November 13, 2018

MLB All-Star Game: Seven deserving first-timers

More than a month remains before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is set to be played, but it’s never too early to forecast the rosters.

The regulars — Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer – figure to return to the Midseason Classic scheduled for July 17 at Washington’s Nationals Park. 

But who will be the new faces among the 64 roster spots?

USA TODAY Sports takes a look at seven players who should be first-time All-Stars, a mix of young breakout stars and successful reclamation projects: 

Shohei Ohtani, Angels

There hasn’t been a player in baseball like Ohtani since Babe Ruth. The two-way rookie phenom has proven he can hit — .906 OPS with six home runs in 114 at-bats — and dominate on the mound — 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA over nine starts. 

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Ohtani is listed on the AL ballot as a designated hitter. While the starting spot will likely go to J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox, who has 100 at-bats more than Ohtani and a higher OPS, Ohtani’s unique skill set gives him an intriguing case – and a must-have marketing opportunity for baseball. 

Charlie Morton, Astros

Morton is enjoying a career year after 11 seasons in the big leagues, posting a 7-1 record with 2.84 ERA and a career-high 11.3 strikeouts per nine. But perhaps his breakout year has been a bit overshadowed by his teammates — Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole — who are candidates for the Cy Young award.  

Trevor Bauer, Indians

Bauer, 27, ranks seventh in the AL in ERA (2.77) and sixth in strikeouts (97) in the finest of his six big league seasons.  

Albert Almora Jr., Cubs

Lurking in the shadows of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Almora is breaking out as one of the game’s most dynamic center fielders. He ranks second only to Trout in batting (.310) among center fielders. Defense, owever, is what sets Almora apart -perhaps only Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain is more skilled among NL center fielders. 

Scooter Gennett, Reds

The NL Player of the Month in May, Gennett is batting .344 with 12 homers and 44 RBI and a .947 OPS. The second baseman has backed up a strong 2017 season in which he slugged 27 homers and drove in 98 runs. Baez will likely be voted the starter, so Gennett will have strong competition against Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies. 

Nick Markakis, Braves

At 34, Markakis is having a career year in his 13th season. Never an All-Star despite more than 2,000 career hits, Markakis leads the NL in his (81), multi-hit games (26) and ranks fourth in batting (.328).    

Aaron Nola, Phillies

Just four years removed from getting selected seventh overall in the 2014 draft, Nola is second in the NL in wins (seven), fifth in ERA (2.35), and third in WHIP (0.96). 

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