10 MLB Players on the Verge of Surprising All-Star Seasons
Earlier this month, I wrote an article about MLB players on the cusp of becoming All-Stars for the first time. Several of the names on that list are youngsters who are already impressing with their play on the field.
For most of those players, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they were selected. Quite a few other MLB players, however, could open some eyes this coming season and become worthy of All-Star selection as well.
Here are 10 players who fit that criteria. None of them have ever been selected to previous All-Star teams but with productive half-seasons could find themselves at Citi Field in mid-July.
Jonathon Niese: New York Mets
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With Citi Field hosting the All-Star Game for the first time, it's appropriate that a New York Mets player should top this list.
Young southpaw Jonathon Niese was largely overshadowed last season as R.A. Dickey knuckled his way through the National League on the way to a Cy Young Award-winning performance.
Niese posted a 13-9 record and 3.40 ERA in 30 starts for the Mets, delivering consistency throughout the year and improving his plate command. Niese posted a 1.172 WHIP, walking only 2.3 batters every nine innings.
With Dickey now in Toronto and Johan Santana just a shell of his former self, the Mets need someone to take the reins at the top of the rotation.
Niese could become that man in 2013, and an All-Star selection could well be his reward.
Ruben Tejada: New York Mets
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When shortstop Jose Reyes signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Marlins in December 2011, it left a huge void on the left side of the infield for the New York Mets.
Not to fear, however—young Panama native Ruben Tejada was lying in wait.
Tejada played both second and short in 2011, filling in at various times to cover injuries and also enduring a stint in the minors.
With Reyes out of the picture, Tejada took over at short full time last season. A quadriceps injury forced him to the disabled list in May, but Tejada still managed to hit .289 in 114 games. Defensively, he proved to be stellar as well, committing just 12 errors on the season.
Tejada could find himself at the top of the Mets batting order this season, likely competing with outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis for that role this spring. Tejada hit .293 in 78 games from the leadoff spot last season.
With Reyes moving to the American League, a hot start from Tejada could have him playing in front of an excited home crowd at Citi Field for the All-Star Game on July 16.
Brett Lawrie: Toronto Blue Jays
So much of the focus for the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason has been placed on the incoming players acquired via trade. Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson along with free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera took up most of the headlines during a busy offseason in Toronto.
However, one player already entrenched in their lineup could easily find himself playing at Citi Field and representing the Jays at the All-Star Game: third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie was the player the Blue Jays coveted when they traded starting pitcher Shawn Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers in December 2010. He impressed in 2011 after his call-up in August, hitting .293 with nine home runs in 43 games.
Last season, Lawrie hit .273 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI, unleashing a fiery and passionate style of play.
Now, with a roster loaded with stars, Lawrie won't be feeling the pressure to be one of the main offensive weapons; he can continue his development at his own pace.
That pace could lead him to a surprising berth on the American League All-Star team.
Will Middlebrooks: Boston Red Sox
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When the Boston Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox last season, promising prospect Will Middlebrooks immediately stepped in—and stepped up.
Middlebrooks got off to a fast start, hitting .331 with a .960 OPS through his first 40 games. While his numbers tailed off before a broken wrist ended his season in August, his rookie year was nonetheless impressive, ending up with a .288 average, 15 home runs and 58 RBI.
This year, Middlebrooks returns fully healthy and with the goal of becoming a main cog in the Red Sox offense for the foreseeable future.
The only flaw to Middlebrooks' game at this point is plate discipline; he drew just 13 walks in 286 plate appearances. However, the power and ability to produce is certainly there and could easily see him become an All-Star as early as this season.
Jonathan Lucroy: Milwaukee Brewers
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If not for a freak hotel accident last season, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy could have easily found himself playing in the All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium.
The 26-year-old took a major step forward offensively last season, ending up with a .320 average, 12 home runs, 58 RBI and .881 OPS.
Lucroy's production last season nearly matched what he achieved in 2011, but in 40 fewer games. Without question one of the rising young stars behind the plate, Lucroy could be taking his place behind the plate at Citi Field at the All-Star Game this season.
Luis Cruz: Los Angeles Dodgers
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The Los Angeles Dodgers spent a boatload of money in reshaping their roster over the past several months. With former All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford now in the mix, the Dodgers are a team loaded with star-studded talent.
However, there could be one particular player who has a chance to stand tall in 2013: third baseman Luis Cruz.
Cruz filled in both at third base and shortstop last year at various times for the Dodgers, hitting .297 with six homers and 40 RBI in 78 games.
He'll have the opportunity to take the reins at third base full time this season as Ramirez moves back to shortstop. Cruz could take that opportunity and turn it into a surprise All-Star selection in July.
Doug Fister: Detroit Tigers
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The 2012 season for Detroit Tigers pitcher Doug Fister was interrupted by two early stints on the disabled list. In fact, Fister didn't register his first victory until June 16.
Fister's performance in the second half of the 2011 season was nothing less than spectacular. Following his trade from the Seattle Mariners, Fister posted an 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA in 10 starts.
Much of the focus for the Tigers is on Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, fireballer Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.
However, it would be foolhardy to look past Fister as well. A hot start and good health could propel Fister to an All-Star berth for the American League in July.
Kyle Seager: Seattle Mariners
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The Seattle Mariners again found themselves at the bottom of the American League last year with their offense, scoring the fewest runs of any team for the fourth consecutive season.
Lost in the shuffle, however, was the production provided by third baseman Kyle Seager.
Seager hit 20 home runs with 86 RBI in his first full season. With the Mariners loading up their offense this offseason with Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Michael Morse, Seager won't have the pressure of being the go-to guy.
Taking that pressure off could help Seager as he continues his development. Whether it results in an All-Star selection remains to be seen, but Seager is definitely a youngster on the cusp.
Leonys Martin: Texas Rangers
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The Texas Rangers took a big hit this offseason with the departure of star outfielder Josh Hamilton. However, they could have a youngster who rises to the occasion as his replacement.
Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin shined at the Triple-A level last year, hitting .359 with a .422 on-base percentage in 55 games at Round Rock. Martin also spent time on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
Martin will compete this spring with Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon for the vacant spot in center field. While Gentry and Borbon both have experience in the majors, Martin is the guy the Rangers envision roaming center field long term.
With a solid blend of speed, range and power, Martin is a player worth watching this spring. He could become a player worth watching in terms of a surprise All-Star berth as well.
Desmond Jennings: Tampa Bay Rays
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Now that B.J. Upton has moved on to greener and richer pastures in Atlanta, the Tampa Bay Rays will be looking to fill his shoes with another young rising star.
Desmond Jennings debuted for the Rays in September 2010, but he really made his presence known the following season.
Jennings was called up in July 2011 and chipped in mightily down the stretch as the Rays stormed into the playoff race. He hit .259 with 10 home runs, 25 RBI and an .805 OPS, giving the Rays an idea of what to expect from the youngster in the future.
Jennings went through some growing pains in 2012, hitting just .246 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI. He also contributed 31 stolen bases and was a finalist for a Gold Glove Award with his stellar defense in left field.
Now moving to his more natural spot in center, Jennings will not only aid Tampa Bay with outstanding outfield coverage, he could also continue his development as a hitter and find his way to Citi Field in July with a hot start.
Doug Mead is a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.