Former Mariners Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Jason Vargas have put together strong first halves his season, putting themselves in contention for All-Star nods.
With voting wrapping up Thursday, the starting lineups for the All-Star Game will be set. The annual debate about whether the fans’ voting was logical and rewarded the best players will rage. But the reserves and pitching spots, which are chosen by a combination of “player ballot” choices and selections made by the commissioner’s office, are just as important.
Obviously, there will be players left off the team that were deserving of selection. But perhaps the most entertaining aspect of those selections is the unlikely player having an unexpectedly great first half of the season that earns a spot on a roster.
Remember Bryan LaHair for the Cubs in 2012, or utility man Brock Holt for the Red Sox in 2016 or Michael Saunders for the Blue Jays last season? Each year it seems a sure bet that an unexpected All-Star will make the team.
Who will be that player this year?
Most Read Sports Stories
- Pac-12 power rankings: Here's where Huskies and Cougars land after regular season
- Seahawks' loss to Raiders indefensible, and that's the problem
- Mariners reach agreement with right-handed reliever Trevor Gott
- Seahawks announce throwback uniforms in 2023
- Who are the real Seahawks? We're about to find out
Here are six candidates.
Yonder Alonso, 1B, Athletics
It would be a storybook return to the place where he was raised. As a child, Alonso and his family fled Cuba for Miami. He was raised in the city and went on to star at the University of Miami. A first-round pick by the Reds in 2008 and traded to the Padres in 2011, Alonso never quite reached expectations as a power-hitting first baseman. He never produced more than nine homers in a season. But he’s put it all together with the A’s. This season he is hitting .289 with a .978 on-base plus slugging percentage, 13 doubles, 17 homers and 37 RBI in 66 games. At one point, Alonso was leading the fan voting at first base, but recently was overtaken by the Royals’ Eric Hosmer. Still, he’s likely to be the A’s representative in Miami on July 11.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Blue Jays
There were plenty of questions surrounding Toronto’s offseason decision not to bring back slugging first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. Specifically, who would replace his ridiculous production? Enter Smoak, a career underachiever as a hitter who is somehow blossoming into the player most people envisioned when he was a first-round pick out of South Carolina. He’s hitting for a high average and power. He’s been everything the Mariners hoped he would be but never was in his 4½ seasons in Seattle. As the everyday first baseman he’s hitting .305 with a .960 OPS, nine doubles, a triple, 20 homers and 48 RBI. A year ago, he had a strikeout rate of 32.8 percent, and this year it’s down to 18.2. Smoak is fourth in All-Star voting.
Logan Morrison, 1B, Rays
Continuing the run of former Mariners first basemen that never produced consistently, Morrison is having his best season since 2011 when he had 25 doubles, 23 homers and 72 RBI in 123 games for the Marlins. Much was expected but never met from Morrison in the years that followed. A year ago, he didn’t hit his first homer until May 18 and drove in just two runs in that span. But in his second season in Tampa, he is hitting for power at a prodigious rate. In 73 games, he’s hitting .252 but has a .943 OPS with 13 doubles, a triple, 22 homers and 54 RBI. Per FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric, Morrison leads the American League at 2.4. Given the Rays’ small fan base, it’s not surprising that Morrison isn’t in the top five in first-base voting, but he should receive some consideration.
Zack Cozart, SS, Reds
With free agency looming after this season, Cozart picked a good time to have a hot start to a season. The Reds will certainly benefit from it at the trade deadline, if they wisely make the move. A year ago, Cozart appeared headed to the Mariners at the trade deadline, but the deal fell through at the last minute.
He will be coveted again this July. Many teams would like a sure-handed shortstop that is producing at his level. A .246 career hitter coming into this season, Cozart is hitting .320 with a .404 on-base percentage, a .562 slugging percentage, 16 doubles, five triples, nine homers and 33 RBI. He has the second-highest WAR among National League shortstops at 2.8.
Jason Vargas, SP, Royals
Another player having a solid season going into free agency, Vargas will almost certainly be traded at the deadline to one of the many playoff-contending teams that are starved for pitching depth. Vargas missed almost all of 2016 while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. This season he’s been outstanding, posting a 11-3 record with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts. In 941/3 innings, he’s struck out 70 batters and walked just 20. He’s not overpowering, but he knows how to pitch and get outs. While many teams will vie for Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Sonny Gray of the A’s, Vargas will be a solid consolation prize.
Robbie Ray, SP, Diamondbacks
With a fastball that can touch 97 mph, the lefty has always had talent. But he could never quite find the consistent command to avoid walks and homers. There were signs of it last season when he went 8-15 with a 4.90 ERA. In 174 innings, he struck out 214 batters, a rate of 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. But he also gave up 24 homers and had a tendency to miss over the middle of the plate. This season, he’s stayed on the edges and dominated, posting a 7-3 record with a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts, including a shutout of the Pirates on May 30. In 872/3 innings, Ray has struck out 114 and walked 39.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Yankees; Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians; Avisail Garcia, OF, White Sox; Chase Anderson, RHP, Brewers.