Initial 2014 MLB All-Star Predictions as the Season Starts Up
No, this isn't an April Fools' joke—the 2014 MLB season has begun, and so too has the countdown to the 85th episode of everyone's favorite Midsummer Classic, the All-Star Game.
In just over 100 days (106 to be exact), baseball's best will descend on Target Field in Minnesota with two goals in mind: Win the game to ensure their respective league holds home field advantage in the World Series and, if at all possible, have some fun doing it.
It's foolish to look at early-season statistics and gauge who will comprise the 34-man rosters for each league. Miami's Casey McGehee, tied for second in the National League with four RBI, is not going to make an appearance at the All-Star Game—just as he's not going to finish the season with 648 RBI, which he's currently on pace to do.
Instead, we'll use a bit of common sense, take recent history into account and, with some forward thinking, try to figure out not only who the fans will vote in as the starters, but who the players and managers will select to fill out each league's 34-man roster.
Let's take a look at what these rosters might look like, shall we?
American League Catcher
Starter: Brian McCann (NYY)
Reserves: Yan Gomes (CLE) and Salvador Perez (KC)
With Joe Mauer at first base in Minnesota, no longer an option for fans to vote in as the starting catcher in the American League, Brian McCann makes baseball history by becoming the first player to start at catcher for both leagues in the All-Star Game.
His swing, tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, finds the eight-time All-Star among the league leaders in home runs at the break, and he wins the voting by a wide margin over the competition.
Yan Gomes, in his first year as a starter in Cleveland, arrives at the All-Star break with numbers that look nearly identical to his production in 2013, when he hit .286 with 13 home runs and an .826 OPS in only 88 games.
Salvador Perez, the only returning member of last year's trio of All-Star catchers on the American League squad, continues his ascension into the upper echelon of major league catchers, hitting for average and power for the upstart Kansas City Royals, who find themselves in the midst of a heated three-way battle for the AL Central with Cleveland and Detroit.
Next In Line
Jason Castro (HOU)
Matt Wieters (BAL)
Mike Zunino (SEA)
National League Catcher
Starter: Yadier Molina (STL)
Reserves: Buster Posey (SF) and Wilin Rosario (COL)
A five-time All-Star and the best catcher in baseball, Yadier Molina gets the nod as the National League starter for the fourth time in the past six years, narrowly edging out Buster Posey in what proves to be one of the closest votes in All-Star Game history.
While Posey, making his third consecutive appearance in the Midsummer Classic, leads the senior circuit with a .345 batting average at the break, it's not enough to overtake Molina's superior defense and equally impressive .330 average.
Just entering the prime of his career, 25-year-old Wilin Rosario, the only National League catcher with double-digit home runs at the break, firmly establishes himself as one of the premier offensive catchers in baseball, hitting for a higher average away from Coors Field than he does in the cozy confines of his home park.
Next In Line
Jonathan Lucroy (MIL)
Russell Martin (PIT)
Miguel Montero (ARI)
American League First Basemen
Starter: Miguel Cabrera (DET)
Reserves: Albert Pujols (LAA)
While his numbers at the break aren't as gaudy as they were a year ago (.365, 30 HR, 95 RBI), Miguel Cabrera leads the American League in all three Triple Crown categories, looking like a lock to take home his third consecutive AL MVP Award at the end of the season.
His return to first base only creates a logjam at the position, with four worthy candidates to fill only one spot (as you'll see in a bit, the AL carries two designated hitters, one who is more than capable of playing first base).
A healthy and motivated Albert Pujols makes his first appearance as an American League All-Star, looking more like the player who won three National League MVP Awards and less like the broken-down veteran who isn't aging gracefully that wore his jersey a season ago.
Next In Line
Chris Davis (BAL)
Prince Fielder (TEX)
Eric Hosmer (KC)
National League First Basemen
Starter: Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)
Reserves: Freddie Freeman (ATL) and Joey Votto (CIN)
Entering the prime of his career, 26-year-old Paul Goldschmidt cruises into his second consecutive All-Star Game, leading the National League in RBI at the break while ranking among the league leaders in batting average and home runs.
While he doesn't flash elite power like some of his contemporaries, Joey Votto makes his fifth consecutive All-Star appearance, leading baseball in doubles, walks and on-base percentage at the midway point of the season.
Freddie Freeman continues to establish himself as one of the game's premier first basemen, hitting over .300 while sitting within shouting distance of Goldschmidt for the RBI lead on the senior circuit.
Next In Line
Matt Adams (STL)
Brandon Belt (SF)
Adrian Gonzalez (LAD)
American League Second Basemen
Starter: Robinson Cano (SEA)
Reserves: Jose Altuve (HOU), Jason Kipnis (CLE) and Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
Despite losing the support of the Yankees faithful, who fall short in their attempt to vote in Brian Roberts as the American League starter, Robinson Cano, the best second baseman in baseball, makes his fifth consecutive start, becoming the first Mariner to start an All-Star Game since Ichiro Suzuki in 2010.
He may be a defensive liability, but Jose Altuve is Houston's best player, hitting for average and flashing speed when he gets on base. With every team in baseball needing to be represented in the Midsummer Classic, Altuve makes his second All-Star Game appearance and is Houston's lone representative.
Entering the prime of his career, 26-year-old Jason Kipnis' combination of power and speed continues to open eyes around the game, nearly putting together a 20-20 first half, falling just short in the power department as he enters the break with 17 home runs and 24 stolen bases.
No longer bothered by a torn ligament in his thumb as he was in 2013, Dustin Pedroia sees an uptick in his production, sitting near the top of the American League in batting average while leaving little doubt that he is the league's premier defensive player at the position.
Next In Line
Howie Kendrick (LAA)
Ian Kinsler (DET)
Ben Zobrist (TB)
National League Second Basemen
Starter: Brandon Phillips (CIN)
Reserves: Jedd Gyorko (SD) and Aaron Hill (ARI)
His .255 batting average leaves plenty to be desired, but Brandon Phillips' power, along with his reputation as a premier defender, finds him voted in as the National League's starting second baseman for the second straight year.
Jedd Gyorko makes his first All-Star Game appearance after leading all major league second basemen with 14 first-half home runs, while Aaron Hill, with a batting average over .300, earns his second career All-Star berth after a four-year absence from the Midsummer Classic.
Next In Line
Javier Baez (CHC)
Anthony Rendon (WAS)
Neil Walker (PIT)
American League Third Basemen
Starter: Evan Longoria (TB)
Reserves: Adrian Beltre (TEX) and Josh Donaldson (OAK)
With Miguel Cabrera no longer blocking his path and Manny Machado off to a sluggish start, Evan Longoria reclaims the starting job at the hot corner for the first time since 2010, pacing Tampa Bay's offense in the season's first half while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Adrian Beltre finds himself among the league leaders in RBI after spending the first three months of the season stepping to the plate with Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and Prince Fielder on base more often than not in Texas, earning the fourth All-Star appearance of his career.
Josh Donaldson, one of the biggest snubs from the 2013 All-Star Game, makes his first career appearance after an excellent first half that sees him hit for average and power, establishing himself as the closest thing to a superstar that Oakland has.
Next In Line
Nick Castellanos (DET)
Manny Machado (BAL)
Mike Moustakas (KC)
National League Third Basemen
Starter: David Wright (NYM)
Reserves: Pedro Alvarez (PIT) and Nolan Arenado (COL)
David Wright continues to stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field in the National League at third base, making his sixth All-Star Game start after a first half that finds him among the league leaders in batting average and doubles.
Pedro Alvarez remains the premier slugging third basemen in baseball, with 21 first-half home runs, but his absurd strikeout rates (more than 30 percent of the time) find him with one of the lowest batting averages for an All-Star in recent history.
Nolan Arenado's bat finally catches up to the Gold Glove that he flashes at third base, as the 22-year-old heads into the All-Star break with a .280 average and double-digit home runs.
Next In Line
Martin Prado (ARI)
Aramis Ramirez (MIL)
Pablo Sandoval (SF)
American League Shortstops
Starter: Derek Jeter (NYY)
Reserves: Xander Bogaerts (BOS) and J.J. Hardy (BAL)
No longer an All-Star caliber player, fans pay homage to a living legend in the last year of his Hall of Fame career by voting in Derek Jeter as the American League's starting shortstop for the ninth time, putting him behind only Cal Ripken Jr. (14) and Ozzie Smith (11) in career All-Star starts at the position.
Xander Bogaerts flashes all the tools that make him one of the game's most highly touted prospects, hitting for average and power while playing above-average defense in his first full major league season for the defending World Champions, earning his first of what will be many All-Star Game appearances.
Solid and consistently overlooked, J.J. Hardy makes his third All-Star appearance by doing what he does best: Playing solid defense at a premium position while leading all American League shortstops in home runs at the break.
Next In Line
Elvis Andrus (TEX)
Jed Lowrie (OAK)
Alexei Ramirez (CHW)
National League Shortstops
Starter: Hanley Ramirez (LAD)
Reserves: Andrelton Simmons (ATL) and Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
Healthy and in the final year of his contract, Hanley Ramirez puts together the kind of first half that we know he's capable of, narrowly trailing Buster Posey in the race for the National League batting crown while posting double-digit home runs in the middle of a potent Dodgers offense.
While Andrelton Simmons' offensive game continues to develop, the 24-year-old finds himself making his first All-Star appearance due to his glove, which is far-and-away the best at the position in all of baseball and a major reason why Atlanta sits within shouting distance of Washington in the NL East at the break.
Like Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki manages to stay healthy and puts up MVP-caliber numbers over the first half of the season, making his fourth career All-Star appearance.
Next In Line
Everth Cabrera (SD)
Jhonny Peralta (STL)
Jean Segura (MIL)
American League Outfielders
Starter: Jose Bautista (TOR), Adam Jones (BAL) and Mike Trout (LAA)
Reserves: Alex Gordon (KC), Josh Hamilton (LAA) and Wil Myers (TB)
Jose Bautista remains one of the premier sluggers in baseball, ranking among the MLB leaders in home runs at the halfway mark, though his mediocre batting average, which he struggles to keep above .250, makes his selection one of the more hotly debated ones among fans and pundits.
By the midway point, Adam Jones has put together the first 20-20 season of his career, earning his second straight starting appearance in his third consecutive All-Star Game, while Mike Trout continues to do things that nobody thought possible, leaving little doubt that he's the best player on the planet.
The American League reserves aren't slouches by any means, with Alex Gordon seeing a huge uptick in his run production now that he's batting fifth in a stacked Kansas City lineup while still playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Like his teammate Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton puts a miserable 2013 season behind him and puts up big numbers, albeit not on par with his past MVP-worthy performances, while Tampa Bay's Wil Myers, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, puts up big numbers in Tampa Bay to earn his first career All-Star selection.
Next In Line
Yoenis Cespedes (OAK)
Shin-Soo Choo (TEX)
Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY)
National League Outfielders
Starter: Carlos Gonzalez (COL), Bryce Harper (WAS) and Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
Reserves: Ryan Braun (MIL), Yasiel Puig (LAD) and Giancarlo Stanton (MIA)
While 28-year-old Carlos Gonzalez no longer performs better on the road than he does at home, as he did a season ago, his overall numbers are still among the best in baseball and land him in his third consecutive All-Star Game.
Like his American League counterpart Mike Trout, 21-year-old Bryce Harper continues to improve in all areas of his game, becoming one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League and someone that the opposing team try and pitch around—something Harper wants no part of.
The reigning National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen, looks like he has a legitimate chance to win it again at the break as he continues to do a little bit of everything, hitting for average and power while flashing speed on the basepaths and playing above-average defense in center field.
Nobody likes a cheater, but disgraced former NL MVP Ryan Braun remains one of the premier players in the game and simply cannot be left out of the All-Star Game festivities.
Not your typical leadoff hitter, Yasiel Puig's insane natural talents find him making his first appearance in the Midsummer Classic, while Giancarlo Stanton finally stays healthy enough to flash his superhuman raw power, leading the senior circuit in home runs at the midway point of the season.
Next In Line
Jay Bruce (CIN)
Carlos Gomez (MIL)
Matt Holliday (STL)
American League Designated Hitter
Starter: David Ortiz (BOS)
Reserves: Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)
David Ortiz continues to be the standard against who all other designated hitters are judged, and only one other player—Edwin Encarnacion—comes close to equaling Ortiz's production at the position.
Perhaps the most intimidating hitter in baseball, Ortiz continues to do what he does best, hitting for average and power in the heart of Boston's lineup, ranking near the top of the American League in home runs and RBI at the midway point of the season.
American League Starting Pitchers
Starter: Justin Verlander (DET)
Reserves: Yu Darvish (TEX), Felix Hernandez (SEA), David Price (TB), Chris Sale (CHW), Max Scherzer (DET) and Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)
Six of the seven starters on the American League squad are no-brainers: Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who earns his second career All-Star start after leading the American League in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts over the first half of the season.
The group of established veteran hurlers who continue to pitch at an incredibly high level are joined by a new face in Masahiro Tanaka, the most sought-after free agent of the winter.
Tanaka doesn't arrive at the All-Star break undefeated, as he was in Japan a season ago, but he ranks among the league leaders in ERA and strikeouts, overtaking CC Sabathia as the true ace of the Yankees rotation.
Next In Line
Sonny Gray (OAK)
Justin Masterson (CLE)
Michael Pineda (NYY)
National League Starting Pitchers
Starter: Jose Fernandez (MIA)
Reserves: Madison Bumgarner (SF), Andrew Cashner (SD), Clayton Kershaw (LAD), Cliff Lee (PHI), Jeff Samardzija (CHC), Stephen Strasburg (WAS), Adam Wainwright (STL) and Jordan Zimmermann (WAS)
With Clayton Kershaw off to a slower-than-expected start, thanks to an injury that kept him sidelined for the first few weeks of the regular season, Jose Fernandez seizes the opportunity and pitches his way into the starting spot for the National League, leading the senior circuit in ERA and strikeouts at the midway point of the season.
Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright are the only members of the senior circuit's starting rotation over the age of 30, both with numbers that are nearly as good as their younger counterparts.
Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann all put together Cy Young Award-worthy first halves, while 27-year-old Andrew Cashner surprises everyone while hovering right around the Top 10 in nearly every major pitching category.
Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs' lone representative at the Midsummer Classic, ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts; but this will be his final season on the National League squad, as he'll be traded to an American League team two weeks after the festivities have ended.
Next In Line
Gerrit Cole (PIT)
Julio Teheran (ATL)
Zack Wheeler (NYM)
American League Bullpen
Closer: Joe Nathan (DET)
Reserves: Luke Gregerson (OAK), Greg Holland (KC), Glen Perkins (MIN), David Robertson (NYY) and Koji Uehara (BOS)
With Mariano Rivera retired, 39-year-old Joe Nathan has become the best closer in the American League, pitching to a sub-2.00 ERA while averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work.
But it's Greg Holland that leads the American League in saves at the season's halfway point, joined by Koji Uehara, David Robertson and Glen Perkins, who rank second, third and fifth in the category, respectively.
Jim Johnson, who sits with the fourth-highest save total in the AL, is passed over for his left-handed teammate Luke Gregerson, who continues to perform as one of the premier setup men in all of baseball.
Next In Line
Grant Balfour (TB)
Jim Johnson (OAK)
Joakim Soria (TEX)
National League Bullpen
Closer: Craig Kimbrel (ATL)
Reserves: Rex Brothers (COL) and Trevor Rosenthal (STL)
Despite pitching in one of the more hitter-friendly parks in baseball, 26-year-old Rex Brothers has pushed LaTroy Hawkins out of the closer's job in Colorado and established himself as one of the premier closers in baseball, though he's not on the level of his 27-year-old counterpart in Atlanta, Craig Kimbrel, who is the best in all of baseball.
The hard-throwing Trevor Rosenthal rounds out a talented National League bullpen, capable of missing bats and without an arm over the age of 30.
Next In Line
Kenley Jansen (LAD
Addison Reed (ARI)
Sergio Romo (SF)
American League Roster Breakdown
Orioles (2): SS J.J. Hardy, OF Adam Jones
Red Sox (4): SS Xander Bogaerts, DH David Ortiz, 2B Dustin Pedroia, RP Koji Uehara
White Sox (1): SP Chris Sale
Indians (2): C Yan Gomes, 2B Jason Kipnis
Tigers (4): 1B Miguel Cabrera, RP Joe Nathan, SP Max Scherzer, SP Justin Verlander
Astros (1): 2B Jose Altuve
Royals (3): OF Alex Gordon, RP Greg Holland, C Salvador Perez
Angels (3): OF Josh Hamilton, 1B Albert Pujols, OF Mike Trout
Twins (1): RP Glen Perkins
Yankees (4): SS Derek Jeter, C Brian McCann, RP David Robertson, SP Masahiro Tanaka
A's (2): 3B Josh Donaldson, RP Luke Gregerson
Rangers (2): 3B Adrian Beltre, SP Yu Darvish
Rays (3): 3B Evan Longoria, OF Wil Myers, SP David Price
Blue Jays (2) OF Jose Bautista, DH Edwin Encarnacion
Mariners (2): 2B Robinson Cano, SP Felix Hernandez
National League Roster Breakdown
Diamondbacks (2): 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 2B Aaron Hill
Braves (3): 1B Freddie Freeman, RP Craig Kimbrel, SS Andrelton Simmons
Cubs (1): SP Jeff Samardzija
Reds (2): 2B Brandon Phillips, 1B Joey Votto
Rockies (5): 3B Nolan Arenado, RP Rex Brothers, OF Carlos Gonzalez, C Wilin Rosario, SS Troy Tulowitzki
Dodgers (3): SP Clayton Kershaw, OF Yasiel Puig, SS Hanley Ramirez
Marlins (2): SP Jose Fernandez, OF Giancarlo Stanton
Brewers (1): OF Ryan Braun
Mets (1): 3B David Wright
Phillies (1): SP Cliff Lee
Pirates (2): 3B Pedro Alvarez, OF Andrew McCutchen
Padres (2): SP Andrew Cashner, 2B Jedd Gyorko
Giants (2): SP Madison Bumgarner, C Buster Posey
Cardinals (4): 1B Matt Adams, C Yadier Molina, RP Trevor Rosenthal and SP Adam Wainwright
Nationals (3): OF Bryce Harper, SP Stephen Strasburg, SP Jordan Zimmermann