The All-Star Game in Denver is about a month away and in many cases it’s becoming pretty clear who’ll be suiting up that night, July 13th, in Coors Field.
So here’s a look at which players I’d pick for the starting spots in the American League right now, as well as the ones who might still make a late run.
The AL doesn’t have nearly the number of dazzling young stars as the NL these days, but it can boast of having Shohei Ohtani, the most talented player in baseball, considering his two-way ability as a pitcher and a hitter. Hopefully MLB will be smart enough to showcase his unique talent to its fullest that night.
In any case, here are my picks for the AL team:
FIRST BASE: VLAD GUERRERO JR., TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Still In The Running: Yuri Gurriel, Matt Olson, Jared Walsh
In his third big-league season, Guerrero is living up to all the hype from his prospect days in the minors. He’s leading the AL with his 18 home runs, and also with his .651 slugging percentage and his 1.087 OPS, as his at-bats are becoming must-see events.
It’s looming as a tough call for the reserve spot, as Gurriel, Olson and Walsh, the relative unknown whose production pushed Albert Pujols out of Anaheim, are all having strong seasons.
SECOND BASE: MARCUS SEMIEN, TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Still In The Running: Jose Altuve
If Semien wanted to make sure he gets to his first All-Star Game, he made a smart move by signing with the Blue Jays to play second rather than his natural shortstop, where Bo Bichette looks to be the starter for years.
There’s a lot less competition at second than short, though Semien would be making a push there as well with his numbers: .290/.358/.517/.875 with 13 home runs. Looks like Altuve could make the team as a reserve: will he get booed in an All-Star Game?
THIRD BASE: RAFAEL DEVERS, BOSTON RED SOX
Still In The Running: Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, Joey Wendle
Devers is a big reason for the Red Sox surprise season to this point, leading the league in doubles (19) and RBIs (48), to go with 15 home runs and an .895 OPS.
It’s pretty much a toss-up for the reserve spot at 3B, with Ramirez, Bregman, and Wendle all putting up similarly solid numbers. Ramirez probably gets it because he has the better power numbers, but Wendle is one of the more underrated players in the league, a big reason the Rays contend annually.
SHORTSTOP: XANDER BOGAERTS, BOSTON RED SOX
Still In The Running: Carlos Correa, Bo Bichette, and Tim AndersonAdvertisement
The Sox were smart to lock up Bogaerts last year to a six-year, $120 million deal, much less than the Mets are paying Francisco Lindor and probably a lot less than the several other big-name shortstops heading for free agency this fall. He’s having a sensational season, hitting .324 with a .929 OPS, 11 home runs and 17 doubles.
Correa seems most likely to earn the reserve spot, though Bichette has similar power numbers and plays with a flair that would make him fun to see in the All-Star Game.
CENTER FIELD: CEDRIC MULLINS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Still In The Running: Byron Buxton, Ramon Laureano
At age 26 Mullins is having a breakout season as the only real bright spot for the dead-end Orioles. He’s hitting .323 with a .928 OPS, slugging .536 mostly because of his 17 doubles.
Still, Buxton might well be the choice if it weren’t for a hip strain that has sidelined him since May 6. Buxton is apparently close to returning, currently playing in rehab games, and with his .370 batting average/1.180 OPS he could still make a push. And then there’s Mike Trout, who isn’t expected back from his calf injury until right around the All-Star break.
LEFT FIELD: ADOLIS GARCIA, TEXAS RANGERS
Still In The Running: Justin Upton, Kyle Tucker
At age 28, Garcia has had a surprise breakout season for the Rangers. He’s played mostly center field but some left as well, and since MLB doesn’t distinguish among outfield positions on the official ballot, I’m putting him in the corner spot, partly because there are so few AL outfielders having big years.
RIGHT FIELD: AARON JUDGE, NEW YORK YANKEES
Still In The Running: Mitch Haniger, Trey Mancini
Judge has been the one consistently productive hitter in the Yankee lineup, hitting .291 with a .540 slugging percentage/.944 OPS. With 15 home runs, he hasn’t had one of his real hot power streaks yet but if he stays healthy he figures to at some point.
Haniger has better numbers for the reserve spot, but Mancini would be a great story, coming back after overcoming colon cancer that caused him to miss last season.
CATCHER: SAL PEREZ, KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Still In The Running: Mitch Garver, Mike Zunino
There’s not a lot to choose from at this spot, at least in terms of offensive numbers. Perez stands out because he’s hitting .278 with a .504 slugging percentage/.805 OPS, to go with 14 home runs and 12 doubles.
Otherwise it’s a lot of catchers with low batting averages and occasional power. There are so few candidates that Gary Sanchez suddenly has a chance to earn a spot, as a hot streak has lifted his average to .217 with seven home runs and a .733 OPS.
DESIGNATED HITTER: SHOHEI OHTANI, LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Still In The Running: J.D. Martinez, Franmil Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton.
Surely MLB won’t whiff on this opportunity, right? Ohtani, who has hit 17 home runs this season, could bring millions of casual viewers to the TV if he’s allowed to be the starting pitcher and the DH, hitting somewhere in the middle of the lineup.
Technically he wouldn’t be a DH, leaving the AL without one after he exits the game as a pitcher. But who cares, it’s an exhibition game, MLB should make an exception and use him as the DH, giving him a couple of ABs even if he’s out of the game as the pitcher. Rob Manfred is always looking for ways to make baseball more entertaining. This should be an easy one.
STARTING PITCHER: SHOHEI OHTANI, LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Still In The Running: Gerrit Cole, Lance Lynn, Tyler Glasnow, Kyle Gibson, Shane Bieber, John Means, Sean Manaea
Again, why not? Even if he only pitches an inning, Ohtani would do something not even Babe Ruth did, mostly because there was no All-Star Game until 1933, when Ruth was nearing the end of his career and years removed from pitching.
And, after all, Ohtani has been effective on the mound, pitching to a 2.76 ERA while racking up 60 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings, mostly because his splitter has been practically unhittable this season. It would be grand theater, something MLB could surely use these days.
CLOSER: AROLDIS CHAPMAN, NEW YORK YANKEES
Still In The Running: Liam Hendriks, Matt Barnes, Ian Kennedy, Emmanuel Clase
Despite Chapman’s stunning meltdown on Thursday night in Minnesota, which caused his ERA jump from 0.39 to 1.9, Chapman has been the most overpowering reliever in baseball this season. Unless this is the start of a bad run for him, he’d likely be the choice to close out a win if the AL team is leading.