Baseball fans won’t be surprised to see Bryce Harper playing on his home field opposite Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout at this summer’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington.
They will, however, find themselves scratching their head at some of the names taking the field for each of the star-studded sides. That isn’t to say these players aren’t deserving to take part in the showcase — in fact, many will have been more worthy of starting spots than those the fans will be voting for over the course of this month.
As balloting is already underway and the Midsummer Classic nears, here are five under-the-radar names, each of whom has never been an All-Star before, to familiarize yourself with as deserving All-Star candidates:
5. Scooter Gennett. Gennett, 28, put himself on the map with a four-homer, 10-RBI, 5-for-5 performance against the St. Louis Cardinals last June, but playing for the Cincinnati Reds has a funny way of taking a player out of the spotlight. Yet here Gennett is, tied for the National League lead in batting average at .340 and adding 12 home runs and 47 RBIs. The 5-foot-10 second baseman, who was placed on waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of spring training last year, has turned himself into a bona fide slugger — his .932 OPS is tied for fifth in the NL and ranks first among all major league second basemen, almost 100 points higher than the OPS of reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros.
4. Aaron Nola. Thought the Philadelphia Phillies signed Jake Arrieta this spring to be their ace? Truth is, they already had one. Nola had shown flashes of brilliance his first three years in the majors, though he’s finally putting it all together this season. The 25-year-old right-hander’s 2.35 ERA is sixth in the NL, and his 0.96 WHIP is tied for third. Even more impressive is his WAR — Nola is No. 1 among all major league pitchers at 3.9, and behind only Trout, Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez and Boston’s Mookie Betts when considering position players. The Phillies have a winning record, and Nola is the key reason why.
3. Eddie Rosario. The Minnesota Twins have been a disappointment this season, but that’s not Rosario’s fault. After hitting a career-high 27 home runs last season, Rosario is already halfway to a new personal record at 14. The 26-year-old sports a .313 batting average and a .909 OPS, placing him in the top 10 in both categories among AL hitters. Rosario recorded the second three-homer game of his career earlier this month and is outslugging the likes of Oakland’s Khris Davis, the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton and many other power-hitting left fielders.
2. Matt Chapman. Chapman’s offensive numbers (.245 average, 10 HRs, 26 RBIs) don’t jump off the page, but his elite defense at third base for the Oakland Athletics should not go unnoticed. According to WAR, Chapman is the most valuable defensive player in the majors by a long shot — his 2.04 defensive WAR is leagues ahead of Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner (1.37) in second place. Combined with his offensive WAR (1.5), Chapman is among the top 10 players in overall value, ahead of Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and many other household names.
1. Josh Hader. As Chris Devenski showed with the Astros last season, relievers should never be discounted when it comes time to assemble All-Star rosters. What Hader is dong for the Brewers this season is unprecedented — the left-hander has 70 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and is on pace for 177 K’s in 89 1/3 innings. Considering the most punchouts in a season for a full-time reliever is 181 by Dick Radatz, who needed 157 innings to accomplish the feat in 1964, Hader’s sophomore campaign could etch a permanent place in baseball lore.
–Kyle Brasseur, Field Level Media