The Midsummer Classic offers a respite in the 162-game marathon of the MLB season. With home-field advantage in the World Series on the line as well, the MLB All-Star game comes with more consequences than any of the other major sports leagues' exhibitions.
While the game might be most notable for being Derek Jeter's final appearance, there are also plenty of fresh faces ready to display their talents as the face of the league's next generation. Here are a few names who could use the game to introduce themselves as premier talents, as well as predictions for how they will fare.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Few fans need introduction to the flamboyant Cuban, who is also rapidly developing into one of the best right fielders in baseball. In his first full season in the majors, Puig has fulfilled his five-tool hype en route to a starting position for the National League.
With a .309/.393/.522 slash line, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen are the only outfielders who have outperformed Puig on a park-adjusted basis. The 23-year-old is participating in the Home Run Derby, where he is already showing off his prodigious power:
On a Dodgers team that has not always lived up to its sky-high payroll, Puig has been Los Angeles' most valuable position player. Though the rest of the Dodgers outfield is subject to a numbers crunch, Puig will remain the one constant going forward.
With a remarkable .213 isolated power, Puig's 12 home runs do not fully unveil his power. Even in Target Field's cavernous dimensions, look for Puig to land extra bases during the game.
Projected Stat Line: 1-for-3, 2B, RBI
Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Another Cuban import has taken the league by storm, this time in the Junior Circuit. Though Abreu was lauded for his power headed into his rookie year, few expected the 27-year-old to lead the league in home runs.
With 29 dingers, Abreu has exceeded everyone's wildest expectations. His eye-popping .339 isolated power easily tops the majors, 25 points higher than the second-highest mark held by Edwin Encarnacion. Similarly, he holds a 17-point advantage and leads the league in slugging percentage over Troy Tulowitzki. It has quite literally been decades since a player last stormed into the majors as stunningly as Abreu:
Jose Abreu has 50 XBH in 81 games, the fewest to reach 50 XBH since Ted Williams did it in 80 games in 1939 (via Elias)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 13, 2014
The White Sox slugger did not win the fans' vote because of Miguel Cabrera's annual excellence. That Abreu likely deserved to start over the reigning two-time MVP illustrates how dominant his season has been thus far.
The ChiSox expected a largely morose rebuilding season in 2014. While their 45-51 record is mostly on par with expectations, Abreu has been among the most pleasant first-half surprises not only on the South Side, but also in the entire league.
Projected Stat Line: 1-for-2, HR, 2 RBI
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics
A year after finishing fourth in the American League MVP voting, Donaldson has conducted a brilliant encore in 2014. The casual fan knows the A's for their ability to cobble together value on a shoestring budget, but in Donaldson, Oakland has stumbled into a bona fide superstar.
The fans recognized Donaldson's excellence this year, voting him as the starting third baseman. Even with only a .238 average, Donaldson has been worth 116 wRC+ (16 percent better than league average) on offense due to his 20 home runs and .449 slugging percentage. The former number represents a significant uptick from his 2013 power production:
Josh Donaldson (OAK): hit his 20th HR of the season today. @BringerOfRain20 did not hit his 20th HR last season until September 4— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 10, 2014
While Donaldson is unlikely to match his .301 average from 2013, his greatest value might actually be his defense. Over the past two seasons, Donaldson's defense has been 26.6 runs above average, a mark which ranks eighth among all position players.
Oakland's "Moneyball" reputation is generally unfriendly to individual recognition. However, Donaldson deserves a special distinction for his performance over the past two years, one he will receive this week.
Projected Stat Line: 2-for-3, 2B, RBI