This year's All-Star Game is in Cleveland, but it will be a bit of a muted celebration. The Indians were favored to win their fourth straight American League Central title behind a bevy of All-Stars. Instead, the Twins are running away with the division, Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger are on the injured list, Jose Ramirez isn't hitting, Trevor Bauer has struggled of late, and Francisco Lindor missed the first few weeks of the season. After having six All-Stars in 2018 and five in 2017, the Indians could end up with just one representative in 2019.
Who will make it? We still have nearly a month of games before the rosters are announced, so a lot can change, but here is my annual Way-Too-Early All-Star selections list.
There is a slight twist to the voting process this year, as fans will elect the starters in a two-tiered process: the "primary," followed by the "starters election." (There is no longer a final vote.) In the primary, the top three vote-getters at each position (and the top nine outfielders) will advance to the final phase. The starters election will last just 28 hours, starting at noon ET on June 26 and running through 4 p.m. ET on June 27. Fans can vote just once (as opposed to up to five times in the primary).
Note the other roster rules: 32 players for each league, with 20 position players and 12 pitchers. The players will still vote on the reserves at each position (including designated hitter in the American League), leaving the commissioner's office to fill eight spots in the National League (four pitchers, four position players) and six in the AL (four pitchers, two position players). As you'll see below, that lack of flexibility in the AL will be a big issue, especially because we have to get somebody from the Orioles, Mariners and Blue Jays on the team. (All stats through Monday.)
NATIONAL LEAGUE STARTERS
C -- Willson Contreras, Cubs (.291/.398/.564, 13 HR, 33 RBI). This is essentially a coin flip between Contreras, Yasmani Grandal and J.T. Realmuto, with Contreras owning the best offensive numbers, Realmuto the best defensive metrics and Grandal splitting the two. We'll go with Contreras' glossy totals at the plate.
1B -- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (.284/.398/.578, 16 HR, 43 RBI). Pirates fans won't like this, as Josh Bell leads all major league first basemen in batting average, OPS, wOBA and wRC+. He had one of the great months of May in major league history, hitting .390 with 12 home runs. But Rizzo was the better player in April, the better player in 2018 and the better player in 2017, is the better defender and is having a terrific season. I go by the 75/25 mantra: An All-Star selection is 75 percent what the player is doing in the current season and 25 percent what he has done in the past. Bell has been a better player than Rizzo for one month. It's close enough that Rizzo gets the nod.
2B -- Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks (.276/.327/.527, 14 HR, 43 RBI). When Marte came up with Seattle, he was a skinny, slap-hitting shortstop who looked like a future leadoff hitter -- he hit three home runs in 437 at-bats his first two seasons. Since then, he has completely transformed his game, adding strength and power, and the other night, he crushed a 482-foot home run, tied for the longest of 2019. He has played a few more games in center field, but he's listed at second base on the All-Star ballot, so we'll put him there.
SS -- Javier Baez, Cubs (.301/.346/.572, 14 HR, 37 RBI). I don't know how he does it, swinging at anything between Wrigley Field and the Hancock Building. He's proving that he can hit around .300 despite that approach, and now that he's more or less the full-time shortstop, he's also showing that he is a Gold Glove candidate there.
3B -- Nolan Arenado, Rockies (.345/.395/.638, 16 HR, 52 RBI). He hit .246 without a home run in his first 15 games -- after signing that big extension that will keep him in Colorado. But now he's fine. So fine, in fact, that he's on track for his best season yet.
OF -- Cody Bellinger, Dodgers (.376/.462/.733, 20 HR, 52 RBI). He not only leads the majors in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage (and thus wOBA), but also leads in defensive runs saved, so he has arguably been the best offensive player and the best defensive player in the majors.
OF -- Christian Yelich, Brewers (.313/.425/.719, 22 HR, 49 RBI). He won the 2018 NL MVP award and has posted even bigger numbers this year.
OF -- Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves (.277/.360/.460, 11 HR, 34 RBI). There is no obvious third choice, but Acuña is third in Baseball-Reference WAR among NL outfielders and fourth in FanGraphs WAR. The other guy ahead of him is Joc Pederson, mostly a platoon player. I'll go with the future MVP candidate.
P -- Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (8-1, 1.48 ERA, 73 IP, 69 SO). For every pitcher who goes out there and tries to strike out every batter, here's an object lesson in command and efficiency. Ryu has made 12 starts and walked five batters after tossing seven more scoreless inning on Tuesday night -- heck, Yu Darvish has walked five guys in one game three times already -- and hasn't allowed more than two runs in any outing. He went 5-0 in May, didn't allow a home run in 45⅔ innings and surrendered just three runs. I guess the Dodgers are happy he accepted their qualifying offer, keeping him off the free-agent market last winter.
NATIONAL LEAGUE RESERVES
C -- Yasmani Grandal, Brewers (.277/.376/.527, 12 HR, 30 RBI). The Brewers got Grandal on a one-year contract to upgrade their offense behind the plate, and he has done exactly that.
C -- J.T. Realmuto, Phillies (.265/.320/.451, 9 HR, 35 RBI). He should be headed to his second straight All-Star Game and has given the Phillies exactly what they wanted: a solid hitter and excellent defense, in both pitch-framing and throwing out runners (a league-leading 51 percent caught-stealing rate).
1B -- Josh Bell, Pirates (.332/.395/.681, 18 HR, 53 RBI). He leads the majors in RBIs, doubles and home runs that landed in rivers.
1B -- Freddie Freeman, Braves (.305/.391/.562, 14 HR, 35 RBI). Mr. Consistency. Check out his OPS+ totals since 2013: 147, 139, 132, 157, 155, 138, 145.
SS -- Trevor Story, Rockies (.293/.360/.556, 15 HR, 42 RBI). It's a good year for NL shortstops, as Baez, Story and Paul DeJong rank fourth, fifth and seventh among NL position players in bWAR and fourth, sixth and seventh in fWAR (with DeJong the highest there). Story gets the edge because WAR doesn't factor in that DeJong has hit poorly with runners in scoring position.
SS -- Paul DeJong, Cardinals (.276/.376/.477, 8 HR, 26 RBI). Originally, my final position spot went to Derek Dietrich -- how do you leave a guy slugging .700 off the All-Star team? -- but then I got to the end, and somehow nobody from the Cardinals had made it. So DeJong slots in here, a worthy choice given his top-10 total in WAR.
3B -- Anthony Rendon, Nationals (.331/.436/.650, 10 HR, 35 RBI). Somebody is going to make a lot of money this offseason.
3B -- Kris Bryant, Cubs (.274/.390/.543, 13 HR, 36 RBI). He was slow out of the gate but showed that his shoulder is fine by hitting .333 with 10 dingers in May. His versatility has helped Joe Maddon, as he has started games at third, right field, left field and first base.
OF -- Bryce Harper, Phillies (.243/.355/.477, 11 HR, 43 RBI). This isn't a charity case based on name recognition -- though that helps -- as Harper is fifth among NL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR.
OF -- Juan Soto, Nationals (.293/.394/.533, 10 HR, 38 RBI). He got off to a slow start but heated up in May, and I have a feeling that he will separate himself from the pack between now and the end of June.
OF -- Joc Pederson, Dodgers (.267/.368/.655, 18 HR, 33 RBI). Only Yelich has a lower rate of at-bats per home run (8.73 to 9.17), as Pederson is slugging .730 versus right-handers. Has a platoon player ever made the All-Star team?
NATIONAL LEAGUE PITCHERS
P -- Max Scherzer, Nationals (3-5, 3.06 ERA, 85⅓ IP, 117 SO). OK, the record isn't pretty, but that's not really his fault. He leads the league in innings, strikeouts and FIP.
P -- Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks (6-2, 3.09 ERA, 81⅔ IP, 75 SO). What a joy to watch as he changes speeds, moves the ball around, sinks it and gets batters to chase. He's 35 now, closing in on 200 career wins (193) and looking more and more like a future Hall of Famer.
P -- German Marquez, Rockies (6-2, 3.48 ERA, 85⅓ IP, 83 SO). He's tied with Scherzer for the lead in innings and batters faced, a testament to his ability to pitch deep into games, even at Coors Field. Check out his road numbers: 2.08 ERA, .167 average allowed. This guy is one of the best starters in the game.
P -- Luis Castillo, Reds (5-1, 2.45 ERA, 69⅔ IP, 82 SO). He hasn't been as good in May after a hurricane start, but the overall numbers remain strong, and pitching in Cincinnati isn't easy. The walk rate is the only issue here, but that elite fastball helps him get out of jams.
P -- Caleb Smith, Marlins (3-3, 3.10 ERA, 61 IP, 80 SO). He makes it on merit, not just as the Marlins' lone representative. He actually leads the NL in strikeout rate, a hair higher than Scherzer, trailing only Gerrit Cole, Blake Snell and Chris Sale across the majors.
P -- Jacob deGrom, Mets (3-5, 3.49 ERA, 69⅔ IP, 84 SO). He obviously hasn't been as dominant as he was last season and has battled minor ailments, but the Mets still need a rep, and deGrom gets the nod over Edwin Diaz and Pete Alonso.
P -- Mike Soroka, Braves (6-1, 1.41 ERA, 57⅓ IP, 51 SO). This could be Corbin or Zach Davies or Chris Paddack or Kyle Hendricks, but I'll go with Soroka and -- so far -- that minuscule ERA, a result of his giving up just one home run.
RP -- Josh Hader, Brewers (1-3, 2.45 ERA, 13 saves, 29⅓ IP, 57 SO). Speaking of strikeout rate, Hader has averaged 17.5 K's per nine innings. Can a human being actually average two strikeouts per inning? Aroldis Chapman holds the record, at 17.67 per nine in 2014, when he fanned 106 in 54 innings. I don't think Hader gets there, and the six home runs he has allowed do show that he isn't untouchable.
RP -- Kirby Yates, Padres (0-2, 1.04 ERA, 22 saves, 26 IP, 45 SO). One of the best stories in baseball, Yates has been purchased twice and claimed on waivers twice, and after adding a split-finger a couple of years ago, he has become one of the best closers in the game.
RP -- Will Smith, Giants (1-0, 2.38 ERA, 13 saves, 22 IP, 32 SO). We need somebody from the Giants, but Smith is a deserving selection. Yates, Smith and Hader rank 1-2-3 among NL relievers in win probability added.
Yes, a few tough names to leave off -- Dietrich, Eduardo Escobar and big stars such as Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Paul Goldschmidt and Rhys Hoskins. Still, picking the NL roster was a walk in the park compared to the AL.
AMERICAN LEAGUE STARTERS
C -- Gary Sanchez, Yankees (.267/.341/.653, 18 HR, 35 RBI). Salvador Perez has started the past five All-Star Games for the AL, sometimes on merit, sometimes due to Royals fans stuffing the ballot box and sometimes because there simply wasn't anyone else. He's out for the season with Tommy John surgery, but it's safe to say that Sanchez's power numbers would have him starting over Perez regardless.
1B -- Carlos Santana, Indians (.286/.405/.510, 11 HR, 37 RBI). In a now annual tradition of trying to find a worthy AL first baseman, Santana gets the vote here because of his best-at-the-position WAR and .400-plus OBP.
2B -- Whit Merrifield, Royals (.298/.352/.502, 7 HR, 28 RBI). Jose Altuve could still win the fan vote, but he's currently on the injured list. With Altuve out, there are several solid options, but Merrifield wins on the 75/25 criteria: He was the best of the group last year and is even better at the plate this season.
SS -- Jorge Polanco, Twins (.338/.405/.584, 9 HR, 30 RBI). OK, this is a tough one. Part of the AL's roster problem is that certain positions are crowded with talent, especially shortstop and outfield, but you also have to squeeze two DHs on the roster. (If I were All-Star commissioner, I would at minimum erase the second DH requirement.) At Baseball-Reference, six of the top 25 position players in WAR are shortstops, and at FanGraphs, it's five of the top 18. Neither of those rankings include Francisco Lindor. Anyway, Polanco is second in the AL in bWAR and gets the pick here. Sometimes a guy has been so good that you break the 75/25 rule.
3B -- Alex Bregman, Astros (.270/.392/.555, 17 HR, 40 RBI). Fifth in the MVP voting last year, he's looking to fare even better this year.
OF -- Mike Trout, Angels (.298/.464/.596, 14 HR, 37 RBI). QED.
OF -- Mookie Betts, Red Sox (.276/.387/.458, 9 HR, 27 RBI). He isn't hitting at his 2018 level, but he hasn't hit himself out of a starting nod in my book.
OF -- Joey Gallo, Rangers (.276/.421/.653, 17 HR, 41 RBI). Gallo is on the 10-day IL with an oblique strain, but it should be a short stay. Even if he misses a couple of weeks, his numbers are strong enough to earn this position. He's even playing center field and playing it well. I don't know if he can sustain that .276 average and .385 BABIP, but if this is peak Gallo, it's some kind of fun.
DH -- J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (.294/.373/.525, 12 HR, 32 RBI). There isn't really a viable second option here. Yes, Hunter Pence has been a huge surprise for the Rangers, but are you really taking Pence over Martinez? Some of the big names have missed time (Giancarlo Stanton, Nelson Cruz, Shohei Ohtani), and Khris Davis has just two home runs in his past 28 games.
P -- Justin Verlander, Astros (9-2, 2.27 ERA, 87⅓ IP, 103 SO). While some of last year's AL aces have struggled or battled injuries, Verlander keeps rolling along. He has allowed 22 runs -- 14 of those coming on home runs, as he has held batters to a .117 average with runners on.
AMERICAN LEAGUE RESERVES
C -- Christian Vazquez, Red Sox (.298/.340/.490, 7 HR, 20 RBI). This could be anybody -- James McCann, Josh Phegley, Robinson Chirinos. Heck, Mitch Garver has been unstoppable in a part-time role with the Twins (part of their MVP catching trio with Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo). If I had to predict, Vazquez wins the player vote here because of his defense and career year so far at the plate.
1B -- Luke Voit, Yankees (.268/.379/.521, 15 HR, 39 RBI). The legend of Luke Voit is a little overstated (he's hitting .314 with 11 RBIs in 12 games against the Orioles), but these aren't exactly the days of Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, John Olerud, Mike Sweeney, Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff all battling for All-Star honors.
2B -- DJ LeMahieu, Yankees (.311/.361/.450, 6 HR, 34 RBI). LeMahieu gets the nod over Tommy La Stella of the Angels, Rays rookie Brandon Lowe and the Twins' Jonathan Schoop based on his defense and longer track record of success.
SS -- Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (.305/.386/.550, 12 HR, 39 RBI). Lindor is great. Carlos Correa is great. Both have missed time with injuries, however, and Bogaerts is crushing the ball. Shout-out as well to Adalberto Mondesi and Tim Anderson, two of the year's most exciting players.
OF -- George Springer, Astros (.308/.389/.643, 17 HR, 43 RBI). He's also on the IL, with a hamstring strain, but it looks less severe than initially believed, and he has already been doing pregame work and could return soon. He was having an MVP-type season before the injury.
OF -- Michael Brantley, Astros (.329/.385/.533, 10 HR, 37 RBI). He looked like the perfect free agent for the Astros, giving them a much-needed left-handed hitter, but he has been even better than expected -- and he's already a three-time All-Star.
OF -- Byron Buxton, Twins (.267/.325/.517, 6 HR, 31 RBI). The best redemption story of 2019, Buxton has excelled after a lost 2018 season. Austin Meadows has had two terrific months for the Rays, and Tampa teammate Tommy Pham has been an on-base machine, but nobody plays center field like Buxton, and he has produced at the plate.
OF -- Trey Mancini, Orioles (.302/.349/.550, 12 HR, 29 RBI). Mancini is having a good year at the plate, and I wouldn't take him on merit over Meadows or Pham, but he isn't a bad All-Star, and we need an Oriole. The only other remotely feasible candidate for Baltimore is pitcher John Means.
DH -- Dan Vogelbach, Mariners (.243/.371/.550, 15 HR, 32 RBI). This is where things get dicey for the AL because Vogelbach isn't going to win the fan vote, and he isn't a lock to get elected here by the players. That would leave the Mariners without an All-Star, and they don't really have another good candidate. (Edwin Encarnacion has some home runs, but a lot of players have home runs, and Mitch Haniger hasn't been as good as he was last season.)
This leaves me with one more AL position player and a half-dozen strong candidates. With further apologies to Dozier, Mondesi, Meadows and Pham, let's go with:
SS -- Francisco Lindor, Indians (.293/.363/.484, 8 HR, 20 RBI). First, the hometown edge factors in here. More importantly, it's the All-Star Game, so we're looking for stars, not -- in the cases of Dozier and Meadows -- guys who have had six hot weeks. Maybe those two are for real. We already know Lindor is the real deal and one of the best players in the game.
AMERICAN LEAGUE PITCHERS
P -- Mike Minor, Rangers (5-4, 2.74 ERA, 75⅔ IP, 80 SO). He has been a huge key to the Rangers' start, actually leading Verlander in bWAR. He might have been trade bait at one point, but with the Rangers playing well and Minor signed through next season, he probably stays in Texas.
P -- Matthew Boyd, Tigers (5-4, 3.01 ERA, 77⅔ IP, 97 SO). This is a merit selection, as Boyd ranks in the top 10 among all MLB starters in OPS allowed (10th) and strikeout rate (eighth).
P -- Lucas Giolito, White Sox (8-1, 2.54 ERA, 67⅓ IP, 78 SO). Giolito is maybe the biggest surprise of the season, even though he was once viewed as one of the best pitching prospects in the minors. But after posting a 6.13 ERA in 2018, his outlook for 2019 was uncertain. He has picked up velocity, has started throwing more four-seamers and has a 1.03 ERA in his past six starts. Great story and a great reminder that some pitchers require a longer learning curve.
P -- Jake Odorizzi, Twins (8-2, 1.96 ERA, 64⅓ IP, 70 SO). He's certainly pitching with some good fortune -- a .240 BABIP against, one of the highest strand rates and one of the lowest home run rates, even though he has one of the lowest ground ball rates -- but he leads the AL in ERA and has allowed zero runs in six of his past seven starts. That's a 0.65 ERA in 41⅔ innings.
P -- Charlie Morton, Rays (6-0, 2.54 ERA, 67⅓ IP, 83 SO). Morton was one of the feel-good All-Stars of 2018, making it for the first time at 34 years old. He might make it again at 35, as he ranks third in the AL in ERA, fourth in OPS and sixth in strikeout rate.
P -- Blake Snell, Rays (3-4, 3.06 ERA, 61⅔ IP, 83 SO). Snell won't be happy with that 3.06 ERA, the three-homer game on Opening Day or a seven-run outing against the Royals, but his strikeout and walk rates are both improved from his Cy Young season. Don't be surprised if he pitches himself back into the Cy Young running by the end of the season.
P -- Jose Berrios, Twins (7-2, 3.27 ERA, 77 IP, 72 SO). An All-Star last year, Berrios has matured into a nice workhorse who gives the Twins innings, and he has cut way down on his walk rate and improved his efficiency.
P -- Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays (3-7, 2.84 ERA, 76 IP, 59 SO). We still need somebody from the Blue Jays, and it's either Stroman or Ken Giles, who has rediscovered his slider. We'll go with Stroman (though that ERA is a little misleading, as he has allowed eight unearned runs).
RP -- Ryan Pressly, Astros (1-0, 0.64 ERA, 3 saves, 28⅓ IP, 32 SO). He isn't the regular closer, but it's hard to argue that he isn't the best relief pitcher in the AL right now. Since the Astros acquired him last summer, he has allowed four runs in 51⅔ innings for a 0.70 ERA with 64 strikeouts and five walks.
RP -- Brad Hand, Indians (2-2, 1.14 ERA, 16 saves, 23⅔ IP, 35 SO). He has locked down the ninth inning for the Indians, converting all 16 of his save chances and holding batters to a .159 average and one home run. He should be headed to his third straight All-Star Game.
RP -- Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (0-1, 1.52 ERA, 17 saves, 23⅓ IP, 34 SO). He doesn't simply blow 102 mph blitz balls past hitters any longer, but he's just as effective, and he now mixes in more breaking balls. Look, this could be almost anybody who had 25 good innings, but I suspect the players, who elect three relievers, will go more with the track record than the one-year wonders. I'll go with Chapman as well.
It's a little bit of an odd staff -- no Chris Sale, no Gerrit Cole, no Corey Kluber, no Trevor Bauer. After I picked Snell and wrote this up, he went out and gave up six runs in 4⅓ innings to the Tigers. Cole and Bauer have good cases and have been dominant at times this season (Cole leads the majors with a ridiculous 37.4 percent strikeout rate). Sale has bounced back from that awful start, but that awful start counts, and he's 1-7 with a 4.35 ERA for the year, even though he has 98 strikeouts in 68⅓ innings.
This roster includes just one rep from eight teams (Blue Jays, Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, A's, Angels and Mariners), pointing to how top-heavy the AL is in 2019 and how chaotic choosing the roster could be, depending on whom the fans and players select. Can we just pretend some of the shortstops and outfielders are first basemen?