AL and NL roster predictions

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We always call this piece the Way Too Early All-Star Selections, but we’re a little later in the season, so let’s call this the A Little Late But Still Early All-Star Selections.

As always, know your All-Star roster rules:

  • 32 players per team (20 position players; 12 pitchers, three of whom must be relievers).

  • Every team must be represented. Good luck with that!

  • There must be a backup at every position. Which means the National League now has two DH positions to fill, which limits the roster flexibility it had in the past compared to the American League.

Of course, the actual All-Star roster exercise is complicated by the process: the two-round voting system in which the fans select the starters followed by the players voting on the first 17 reserves — five starting pitchers, three relievers and the nine positional backups. The commissioner’s office then fills out the remaining spots, but if the fans or players make some bad selections, some worthy All-Stars might be left at home in order to get all 30 teams represented.

(The starting players for each league will be revealed on July 8, with full rosters announced on the All-Star selection show on July 10.)

This is how I would fill out my 32-man teams … and, don’t forget, if the game goes extra innings, a home run contest will determine the winner.

American League starters

C: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

When I started digging into the numbers late last week, there were 23 AL catchers with 100 plate appearances. Eight of them were hitting under .200, another five were under .220. No, this batch of backstops isn’t exactly, say, the 1977 National League when you had Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Ted Simmons, Gene Tenace, Joe Ferguson, John Stearns, Bob Boone and Steve Yeager. Perez isn’t having a good year, but he’s the one established star at the position and he tied for the AL lead with 48 home runs and led with 121 RBIs last year. If he does start, and it’s possible the fans vote him in, it would be his eighth All-Star appearance and seventh start.

1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

He scuffled in May, but he’s back crushing it again in June, and while Seattle’s Ty France might be having a little better season at the plate, it’s not so much better as to bump Guerrero from getting the starting nod. Guerrero is still among the elite of the elite in hard-hit rate and exit velocity, so look for his numbers to go up the rest of the way.

2B: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

He doesn’t hit .300 anymore, he doesn’t run like he once did and his range at second is a little lacking, but he can still hit and hit for power and nobody has taken a step forward to unseat him for All-Star status. This would be his eighth All-Star appearance and another All-Star-caliber season inches him a little closer to Hall of Fame status.

3B: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Guardians

This isn’t necessarily a slam dunk as Boston’s Rafael Devers is also having a huge season, but Ramirez has been an absolute RBI machine in a lineup that features a lot less support than Devers receives, in case that’s something to factor in. The most impressive stat of the 2022 season might be Ramirez’s 2-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In this day and age, that feels almost impossible, but Ramirez has somehow nearly halved his strikeout rate from 2021.

SS: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

Shortstop here is pretty deep, even with past and future All-Stars like Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Bo Bichette and Wander Franco off to so-so starts or having missed time. Rookie Jeremy Pena has been a revelation for the Astros, and J.P. Crawford is having a strong two-way season for the Mariners, but this comes down to Bogaerts versus Tim Anderson. If Anderson hadn’t missed 20 games, he might rate the edge, but Bogaerts is raking as well, on pace for career bests in batting average and on-base percentage.

OF: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

Late in spring training, Judge turned down a mega-extension worth a reported $30.5 million per season over seven years and bet on himself — not only to produce, but to stay healthy and get something closer to $300 million in free agency than $200 million. His first 60-plus games have been absolutely incredible and he’s hovering around an OPS+ of 200, which has happened just 12 times in the past 50 seasons (six of those by Barry Bonds).

OF: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

He had that awful seven-game stretch when he went 0-for-26, which coincided with the Angels’ cataclysmic 14-game losing streak, but he’s still right up there with Judge and Ramirez in all the advanced hitting metrics. Still, it’s going to suck to have another October without Trout. Interesting note: After the aborted plan in spring training to move Trout to left field, his defensive metrics in center have been above-average this season.

OF: Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

He hit well in 2020, he had his official breakout season in 2021 (30 home runs, 148 OPS+). He’s producing again in 2022, with a nice all-around game that includes power, on-base skills, stealing some bags and good defense in right field.

DH: Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros

The comparisons to Hall of Famer Willie McCovey have always been apt: tall left-handed hitter with scary exit velocities and an underrated hit tool. Alvarez ranks in the 100th percentile in metrics like hard-hit rate, expected batting average and expected slugging. He’s also in the 90th percentile in walk rate and 80th in walk rate. That improved plate discipline now makes him as feared as any hitter in baseball.

SP: Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

Yes, there are several strong contenders here, including sophomore sensations Shane McClanahan and Alek Manoah, but Verlander’s return to dominance after missing nearly two full seasons is one of the best stories of the season. He has put 300 wins back in the realm of possibility, and his third All-Star start would be a worthy assignment for the future Hall of Famer.

American League reserves

C: Alejandro Kirk, Toronto Blue Jays

He has been the best offensive catcher in the AL and one of the most fun and unique players in the sport. His defense — throwing out runners, preventing wild pitches — has improved, although he’s starting to see more time at DH after the call-up of rookie Gabriel Moreno.

1B: Ty France, Seattle Mariners

A bright spot in a disappointing Seattle season, he’s a line-drive machine and his propensity to get hit by pitches (he’s on track to lead the AL for the second season in a row) helps give him one of the best on-base percentages in the league.

2B: Santiago Espinal, Toronto Blue Jays

Remember, we’re using players at only the position they’re listed at on the All-Star ballot, so that makes the backup second baseman a little bit of a scramble. With Marcus Semien just now getting going, Trevor Story also struggling out of the gate, Brandon Lowe injured and Luis Arraez listed as a first baseman, Espinal gets the nod, now with a little more power after hitting .301 in 2021.

3B: Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox

We’ve seen big numbers from him before — he hit .311 in 2019 and led the AL in doubles and total bases — but he has raised his game to a new level considering this year’s offensive environment is nothing like 2019’s. What puts him on the short list in the MVP race, however, is vastly improved defense that has gone from “we might have to move him to first base” to above average.

SS: Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox

We’re long past the point of expecting pitchers to figure out how to take advantage of Anderson’s uber-aggressive approach at the plate. He still rarely walks, but he’s also going to hit .300 for a fourth straight season at a time when hitting for average is harder than ever.

OF: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

This is now Buxton’s eighth season in the majors, and he’s still prone to wild bouts of inconsistency (he tore it up in April, hit .169 in May, and is now bashing again in June), but few players produce as many “did you see that?” moments as Buxton, between his towering home runs and defensive gems. He might not hit .240, but he’s still one of the more valuable players in the league and deserving of his first All-Star trip.

OF: George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays

The three-time All-Star has been healthy and putting up one of his typical offensive seasons that is right in line with his career norms.

OF: Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners

This comes down to Rodriguez or Taylor Ward of the Angels — the future star versus a player who has had the best 150 at-bats of his career. Ward had two monster months, then got hurt, otherwise maybe he gets this spot. But Rodriguez’s speed and defense already make him one of the more exciting players to watch — and after a slow start, his bat is coming around just fine, thank you very much.

DH: J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox

Have bat, will rake.

DH: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

He hasn’t quite been the sensation he was in 2021, at least on offense, but he’s still doing it on both sides of the ball. He’s why we have All-Star Games, no matter the numbers (and the numbers are still excellent).

UT: Luis Arraez, Minnesota Twins

Yes, Twins fans, we managed to squeeze in Arraez with our final position player slot. He doesn’t do much more than hit singles, but he hits a lot of them. The Twins have a nice history of batting champs, from Tony Oliva to Rod Carew to Kirby Puckett to Joe Mauer, and Arraez could be the latest.

American League pitchers

SP: Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays

He has been my favorite pitcher to watch in 2022, throwing 97 mph missiles from the left side with three plus offspeed pitches that all seem drawn up by some AI program.

SP: Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays

He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds and that feels pretty accurate. You might expect his game to revolve around pure power pitching, but his fastball velocity is actually only around the big league average. Instead, he relies on a four-pitch repertoire and excellent command that induces a lot of soft contact.

SP: Nestor Cortes, New York Yankees

I have no idea if this is for real and All-Star Game history is littered with three-month wonders — remember 1990 NL starter Jack Armstrong? But Cortes’ blazing start has been one of the big stories of the first half and, in a sense, the All-Star Game should reflect those stories.

SP: Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians

We don’t want the All-Star pitching staff to include only three-month wonders, however. Bieber is healthy again after making 16 starts in 2021, and while the strikeout rate isn’t up to his 2019-21 levels, he’s still pitching at a high level.

SP: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

He’s had a couple odd blips — a five-walk short outing against Detroit in April, that five-homer barrage a couple outings ago — but look for Cole to be right up there in the Cy Young voting as usual by the end of the season.

SP: Martin Perez, Texas Rangers

We do need somebody from the Rangers, but Perez has earned it on merit, ranking among league leaders in innings and ERA while limiting home runs — in part because his cutter has been more effective than ever. The veteran lefty last pitched for the Rangers in 2018, but they brought him back on a one-year flier at $4 million, which makes him possible trade bait in a market that is lacking in quality starting pitchers.

SP: Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers

It’s been a disastrous season for the Tigers, one in which the offense is stacking up as one of the worst in history. They do have two All-Star candidates in Skubal and closer Gregory Soto (who was the Tigers’ rep last year). When in doubt, go with the starter. Skubal has been very good, limiting the home runs that plagued him his first two seasons thanks to much improved fastball command (batters slugged .611 against his four-seamer in 2021).

SP: Paul Blackburn, Oakland Athletics

Look, Frankie Montas will probably be the better pitcher the rest of the season, but we don’t even know if he’ll still be with Oakland on July 17 and Blackburn has been lights out in the first half. You always love these feel-good stories: The journeyman right-hander has actually pitched for the A’s every season since 2017, but entered 2022 with just 138 career innings.

RP: Clay Holmes, New York Yankees

He has been the most dominant reliever in baseball so far. Yankees and ESPN analyst David Cone referred to Holmes’ “demon sinker” as one of the best pitches in baseball — and, indeed, it has been, as you can see in that ERA. Nice job trading him away, Pittsburgh.

RP: Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles

We need somebody from the Orioles and Lopez has actually been good! He was 3-14 with a 6.07 ERA as a starter last season, but now he’s throwing 98 mph sinkers to go with a starter’s deep arsenal of pitches. Given his career ERA was over 6.00 entering the season, you have to expect the Orioles will look to move him at the trade deadline.

RP: Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians

Frankly, I’d rather go with another starter, but we need at least three relievers and Clase has certainly emerged over the past couple of seasons as one of the top closers in the business thanks to that 100 mph cutter — let’s call it a “demon cutter.”

American League snubs: Taylor Ward, OF, Angels; Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros; J.P. Crawford, SS, Mariners; Kevin Gausman, SP, Blue Jays; Logan Gilbert, SP, Mariners; Framber Valdez, SP, Astros; Michael Kopech, SP, White Sox; Dylan Cease, SP; White Sox

National League starters

C: Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs

The depth at NL catcher is much deeper than in the AL, but Contreras is still an easy call at starter. It would be his third start.

1B: Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals

If the MVP vote were held today, Goldschmidt might be the winner. Like Judge, he’s been sitting over that historic 200 OPS+ mark. You have to love the adjustments Goldschmidt has made in recent seasons. In 2018-19, his strikeout rate crept up to 25%, which led to a .260 average in 2019, his lowest since his rookie season. Now he has gotten it back under 20% and could win a batting title.

2B: Jazz Chisholm Jr., Miami Marlins

Power, speed, defense, shoes and pure excitement. He’s why we watch baseball.

3B: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

He’s probably second to Goldschmidt in that MVP race, on pace for career highs in OPS+ and WAR. I was asked the other day about Machado’s Hall of Fame chances and it would seem to me that he’s pretty much a lock barring injury. He’s already approaching 50 career WAR; 60 gets you into the discussion and 70 is just about a sure thing. He came up young and doesn’t turn 30 until July, so his career counting numbers will continue to climb. Really, all he needs is a few more average seasons, but he’s clearly still above that level. Machado did suffer an ankle injury Sunday so we’ll have to see what that means for his status going into the All-Star Game.

SS: Trea Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hey, you don’t walk non-All-Stars with two strikes.

OF: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s been a down year for NL outfielders, as only Betts is putting up no-doubt All-Star numbers. This isn’t a stat anybody keeps track of, but it says a lot about Betts. I calculated the runs per game played of all players since 1900 with at least 800 runs scored. Betts ranks sixth at .782 per game (through Thursday), behind only Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Earle Combs, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Other more modern players in the top 10 are Barry Bonds at .746 and Rickey Henderson at .745.

OF: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

Yes, the numbers are down from the past two seasons, especially the batting average. But, hear me out: (1) We already mentioned that other than Betts no other NL outfielders are exactly tearing it up; (2) thanks to his walk rate and power, he still has been one of the best-hitting outfielders in the NL; (3) when in doubt, go with the star; (4) he’s going to make it anyway since he’s the only good player on the Nationals.

OF: Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets

I wanted a center fielder for my third outfielder and Nimmo surprisingly entered the weekend ranked 10th among NL position players in FanGraphs WAR. He gets on base and getting on base is valuable! The only All-Stars born in Wyoming: former pitchers Tom Browning (1991 with the Reds) and Dick Ellsworth (1964 with the Cubs).

DH: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

Relegated to full-time DH duties due to the shoulder injury, Harper is having a monster offensive season, on par with his MVP campaigns of 2015 and 2021. No DH has won an MVP Award — Don Baylor is the closest, playing 97 games in the outfield and 65 at DH in 1979 — so the odds are against Harper winning back-to-back, but it’s not impossible, especially if the Phillies make it to the postseason.

SP: Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins

This looked like a coin flip between Alcantara and Joe Musgrove of the Padres and they’re essentially even in FanGraphs WAR. But Alcantara has a big edge in Baseball-Reference WAR, in part because he has faced a much tougher slate of opponents than Musgrove. He also has thrown significantly more innings. He’s a pretty easy call to get the start — and would be the first Marlins pitcher to start an All-Star Game.

National League reserves

C: Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds

We’re going to need a Reds player and Stephenson is having a solid year and is as good a pick as any other catcher. The trouble when it comes to the real All-Star team is the players vote for the backups, and it’s unlikely Stephenson will get the nod there, which means you’ll have to somehow shoehorn Stephenson or somebody else onto the team.

1B: Pete Alonso, New York Mets

He’s mashing home runs, he’s driving in runs and he’s killing it in high-leverage situations. With his charisma and the Mets winning, he has been one of the key dudes of the first half.

1B: C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies

The Rockies aren’t exactly a mile high in All-Star candidates, so we’ll squeeze Cron onto the roster.

2B: Jeff McNeil, New York Mets

After slumping to .251 in 2021, the 2019 All-Star has found his stroke again and is back over .300, like he was from 2018 to 2020.

3B: Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals

Tough call here between Arenado and the Braves’ Austin Riley, who is probably having a little better season at the plate. But defense matters, too. That and pedigree give the slight edge to Arenado.

SS: Tommy Edman, St. Louis Cardinals

Edman had spent most of the season at second base, where he was in line to win a Gold Glove, but has since moved over to shortstop with the call-up of Nolan Gorman. That’s why he’s listed on the All-Star ballot. He’s getting on base like he did as a rookie in 2019 and has become the spark plug for the Cards.

SS: Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

My final at-large spot actually came down to Swanson and Riley, the two Braves teammates. I don’t know if Swanson can maintain his start since his BABIP is way above his career norms, but remember — defense matters. He gets the nod and Riley becomes an All-Star snub.

OF: Joc Pederson, San Francisco Giants

Think of all those big-money free agents — think of those nine-figure free agents. Think of Kris Bryant or $500 million for Semien and Seager. And Pederson — on a one-year, $6 million deal, not even signed until the lockout ended — will almost assuredly make the All-Star team.

OF: Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs

Yeah, this one surprised me, too, but he’s having a really nice season. Happ is one of those players I would love to see a career do-over on. He didn’t have a position when he first came up, so the Cubs tried to turn him into Ben Zobrist. There was that year they sent him down to Triple-A. He hit well in 2020, but it was the COVID-19 season. He always has put up better than a league-average OPS, however. And now that they’ve finally just stuck him in left field, he’s having his best season.

OF: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves

It’s the All-STAR Game. Again, nobody has really played themselves onto the team, so we go with the star.

DH: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

In lieu of a worthy second DH, let’s put Pujols on the team in his final season.

National League pitchers

SP: Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres

In the Alcantara comment, we mentioned the difficulty of lineups faced. The Padres have played the Dodgers just three times and the Giants six games, with Musgrove not starting against L.A. and starting once against the Giants. But he has faced the Reds and Pirates twice each. Still, it’s been a great first half and he’ll get his first All-Star berth.

SP: Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies

There were concerns after his first couple of outings when his velocity was down after a little spring training discomfort, but he’s back in a groove and throwing BBs. He’s one of the best in the game.

SP: Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

He edged out Wheeler in the Cy Young voting in 2021 (both received 12 first-place votes) and it could come down to those two again.

SP: Max Fried, Atlanta Braves

So enjoyable to watch. He’s what I call a pitcher’s pitcher, although he still possesses above-average fastball velocity. But he mixes in five different pitches if you separate his sinker from his four-seamer, throws them all at least 10% of the time, and changes speeds and location as well as any pitcher in the game.

SP: Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves

I’m buying the adjustments he has made this season, and while the quality of contact against him hasn’t been quite as weak as the actual results, I think he has the stuff — especially his new and improved wipeout curveball — to keep it going.

SP: Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers

We knew the Dodgers would have an All-Star starter or two — we just didn’t expect it to be Gonsolin. We’ll see if he can keep it going, but it’s too hard to ignore that ERA.

SP: Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks

Gallen is the obvious rep for the Diamondbacks and worthy of selection based on a strong start and success in previous seasons.

SP: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

The 40-year-old hasn’t officially said this would be his final season — and with 200 wins on the horizon, maybe he continues to stick around — but just in case it is, we want him on the team. And he has pitched well enough to earn the selection.

RP: Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

He had the one blip when the Phillies somehow hit two home runs off him in one inning to snap a streak of 40 consecutive scoreless appearances, and he is used as carefully as any closer in the game, but he’ll make his fourth All-Star team.

RP: David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates

This isn’t a token selection, as Bednar has dominated — and given that he has pitched significantly more innings than Hader, is perhaps the most valuable reliever in the NL so far. He even has had four saves of at least two innings, including one of 2 2/3 innings, which is about what Hader throws in a week.

RP: Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals

He throws 99 with a wipeout slider and reined in the control problems that he has had in the past — now getting some save opportunities in the process.

National League snubs: Austin Riley, 3B, Braves; Freddie Freeman, 1B, Dodgers; Brandon Drury, 3B, Reds; Jurickson Profar, OF, Padres; Starling Marte, OF, Mets; Tyler Anderson, SP, Dodgers; Pablo Lopez, SP, Marlins; Aaron Nola, SP, Phillies; Carlos Rodon, SP, Giants; Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers; Edwin Diaz, RP, Mets.

Commissioner’s pick

Finally, the new CBA allows the commissioner to add a special selection to each squad — something that has long made sense as a way to honor all-time greats nearing the end of their careers.

Since we squeezed Albert Pujols on the NL squad, the selection for the NL is easy: Yadier Molina. He just landed on the IL with knee inflammation, so hopefully he’ll be ready by July 19. Even if he can’t play, let’s get him and Pujols to Dodger Stadium to celebrate them on the national stage.

For the American League, Miguel Cabrera probably won’t walk away from the $32 million he would make in 2023, but we’ll keep a roster spot open just in case he wants to show up.

Plus, if the game goes extra innings, the home run contest would have to be Pujols versus Cabrera, right?

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