Ten potential first time MLB All-Stars

The MLB All-Star Game always features a number of Midsummer Classic veterans. With guys like Bryce Harper dominating the vote, the 2017 game will be no different. But first time MLB All-Stars always offer some of the game’s best stories, and there are plenty of options in that regard.

Before we look at those guys, we should briefly address guys that we won’t examine in this list. We’re only looking at players who exceeded their rookie limits in 2015 or earlier. Sure, guys like Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are worthy of making their first All-Star Games. But we’re trying to find some guys who have genuinely missed out on a few.

Fortunately, the 2017 season is offering us plenty of those as well. So, who are they?

Which one of Judge’s teammates is looking at his first trip to the All-Star Game? What Marlins player is worthy of getting the home-town cheer in the Midsummer Classic? Which veteran pitchers are finally worthy of the honor? What about their slugging counterparts? And how many reasons are there to want to see Zack Cozart in the game?

Which 10 potential first time MLB All-Stars might we see in Miami on July 11?

Note: Unless otherwise noted, the stats cited here are accurate through Sunday, June 18. 

Miguel Sano, third baseman, Minnesota Twins

The Twins have been one of baseball’s biggest surprises in 2017. Nobody has driven that surprise more consistently than Sano, who certainly belongs in Miami.

The American League features a lot of third basemen with power. But guys like Manny Machado, Joey Gallo and Todd Frazier have all struggled around the Mendoza Line.

Sano, meanwhile, has backed up 16 home runs with a .286/.384/.559 slash line. Only Mike Moustakas (18 home runs, .276/.316/.549) and Jose Ramirez (11 home runs, .313/.369/.546) have been close to Sano in terms of their overall offensive games.

But neither should make it over Sano. That’s not a knock on Moustakas or Ramirez, at all. Both men are deserving All-Stars, as well. Sano’s first half has just been better.

Justin Bour, first baseman, Miami Marlins

Bour clearly has a great deal of power. That much is obvious when you watch him play. Heck, that much should be obvious when you see him walking down the street. Bour doesn’t look like a guy who’s going to bunt for a single and steal his way around the bases.

This year has been a great example of his power. With 17 home runs, Bour is on pace to shatter his career high of 23. But he’s also developed into a good, complete hitter, capable of handling more than just the big side of a platoon.

Bour is slashing at .303/.377/.601, significantly exceeding the .265/.335/.467 totals that he had entering the season.

Something working against Bour here is the depth of the first base position.

Ryan Zimmerman is having a remarkable season for the Washington Nationals and leads the vote. Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is an MVP candidate. Anthony Rizzo isn’t having a great year for the Chicago Cubs, but his numbers wouldn’t be out of place at the All-Star Game. Wil Myers is having a down year from 2016 but is still likely the most worthy All-Star on a bad San Diego Padres team. As if all of that wasn’t enough, we’re not even done looking at National League first basemen.

That’s a problem, but it’s not one that we can’t work around. An abundance of first basemen is not uncommon in the All-Star Game. It is traditionally one of the game’s best offensive positions, after all. Additionally, the All-Star Game uses the DH. Bour’s home fans in Miami don’t really need to see him in the field. But there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be there to pick up a few at-bats.

Much like teammates Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna, Bour belongs in the game.

Avisail Garcia, outfielder, Chicago White Sox

Unless we’re just trying to be contrarian, it’s hard to argue too much with Garcia’s All-Star candidacy.

Garcia’s .332 batting average trails only Judge on the junior circuit. That’s a pretty darn good start for a player with 253 at-bats. But while batting average is a nice stat but if someone is just hitting a lot singles, it’s hard to call that guy better than someone who gets fewer hits but drives the ball more.

Fortunately, it doesn’t stop there.

Garcia is not just a singles hitter. He has 10 home runs and 29-extra base hits. That’s helped contribute to a more than respectable .538 slugging percentage and the 10th best OPS (.912) in the American League.

It’s taken a while, but Garcia is rounding into the hitter he was when he was with the Detroit Tigers and drew comparisons to then teammate Miguel Cabrera, earning the nickname “Little Miggy.”

Cabrera has been an All-Star 11 times in his career. Come July, Garcia should be calling himself an All-Star for the first time in his still young career.

Eric Thames, outfielder/first baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

At the beginning of the year, Thames was on pace to break the single season home run record. He has cooled down since then, but Thames is still more than worthy of a spot on the National League All-Star team.

First of all, the All-Star Game recognizes the entire first half of the season, not just the later part of the first half.

Thames still leads the National League with 20 home runs and is fifth in OPS. His .265/.399/.607 slash line shows that Thames isn’t just a masher but is also a good hitter with power.

Second and perhaps more important, he’s been one of the game’s best stories. Thames hadn’t played Major League Baseball since 2012. He bounced around the minors in 2013 and played in Korea from 2014-2016. In 2017, he’s returned and been one of the games best power hitters.

On their own, stories like that belong in the All-Star  Game. When you combine that story with Thames’ impressive first half statistics, the Midsummer Classic is an obvious destination.

Luis Severino, starting pitcher, New York Yankees

When Severino was a rookie in 2015, we saw glimpses of what he could do. But 2016 was every bit as disappointing as 2015 was encouraging with Severino posting a 5.83 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. The 2017 season was going to tell us a lot about Severino going forward. How well could the man who was one of the game’s best pitching prospects recover from a terrible season?

The first half of 2017 has answered that question in an overwhelmingly positive way. Severino has looked like the guy who was one of the top 25 prospects in baseball heading into the 2015 season.

He’s posted a 2.99 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and has 90 strikeouts in 81.1 innings. He’s done all of this despite making six starts at home at Yankee Stadium, two others at Camden Yards, and one each at Rogers Centre and Fenway Park. That’s 10 of 13 starts in clear hitter’s yards.

Those are truly All-Star worthy stats for New York’s right hander.

Mark Reynolds, first baseman, Colorado Rockies

Reynolds has always had immense power. He’s topped 40 home runs once and 30 on two other occasions. But he’s also recorded 200 strikeouts on three occasions and 196 on another. That helped contribute to a .234 batting average that he had entering the season.

It’s been a different story in 2017. With 17 home runs, the power has been there for Reynolds. But he’s slashing at .302/.384/.550, so he’s not so one dimensional.

The strikeout totals are still there. Reynolds is on pace to strike out 162 times, which is a big number. But in this era, 162 strikeouts is not unacceptable for a player who might hit 40 home runs. You don’t want that out of a player who’s going to struggle to hit 10 home runs all season. But for a guy who has 17 bombs before the halfway point? A 162 strikeout pace doesn’t seem so bad.

Of course, Reynolds has the same issue as Bour. He plays a crowded a position.

But in addition to the DH, Reynolds brings some position flexibility. He’s a first baseman now but has played more games at third base than any other position in his career. Heck, he played at the hot corner as recently as 2015. If need be, Reynolds could play there again once Kris Bryant and teammate Nolan Arenado are out of the game.

Remember, the game doesn’t “count” anymore. Risking a few errors at third base isn’t a huge problem if it helps get a worthy player into the All-Star Game. Reynolds is most definitely a worthy player.

Jason Vargas, starting pitcher, Kansas City Royals

Vargas broke into the league in 2005 with the Marlins. Coming into 2017, there was absolutely nothing to suggest that a return trip to Miami for the 2017 All-Star Game was in the cards.

Thanks to Tommy John surgery, Vargas threw all of 65 combined innings over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Entering the year, he had a 4.18 career ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Solid bottom of the rotation pitcher? But All-Star? No way.

Nobody told that to Vargas.

Vargas has been spectacular, posting a 2.27 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Also, while not the most telling stat to tell how well a pitcher is throwing, the fact that Vargas leads the American League in wins is not going to hurt his candidacy.

Vargas will be an interesting player to watch throughout July. If the Royals don’t see themselves as contenders, teams around the league will be chomping at the bit to trade for Vargas. Heck, even if Kansas City isn’t selling, Vargas’ pending free agency makes him a trade option.

But the All-Star Game comes before the trade deadline. When that comes around, Vargas should be representing the Royals on the field.

Ivan Nova, starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates

While a few years younger, Nova has had a similar career to Vargas. He’s definitely belonged in the majors, but with a 4.30 ERA and 1.37 WHIP entering 2017, there was nothing to indicate than an All-Star bid was likely for the veteran pitcher.

But Nova is certainly worthy of an All-Star spot in 2017.

He has a stellar 2.91 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.

There are two kinds of pitchers that we want to see in the Midsummer Classic. The first kind are the overwhelming pitchers, guys like Clayton Kershaw. These guys will throw an inning — maybe two — and have the potential to make an incredible impression. It’s what we saw out of Pedro Martinez in 1999 or, to a lesser extent, Jacob deGrom in 2015.

Nova is not that. But he is certainly the other kind of pitcher that we like to see in the All-Star Game. He doesn’t walk guys. We don’t tune into the All-Star Game to see the best hitters in the world working counts and trying to draw walks. Nova has only nine walks in 96 innings. He will be around the plate and will give those hitters a chance to do what they do best.

If nothing else, Nova’s inclusion would certainly help contribute to a fun experience for the fans.

Justin Smoak, first baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

Smoak has always had power. But he’s never been a well rounded enough hitter to stay in the lineup enough to put up All-Star numbers. That’s changed in 2017. Smoak entered Monday with a .292/.352/.584 slash line, putting him on pace to obliterate his career highs in all three categories.

He’s worked to improve on the .223/.308/.392 marks that he had entering the season. Certainly, that’s come at the expense of Smoak’s power, right?

Not at all. In fact, Smoak’s power has never been better.

Smoak hit his 20th home run of the season on Monday in his 251st plate appearance. That matched his career high set in 2013, when he hit 20 home runs in 521 plate appearances. Monday’s blast also put Smoak on a full season pace of just a shade under 50.

Much like the National League, the American League is rich with All-Star worthy first basemen. But Smoak’s first half performance makes him deserving of a spot in the Midsummer Classic.

Zack Cozart, shortstop, Cincinnati Reds

We can cite numbers or the fact that Cozart leads National League shortstops in voting until we’re all blue in the face. But this comes down to another, more basic matter.

If Cozart makes the All-Star team, he gets a donkey from teammate Joey Votto. Whose heart is cold enough to decline that?

“The most important part? Vote for Zack Cozart,” Votto said. “If you vote for Zack Cozart, I’m getting him a donkey. He’s gonna have a donkey. Then, after that, we can all name him together. What do you say?”

You just can’t argue with that kind of logic. Fans everywhere will keep voting for Cozart because, frankly, everyone loves donkeys. If the fans slip up, then Cozart’s players will vote him in and if that fails, we have Joe Maddon.

But what if we’re misreading the room? What if the idea of Votto buying Cozart a donkey is really not as popular as we assume? If that’s the case, Cozart’s production makes him a worthy All-Star.

Cozart is having the best season of his MLB career by a comfortable margin. The Cincinnati shortstop has nine home runs with a .320/.404/.562 slash line. He leads National League shortstops in all three slash categories and trails only Trevor Story in home runs (Story has 10).

So, we get to draw from both sentiment and logic. Cozart belongs in the All-Star Game.