With the first half of the season nearing completion, a number of players on the Pittsburgh Pirates' roster are worthy of consideration for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Minnesota.
Let's take a look at the top candidates in ascending order.
5. Josh Harrison, U
Josh Harrison has been arguably the biggest surprise this season for the Pirates and is making his case for a spot on the All-Star team.
In 2013, Harrison played only 60 games for the Pirates. In 2014, he has already played 66, batting .306 with five home runs and 24 RBI.
Harrison has been a staple in Pittsburgh's lineup, as his offensive production has been exceptional.
Harrison has become one of the best utility players in the league, so expect him to receive votes for one of the spots on the All-Star team.
4. Neil Walker, 2B
Pittsburgh's second baseman Neil Walker has blossomed into a star for the Pirates.
Currently in his sixth major league season, Walker will likely be named to the All-Star team for the first time.
In 68 games this season, the 28-year-old is batting .272 with 11 home runs and 37 RBI. He currently ranks second in the National League in home runs among second basemen.
Walker has a lot of competition at his position. For example, Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies has turned back the clock and played the All-Star-caliber ball we saw from him a few years ago. Utley is batting .293 and leading all National League second basemen with 24 doubles in 2014.
It would be no surprise if Utley is named the starting second baseman for the National League, as he simply deserves it.
Then there is Scooter Gennett. The Milwaukee Brewers' second baseman is currently ranked first among all second basemen in the National League with a .311 average.
Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets and Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds are right in the mix again as well. Murphy owns a batting average of .301, while Phillips is batting .272 with seven home runs and 37 RBI.
Walker will have a lot of competition, but the impact he has on his team's lineup and the fact that he is second among National League second basemen in home runs should speak for itself.
If Walker plays well over the next two weeks, expect him to make his first All-Star Game appearance in 2014.
3. Mark Melancon, Closer
After Jason Grilli's dominant 2013 season as the Pirates' closer, Mark Melancon entered the 2014 regular season as the primary setup man again.
Now, let's also acknowledge Melancon's 2013 campaign, in which he posted an ERA of just 1.39 in 72 games.
After Grilli struggled for much of the first half of the season, the Pirates traded him to the Los Angeles Angels and named Melancon the new closer.
In 41 games this season, Melancon has pitched to a 2.33 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 38.2 innings pitched.
He also has saved 15 games so far in 2014, which is just one save short of his 2013 total.
Pittsburgh's organization has built one of the strongest bullpens in all of baseball, but without Melancon in the mix, their bullpen wouldn't be nearly as difficult to beat.
2. Tony Watson, RP
While Melancon has been dominant over the last two seasons, Tony Watson has been nearly untouchable in 2014.
In 38 games for the Pirates in 2014, Watson owns an ERA of just 0.96. He also owns an average of 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, which is just completely dominant.
While wins and losses are not usually indicative of a relief pitcher's excellence, here's another statistic to defend Watson's case for an All-Star vote: He is currently 5-0 out of the bullpen for the Pirates, keeping games tied and allowing his team to return to the dugout and attempt to break a tie.
Watson has been the brightest star in 2014 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, so there is no reason why he won't be elected to his first All-Star team in 2014.
However, there is one player who will almost certainly be in the starting lineup for the National League All-Star team this July.
1. Andrew McCutchen, CF
Andrew McCutchen made the All-Star team for the third straight year in 2013, and it looks as if he will make that a fourth straight year in 2014.
The reigning National League Most Valuable Player is currently on pace to have almost the exact same statistics he had last season with the Pirates.
At the All-Star break in 2013, McCutchen's batting average was lower than it currently is this season. Then, he was batting .302 with 10 home runs and 49 RBI at the break before going on a tear and batting .339 in the second half. This season, he is batting .314 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI.
When a player is as consistent as McCutchen has been over the last few seasons, it is hard to knock him, and it is safe to say that we can expect to see him patrolling the outfield when the first pitch is thrown for the National League team in July.
Now, let's take a look at a few stars who were left off the list of candidates for the summer classic.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B
In 2013, Pedro Alvarez was named a National League All-Star for the first time in his career.
At the break last season, he was batting .250 with 24 home runs and 62 runs batted in. So there really was no valid debate about whether or not he was worthy of the honor.
This season, Alvarez ranks 16th in the National League among all third basemen with a batting average of .241.
He is second in the league among all third basemen with 13 home runs, but his other statistics simply aren't characteristic of an All-Star.
Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds is currently batting .287 and leading all National League third basemen with 17 home runs. Meanwhile, Aramis Ramirez has helped his Brewers lead the division in wins by batting .292 with 11 home runs.
So it is likely that those two players will play in the summer classic over Alvarez, as they certainly deserve it.
Russell Martin, C
Russell Martin is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2014.
In 44 games played, Martin is batting .265 with four home runs and 23 runs batted in. Martin has not batted over .260 since 2008, when he was only 25 years old and playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Martin has missed almost half of his team's games this season due to injury, so that does not help him in the voting process.
Regardless, Martin doesn't have much of a chance at making the All-Star team this season due to the outstanding seasons many other catchers in the league are having.
Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy is having a career year, batting .334 with eight home runs and 42 RBI in 77 games played. Meanwhile, Buster Posey is batting .293 with nine home runs for the San Francisco Giants.
Yadier Molina, who many consider the best catcher in the game, is batting .280 with seven home runs and 28 RBI.
So while Martin is having a strong season when he has been healthy, there are many players above him right now who deserve to play for the National League.
The 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played on July 15 at 8:00 p.m. at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There is still time for players to put up big numbers and become relevant in the voting, but for now it looks like the Pirates could be sending five players to Minnesota to represent the organization in the summer classic.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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