. If I may drop off a few baseball-related thoughts.
1. Matt Whitener is this country's greatest living baseball writer. I knew this before, but when I met the man, he had a motorcycle mustache. So that alone put him in the top 5. The fact he makes the game easy to appreciate and gravitate towards (with pieces like this) only solidifies it.
2. As much as I may waver in my attention to baseball, I always find myself tuning into the All Star break. If only because it brings back memories of having home run derby in my backyard. Long live Ken Griffey, Jr and Barry Bonds' batting stances. Lefties over everything.
3. My Yasiel Puig jersey was so a great investment. Seeing as how I already have an Angels cap, I'm thinking a Mike Trout jersey is in order.
4. Outside of basketball shorts and flip flops, baseball fitted caps are proof God loves all His little children.
5. For whatever reason, a midsummer classic in Minnesota seems like it would be fun as hell. One, because the stadium is dope. And two, because it's not -95 degrees outside yet.
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