MLB All-Star Game voting season is upon us.
The MLB All-Star game is the best all-star game in sports, rivaled only by the new NHL tournament-style event. With the game itself still almost two months away, a lot can change between now and July 11. However, voting is now open, and I am here to help you with the extremely important task of filling out your ballot.
There is no exact method to my picks, but they are based primarily on statistical performance, with exciting players and players with intriguing storylines getting a small boost. The All-Star Game vote has always been, and will likely always be, a popularity contest rewarding players for past achievements. However, the focus should instead be primarily on rewarding players for their outstanding achievements this season, with very little weight to past performance. With that being said, these are my picks for the American League. Feel free to disagree.
First Base: Yonder Alonso (Oakland)
Starting out with the big names right out of the gate (not). Do I really want to watch Yonder Alonso start at 1B in the All-Star Game? No. Is this the kind of pick that will make non-fans intrigued and grow the game? Is he the most deserving? Yes. In an unusually thin crop of AL first basemen, Alonso has stood out. He is hitting a respectable .271 with a .372 OBP, and has an impressive .619 slugging percentage. The 30 year old has 12 HR and 29 RBI, both of which lead AL first basemen. I admittedly have not seen him play much this season, and I imagine many people are in the same boat. It might be nice to get him some national exposure as a reward for a breakout season after seven years of never hitting double-digit home runs. Justin Smoak of Toronto has put together a decent year thus far, and look for Jose Abreu to get hot as the Chicago weather does the same.
Second Base: Starlin Castro (New York)
I have no choice but to give the nod to Cub-turned-Yankee (AKA the reverse Alfonso Soriano). Castro has been stellar in his second season in New York, hitting .351 with 7 HR and 26 RBI in 37 games. Castro would be starting at 2B in only his second full-time season at the position, which is impressive. Usual stars Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis, and Brian Dozier are having down years, but Jose Altuve is always a threat, and Robinson Cano is quietly putting together a very strong year, hitting .292 with 8 HR and 28 RBI. If you vote for Cano I won’t blame you, but I’m taking Castro at this point.
Shortstop: Carlos Correa (Houston)
This was a toss-up between Correa and Seattle SS Jean Segura. Correa is slashing .294/.376/.469, while Segura is slashing an impressive .359/.397/.492. As outstanding as Segura’s line is, especially the league-leading .359 average, Correa has 5 HR and 23 RBI, while Segura only has 3 and 16. Correa also edges out Segura in WAR, 1.7 to 1.1. This will be a battle between two exciting young stars with bright futures. With the abundance of talent in the AL shortstop field this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else, like Francisco Lindor or Xander Bogaerts, jumps into this race as well.
Third Base: Miguel Sano (Minnesota)
It appears that Sano has finally figured things out, and is starting to live up to the hype. He is hitting .287 with 10 HR and 30 RBI. This race is really not close at this point, and it would be nice to see another young player with a bright future from a small-market team get some recognition. However, look for Manny Machado or Jose Ramirez to get hot and challenge Sano. Also, if Joey Gallo can get his average up to go along with his 12 HR, he may have an argument, although he is not on the ballot and would have to be written in.
Catcher: Gary Sanchez (New York)
This was a difficult choice. There were other players with arguably better stats (Brian McCann, Salvador Perez), but Sanchez has put up good numbers in limited time this year. After a slow start and a stint on the DL, he is returning to his 2016 form. Sanchez is slashing .293/.397/.466, with 3 HR and 10 RBI in only 15 games. He has some work to do to catch up to McCann and Perez, but I am betting on him to close the gap by July. Also, although I do not like basing all-star voting on past performances, I am making an exception for Sanchez, who was brought up after last year’s All-Star game and was a monster for the Yankees down the stretch. He deserves to be rewarded for his performance last season as well as his return to that form this year. This is yet another young player that will be a household name sooner than later, and All-Star game exposure will help (although playing in New York provides plenty of exposure).
Something to look at going forward: Alex Avila is putting together a very good season, hitting .368 in 22 games. However, only 11 of those games have been behind the plate. This makes it difficult to vote for him at this point, but if he starts getting more starts at catcher instead of 1B (and more starts in general), and keeps up his pace at the plate, then he should be considered (as a write-in).
Outfield: Mike Trout (Anaheim); Aaron Judge (New York); Avisail Garcia (Chicago)
As always, the All-Star Game outfield is difficult to pick. There are so many talented players, and only three slots. That being said, I am very comfortable with these picks. Trout is the face of baseball, and a once-in-a-generation talent. One day we will brag to our grandchildren that we saw Mike Trout play live. He is putting up another stellar season, putting up an insane line of .341/.451/.742 to go along with 13 HR and 30 RBI on his way to another MVP.
Aaron Judge is a great story. Getting brought up from the minors to the pressure cooker that is Yankee Stadium and performing at such a high level has been incredible to watch. He has put together a Trout-like line of .320/.426/.720, and is leading the league with 14 HR. And these aren’t just any homers. These are, for the most part, moon shots. This guy is fun to watch, and has the potential to bring in new fans and grow the game.
Speaking of great stories, Garcia has appeared to turn a corner in his career after being written off by nearly everyone (myself included). He is currently sitting at third in the MLB in average at .348, with 6 HR and 28 RBI, good for a 1.8 WAR. It is encouraging to see someone make a turnaround in such a spectacular fashion. He is only 25, and hopefully this is the beginning of an ultimately successful career after a shaky start.
Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz (Seattle)
This was a close call between Cruz and Tampa Bay’s Corey Dickerson. Both have impressive slash lines, with Cruz at .319/.405/.589 and Dickerson at .335/.382/.608. However Cruz edges out Dickerson 10 to 9 in HR, and Cruz has twice as many RBI as Dickerson. Plus, the fact is that more people, myself included, would rather watch Cruz than Dickerson start the all-star game. I respect the season that Dickerson is putting together, but you never know when Cruz is going to hit a nonchalant 450 foot home run, which is exactly what you want in the all-star game. Honorable mentions on opposite end of the age spectrum go to 37 year old, 17 year veteran Albert Pujols, who is approaching 600 career home runs, and 25 year old Trey Mancini, who was called up to make his MLB debut this spring. These are both good stories, but not enough to overcome the outstanding seasons that Cruz and Dickerson have put together thus far.
This team would be fun to watch. There is more young, exciting talent in this lineup and in the MLB in general than at any point in recent memory.
Keep an eye out for my National League picks, which will be out some time next week.