At some point, everybody’s a first-time All-Star.
Oh, this year’s rendition of Major League Baseball’s in-season jewel event at Dodger Stadium will feature no shortage of old standbys, from Aaron Judge to Freddie Freeman to Justin Verlander. The hometown Dodgers should have plenty of representation, beginning with current outfield votes leader Mookie Betts. Yet while the network-friendly faces are key to any big game, it’s the new blood that can often invigorate it.
With that, USA TODAY Sports examines nine players who deserve a plane ticket to LAX (well, no one really deserves that fate) and a star turn in front of the baseball-watching public:
Yordan Alvarez, LF, Astros
The Department of Obvious checks in to get this guy out of the way. Seems impossible that Alvarez, now in his fourth season, has yet to make an All-Star team, but he’ll qualify in style this year with a 1.081 OPS and .667 slugging percentage, which along with his 206 adjusted OPS leads the major leagues. AL MVP is Aaron Judge’s to lose, but here’s your honoree in the somewhat mortal category.
Martin Perez, SP, Rangers
Texas’ inspiring climb from ghastly to mediocre has been driven not by their half-billion dollar middle infield of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien but rather by pitching. Perez, 31, has been dominant, going 6-0 in his last 13 starts (the Rangers have won 11 of them) with a 1.79 ERA and just two homers allowed in 85 1/3 innings. Appropriate he goes as a Ranger after spending the first seven seasons of his career in Arlington.
Andres Gimenez, 2B, Guardians
We’re not out here saying that Cleveland “won” the Francisco Lindor trade, just saying that Gimenez has been worth 3.0 WAR this season while Lindor is at 1.9. Oh, and Amed Rosario, packaged alongside Gimenez, is at 1.7 while regaining league average hitter form. But Gimenez, 23, has been fabulous, leading AL second basemen with a .310 average with an .854 OPS second only to Jose Altuve and an 89.4 mph average exit velocity that only Gleyber Torres can top.
Michael King, RP, Yankees
To the victors go the spoils, and we’re not going to stand in the way of a midseason coronation for this 56-20 juggernaut. Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Clay Holmes – come on down, but leave a spot for King, who has put up a first half just as crucial as closer Holmes. King’s leverage index of 1.58 nearly matches Holmes’ 1.64, and he’s stranded 15 of 18 runners while locking down 12 holds and a save and striking out 56 batters in 41 ⅔ innings. Why are the Yankees so good? Judge is the quick and sexy answer and Holmes might bolster your fantasy team, but King comprises a key part of the formula.
Jazz Chisholm Jr., 2B, Marlins
It’s not a prerequisite to possess star-like qualities to make this squad. But let’s just say it doesn’t hurt, and Chisholm’s hard-hitting, Euro-stepping first half would add considerable star power to Dodger Stadium. Still, his 14 home runs are nearly double the nearest NL second baseman and his .860 OPS also leads the pack, easily making the case on merit. A far more aesthetically pleasing attempt to bring Jazz to L.A. than La La Land.
Tony Gonsolin, SP, Dodgers
Knock Walker Buehler out until September, toss Clayton Kershaw on the IL awhile and put the suspended, appealing Trevor Bauer back in mothballs, and how bad off would the Dodgers be? Well, they found out the answer: Not too bad, so long as Gonsolin is throwing better than anyone in the NL. Spoonfed for years in the Dodgers’ pitcher development apparatus, the Cat Man earned the right for the gloves to come off the paws and it’s been spectacular: A 1.81 ERA, a 9-0 record and a 0.85 WHIP. His 2.5 win probability added ranks second in the NL. Translation: He’s saved them, and 53,000 fans will get to show their appreciation come July 19.
Tommy Edman, SS/2B, Cardinals
A crucial, steadying force with Paul DeJong getting sent to the minors, Edman has racked up 4.3 bWAR and trails only teammate Paul Goldschmidt and Manny Machado with 3.5 fWAR. The reigning Gold Glove winner’s advanced hitting metrics won’t wow anybody, but he leads the NL with 58 runs scored, has a.342 OBP and has helped revive a Cardinals club that looked like it might get lapped by the Brewers.
Joe Musgrove, SP, Padres
Yet another “Hasn’t he made it before?” guy, Musgrove’s 2.12 ERA ranks second in the NL, a full run better than teammate Yu Darvish, and he’s fourth in WHIP (0.95). Bonus points for his pending free agency, which may spark a talking point or two.
Travis d’Arnaud, C, Braves
His 11 home runs lead major league catchers, his .829 OPS is better than any NL catcher not named Contreras and it seems the dude hits a “d’arNuke” every night that puts the Braves ahead. A nice homecoming in SoCal for the Lakewood native.