The second installment of this year’s MLB All-Star Game "Too Early All-Star Picks" sees the game moving back toward some familiar territory. Many of the extremely hot starts have subsided (see Prado, Martin), and many of the standard bearers, such as Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson have re-emerged.
However, at the same time, the usual host of surprises, such as Jonathan Villar, Eduardo Nunez, Wilson Ramos and Jackie Bradley Jr., have continued to play at unexpected rates and mix things up. Daniel Murphy has not subsided at the plate, and Matt Carpenter, Kris Bryant and Ian Desmond have kept on keeping on as well.
All things considered, after the Kershaws, Trouts, Sales and Ortizes of the world are accounted for, there is plenty of shake-up to look at in what comprises what an each All-Star team SHOULD look like as of today. And with the MLB All-Star Game ballot having another week left on it before final tallies are due, and with current returns reporting a much different story than the nightly box scores are telling, it is prime time for the updated version of the TSFJ "Too Soon" All-Star teams.
The rules are the same as always: No credence is given to where the current MLB ballot stands. Instead, 34 players are selected for each league, with at least one representative of each team being present. Credence is given to trying to create a realistic ballot, with appropriate backups and balances between positional and pitcher picks as well.
Besides that, it's is a free for all on sorting out the top performers at each position and giving them their due, in the face of the popular picks that could surpass them when the starters are announced next month.
And with that, here is how each league’s top offering would appear today…
(Injury selections are noted by a single asterik (*), while replacements carry two**)
Catcher—Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
Reserve: Wilson Ramos, Nationals
Yadier Molina is leading the popular vote right now, narrowly holding off Buster Posey in his rearview mirror. However, if name brand value is thrown out of the equation, neither is outperforming either Lucroy or Ramos this year. Lucroy continues to solidify his stock as the top player most likely to be available on this year’s trade market, hitting north of .300 and his usual strong all-around offering behind the plate.
Meanwhile, Ramos is deserving of the backup nod, as he is currently second in the National League in hitting (.330) and is one of the most surprising impact players on the year that nobody is talking about. More likely than not, three catchers will go regardless, but he certainly deserves to be among them.
First Baseman—Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Reserves: Paul Goldschmidt, D’Backs; Wil Myers, Padres
No surprise that first base is a loaded position, but there are two runaways who have to be a part of the mix annually. One is Rizzo, who is the most important player on the best team in baseball so far. He is leading all first basemen in RBI and OPS, and is second in home runs.
On his heels is Goldschmidt, who has drastically pulled up his numbers over the past month. Since June 1, he is hitting .342 and carrying a 1.018 OPS. He leads the NL in on-base percentage at .427 and is fourth in WAR overall at 2.9.
Heading up the position is Myers, who stands to be the hometown host for the weekend. He is leading all first basemen in hits and is far and away the brightest spot on a dull Padres team. He edges out another deserving NL West first baseman in Brandon Belt by this placement.
Second Baseman—Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Reserves: Ben Zobrist, Cubs; Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
The toughest call of all for selecting a starter on this team comes between Murphy and Zobrist. Murphy has been leading the NL in batting all season and stays at the top of the heap in average (.347) and hits (93) by a comfortable margin.
On his heels is Zobrist, who has been the best addition the Cubs made all offseason thus far by a wide margin. He is third in runs scored on the year and checks in at the same slot in on-base percentage. The switch hitter is on pace for career highs in RBI and on-base percentage currently.
Finally, there is the Cardinals' jack of all trades in Carpenter. He made the midseason switch back to second base to make room for the returning Jhonny Peralta but has also played 10 games at first base as well. Regardless of where he takes his glove, though, he has hit. Carpenter leads the NL in OPS at .975 and has hit .366 since moving over to 2B.
Third Baseman—Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Reserve: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Bryant is going to run away with the popular vote, and for good reason. He is one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the game and swings a fearsome bat that has him leading the NL in runs scored (52), while also in the top 10 in home runs (17) and RBI (48) as well. At only 24, he is in line for his second All-Star Game in as many years as a pro.
However, the true selection for this honor should easily be Arenado, as there is no better all-around talent in the game than him at the hot corner. He leads the NL in two out of three Triple Crown categories, with 21 home runs and 60 RBI, while sitting in the top five of a host of other categories as well. Add on his tremendous defensive presence as well, and he is a fixture in the annual MVP race, regardless of being on the lowly Rockies.
Shortstop—Corey Seager, Dodgers
Reserves: Jonathan Villar, Brewers; Trevor Story, Rockies
Shortstop is an incredibly packed position this year with top-tier performers and is guaranteed to see more than one worthy candidate left at home. This is further complicated by the fact that Addison Russell is running away with the popular vote, despite being well behind the performance pace of his contemporaries at the position.
The leader of the pack is Seager, who has more than justified why he was baseball’s top prospect headed into this year. He leads all NL SS in home runs (16) and hits (83), highlighted by his three-homer breakout earlier in the month. On his heels is fellow rookie Story, who is approaching 20 home runs and leads the position in OPS at .877. Finally, there is Villar, who has been a breakout acquisition for the Brewers, leading the National League in stolen bases (25) and all shortstops in on-base percentage at .377.
All due respects to the great years that Aledmys Diaz and Zack Cozart are producing as well.
Outfield—Starling Marte, Pirates; Dexter Fowler, Cubs*; Bryce Harper, Nationals
Reserves: Yoenis Cespedes, Mets; Jay Bruce, Reds; Christian Yelich, Marlins; Ryan Braun, Brewers**
There will not be a year when an easy outfield can be selected, but the best-case scenario for me is the one above, with Harper, Fowler and Marte prowling it to start the game. Harper is having a down year thus far by his standards, but his alone. He is still among the NL top 10 in on-base percentage, producing seven more walks than strikeouts thus far, and is on pace to equal his RBI output from his MVP campaign as well. Behind him is Fowler, who is currently injured but has been the most consistent part of the Chicago attack as a dangerous leadoff threat (.398 OBP) with 29 extra-base hits and 41 runs scored. Following him is Marte, who has carried the weight of the slumping Andrew McCutchen. Marte leads all NL outfielders in batting average at .329 and has 20 stolen bases, while slugging near .500.
The easy choice among the reserves is Cespedes, who will likely start in the real game and would be my choice to move into the starting lineup if Fowler’s injury lingers. Moving out of a crowded pack of NL outfielders along with him are Bruce, Yelich and Braun, each of whom are pushed heavily by Stephen Piscotty, Adam Duvall, Carlos Gonzalez, Marcell Ozuna and Gregory Polanco. All of this adds up to the position’s selections going down to the wire this year.
Starting Pitcher—Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Reserves: Jake Arrieta, Cubs; Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Noah Syndergaard, Mets; Stephen Strasburg, Nationals; Johnny Cueto, Giants; Jose Fernandez, Marlins; Jon Lester, Cubs; Max Scherzer, Nationals; Julio Teheran, Braves; Jeurys Familia, Mets; Kenley Jansen, Dodgers; Mark Melancon, Pirates; Jeanmar Gomez, Phillies; Seung Hwan Oh, Cardinals
He is the best pitcher of his generation and is having his best season to date. Kershaw is the easy selection here to lead an NL staff that could be looked back upon as being one of the finest collections of All-Star Game talent ever in subsequent generations. In any other year, the efforts of Arrieta, Bumgarner and Syndergaard would make for quite an intriguing early Cy Young debate, but Kershaw’s jaw-dropping dominance this year (leading the NL in wins, ERA, innings pitched, complete games and carrying his astonishing 141-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio) ends that conversation quickly.
Final Five: Brandon Belt, Giants; Yadier Molina, Cardinals; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals; Adam Duvall, Reds
Catcher—Salvador Perez, Royals
Reserves: Stephen Vogt, Athletics
Salvy has been on a runaway pace as the top catcher in the American League this year, and it is a forgone conclusion that he deserves the nod here. In a down period for catching in the league, he still stands out as the best of the best at the spot. He leads all AL catchers in every major offensive category and remains an elite defensive presence as well.
With the downswing in production at the spot, it makes selecting a backup more of a reach than usual, but Vogt is playing steady enough to get the call. He also solves the issue of having an Athletics representative, due to Sonny Gray’s down year and injuries to Josh Reddick and Rich Hill.
First Baseman—Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Reserves: Eric Hosmer, Royals; Chris Davis, Orioles
Cabrera and Hosmer have gone back and forth for first base supremacy this year, but Miggy has begun to pull away back toward his usual elite level. His OPS is 70 points higher than Hosmer’s, and he leads or is tied for the AL lead in hits, home runs, average, on-base and slugging percentages.
Hosmer is having his best all-around season to date and is a more than worthy member of the team. He is runner-up to Cabrera in almost all of the aforementioned categories and continues to be an impact defender.
Also making a worthy appearance is Crush Davis, who has produced 16 home runs and appears in the AL top 10 in both walks and runs scored as well.
Second Baseman—Robinson Cano, Mariners
Reserves: Jose Altuve, Astros; Ian Kinsler, Tigers
The strongest position in the AL this year is easily second base, where there are three elite efforts being given, in addition to a host of other impact years as well. Cano, Altuve and Kinsler each have produce WARs north of 3.0 already, and Dustin Pedroia sits comfortably at 2.5. However, Pedroia is the toughest omission made in either league so far, simply because of the phenomenal efforts of his contemporaries thus far.
It is a curious divide between Altuve and Cano about who deserves the starting nod. The edge should go to Cano based on the impact that his effort (19 home runs, 53 RBI, 52 runs scored) has had on driving the Mariners up the standings, but it is hard to argue against Altuve either, who is currently the vote leader at the position. He is second in the AL in average (.343), while checking in as runner-up in stolen bases and hits as well.
Not to be upstaged is Kinsler, however, who boasts a .299 average, along with 58 runs scored and an impressive .505 slugging percentage.
Third Baseman—Manny Machado, Orioles
Reserves: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays; Kyle Seager, Mariners
Despite his move to shortstop for much of the first half, Machado appears on the ballot at third base, so I will keep him there as well. And among all players measured at the hot corner, he had the strongest and most consistent first half. His 27 doubles are only behind David Ortiz’s record pace, and he is currently second in slugging percentage and OPS in the AL as well.
It took a bit for the reigning MVP Donaldson to get back to his usual pace at the plate, but the struggles are well behind him, and he is back to ripping the cover off of the ball. His 4.0 WAR leads the majors, and he is hitting .348 in June with 17 RBI and 13 of his 23 hits going for extra bases.
Finally, there needs to be room made for Seager to appear as well, especially since a non-full-timer is taking the starting nod. The always consistent M’s third baseman is leading the position in RBI (48), while also carrying an .849 OPS and a 2.9 WAR.
Shortstop—Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
Reserves: Francisco Lindor, Indians; Eduardo Nunez, Twins
The Red Sox hit machine Bogaerts is once again lighting the league on fire. He is the first player top 100 hits this year, fueled in large part by his 26-game hitting streak. His .351 average leads all of baseball, and he is currently on pace for 237 hits, 48 doubles and 112 runs scored.
Lindor has continued to be the two-way machine that fuels the surging Indians. His 3.2 WAR checks in within the top 10 in the AL, while his 12 stolen bases are second among AL shortstops. The leader is the Twins’ Nunez, who has swiped 17 bags while hitting .313 with nine home runs.
Outfield—Mike Trout, Angels; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Ian Desmond, Rangers
Reserves: Mark Trumbo, Orioles; Carlos Beltran, Yankees; Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
Trout is the perennial selection, and the reigning ASG MVP is in line to take a shot at defending that honor. He is carrying a .298/.401/.529 slash line, along with 14 home runs, 48 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Joining him in the "all-around phenomenal" department is Betts, whose 160 total bases lead all AL outfielders and who is becoming a brilliant defensive outfielder as well in his first year as a right fielder.
The biggest surprise of all however is the impact of Desmond, who has rediscovered the stroke that made him a three-time Silver Slugger winner at shortstop previously. Desmond is second among all outfielders with 89 hits and appears in the top 10 for batting average (.316), runs scored (52) and stolen bases (13).
Joining them is a surprising group of supporting OFs, including Trumbo (20 home runs), Beltran (.343 average, 7 HRs in June) and Bradley (29-game hitting streak).
Designated Hitter—David Ortiz, Red Sox
Reserve: Victor Martinez, Tigers
Big Papi is having one of the great farewell seasons in history, as he leads baseball in extra-base hits (48), which is composed of 29 doubles, 18 home runs and even a triple. Since May 1, he is hitting .348 and sporting a 1.130 OPS.
V-Mart has gotten back to being the hitter he was prior to a knee injury that curbed his 2015 season. He is fourth in the AL in batting average and turned in his second three-homer game of his career earlier in the month.
Starting Pitcher—Chris Sale, White Sox
Reserves: Chris Tillman, Orioles; Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers; Rich Hill, Athletics*; Marco Estrada, Blue Jays; Cole Hamels, Rangers; Danny Salazar, Indians; Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees; David Price, Red Sox**; Zach Britton, Orioles; Alex Colome, Rays; Wade Davis, Royals; Andrew Miller, Yankees; Kelvin Herrera, Royals
There has not been a question about who has been the dominant arm in the AL this year, as Sale has set the pace nearly from the start. He has wins in 12 of his 15 starts, best MLB, and sits in the top five for innings pitched (105 - 1st), ERA (2.83 - 5th), strikeouts (102 - 2nd), WHIP (0.99 - 2nd) and is tied with Kershaw for most complete games with three.
Among the reserves is a mixture of expected names, such as Price, Tanaka, Davis and Hamels, as well as some surprises (Hill, Tillman, Estrada) and emergent talents, such as Salazar and Colome. Zach Britton has established himself among the elite closers in the game, while Herrera and Miller continue to be the best of the best in the setup man ranks.
Final Five: Evan Longoria, Rays; Nelson Cruz, Mariners; Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox; Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox; Steven Wright, Red Sox
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