MLB Predictions: 10 Players Who Could Make Their All-Star Debuts in 2011
Getting elected to an All-Star team in Major League Baseball means one thing: You had a stellar first half of the season.
Having good timing is everything for potential All-Stars.
Fast starters are rewarded for their spring preparation. Those who are slower to come around are unfairly judged at midseason, likely costing themselves extra money in future negotiations and potentially hindering part of their Hall of Fame candidacy in the process.
A gigantic second half can go a long way towards awards balloting. After all, Jimmy Rollins won the MVP in 2007 despite not making the All-Star team.
But other than adding brownie points to your reputation for the next season, second-half stats have no impact on All-Star consideration.
You'd be surprised to find out that Mark Teixeira, the Yankees first baseman with five different 30-plus home run, 100-plus RBI seasons has made just two All-Star teams.
Big Tex owns a career .874 OPS prior to the All-Star break. Post break that number climbs to .957. He's also hit 11 more second-half homers in 76 less games played.
Making an appearance in the All-Star game does not necessitate that a player is even that good; just ask stat heads about Omar Infante's selection last year.
A player who makes at least two appearances, however, has probably solidified his status among the best in the game.
What follows is a list of 10 players who will each be vying for their first All-Star appearances in 2011.
Though they haven't yet made the Midsummer Classic, each of these players is talented enough to get there on multiple occasions.
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
It's easy to forget that Bruce will turn just 24 years old a few days into the 2011 season. The Reds' former top prospect already has two-and-a-half major-league years under his belt.
Last season was his best yet as Bruce played in 148 games after managing just 108 during his rookie year and 101 during his sophomore season.
Over 509 at-bats in 2010, Bruce posted a triple slash of .281/.353/.493 with 23 doubles, five triples and 25 homers. His walk rate was a very good 10 percent.
His strikeout rate was alarming, however, as Bruce walked back to the dugout with his head down over 26 percent of the time.
Bruce thrived off of a big second half in which he hit 15 homers in only 186 at-bats. This was aided by a seven-percent increase in fly-ball percentage over that part of the season.
He also benefits from his home environment at the Great American Ballpark. Throughout his career Bruce owns a .914 OPS at home with a .644 mark on the road. He's hit 22 more home runs at home in just 11 more games.
Bruce is extremely underrated for his speed. This has helped him to become an exceptional defender in right field, though his arm isn't anything special.
It might lead Dusty Baker to use him as the leadoff man this season. If so, Jay Bruce could put up some big-five category fantasy numbers and find himself starting the All-Star game in July.
Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
Tommy Hanson looked every bit the workhorse the Braves expect him to be when he took the mound last season.
He tossed 202.2 innings with 173 strikeouts to just 56 walks, good for a 3.1-to-1 ratio.
The fact that he only allowed 14 home runs was surprising considering his 42-percent fly-ball rate. We'll see if this holds true in the future.
Hanson had a solid year nonetheless.
But considering the Braves success, his 10-11 record was surprising.
Hanson is expected to take another step up in his third big-league season, even though he's still pitching behind veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson.
The addition of Dan Uggla, and the hopefully healthy return of Nate McLouth, should improve the Braves offense.
If he finds an early groove and he gets some help, Hanson could find his way onto the National League All-Star roster. If not this year, then very soon.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw will turn 23 in a couple of weeks, but he already has 83 major-league starts under his belt.
Where Kershaw really shined was in the second half of last season. Over his final 100 innings, the stout 6'3", 225-pound lefty reduced his walk rate to just 2.8 batters per nine innings, showing a noticeable improvement in control.
He shrunk his strikeout rate slightly and allowed more balls in play, permitting himself to go deeper into starts. Over his last 15 games, Kershaw failed to pitch into the sixth inning just twice.
Pundits are projecting big things for Kershaw in 2011. They see his second-half improvement as a bold statement to what the future holds.
The Dodgers have also managed his innings well, and appear poised to really unleash the pitcher this season. A 220-inning season is within reach.
If Kershaw keeps improving, there is no doubt that he'll find his way to Arizona.
Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee Brewers
With Prince Fielder about to test free agency, the Brewers are completely in win-now mode.
In addition to trading a package of prospects for former AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, Milwaukee sent second-base prospect Brett Lawrie packing for Tommy John-recoveree Shaun Marcum.
Marcum missed all of 2009 after recovering from his September 2008 surgery. He rerturned in fine form in 2010, registering a 3.8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 191 innings, with 163 strikeouts.
Marcum did surrender 72 home runs during his last three full seasons in Toronto, however. The fact that he is a fly-ball pitcher could pose a problem in Miller Park.
There are also concerns about him potentially suffering another injury. Marcum spent time on the disabled list last season with inflammation in his pitching elbow.
If he can stay healthy, Marcum should be able to feast off of pitching behind two elite talents in Greinke and Yovani Gallardo.
He'll also enjoy the move to the more pitcher-friendly National League from perhaps baseball's toughest offensive division, the AL East.
He shouldn't have any problem getting run support. The wins he needs to get to the All-Star game will be there for the taking.
At the age of 30, it's now or never for Marcum.
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
McCutchen had a fine first half last season and he was considered by many to be an All-Star snub.
He finished strongly as well. Over 27 games and 95 at-bats in September, the Pirates sophomore center fielder showed a huge improvement in plate patience, walking six more times than he struck out, for a 17-to-9 ratio.
McCutchen also hit eight home runs over the final two months of the season, showing that his power stroke may be developing as well.
As he matures physically, it wouldn't be a surprise to see McCutchen hit 25 homers or more in his peak seasons.
With the ability to also steal 40 bases per year, he could become an extremely dangerous player in all facets of the game.
The power is still a year or two away. But if Andrew McCutchen's late-season improvement is any indication, the leader of the young Pirates should at least make the NL reserves this season.
His future is very bright.
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Any true college baseball fan could have told you how good of a pro Buster Posey would be.
The former Florida State Seminole batted .463 with a .566 on-base percentage during his junior year in over 257 at-bats.
He hit 21 doubles and 26 home runs, good for a .879 slugging percentage. This all added up to a staggering 1.445 OPS in perhaps the most competitive college baseball conference in the country.
Posey also walked 57 times with only 29 strikeouts. His BB-to-K rate was over one in the previous season as well, hitting .382 but with only three home runs.
Posey won the Golden Spikes award as college baseball's best player.
It really wasn't that much of a surprise when he also captured the National League Rookie of the Year Award this past season.
Had service time issues not delayed his call-up, Posey likely would have joined Jason Heyward on the National League's roster.
I doubt Posey's home-run power will improve all that much. But 40-45 and maybe 50-plus doubles is a very realistic per-season venture.
Of this list, Posey is most likely to make the most appearances.
He might already be the best hitting catcher in the National League.
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Max Scherzer is another young pitcher who has been victimized by poor, or untimely, run support from his offense.
The Mizzou product showed better consistency in 2010, but high pitch counts have kept his innings down.
Entering his age 26 season, it's time for Max Scherzer to take the next step.
He was well hyped for his strikeout numbers in the minor leagues. But now that he has experience, Scherzer should begin to increase his major-league rates.
He already stands at around one strikeout per inning with a walk every third. That's great command for a power pitcher.
A 42-to-11 ratio over 43 innings in September probably indicates his ceiling. Fifteen-plus wins and an ERA in the 3.25 range is certainly coming very soon.
Max Scherzer is an ace in the making.
Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
Shin-Soo Choo should have been an All-Star in 2010, but a thumb sprain on the 4th of July on an attempted diving catch sidelined the Korean star just before rosters were selected.
Poor timing indeed.
Choo returned and finished out the year strong. He hit .300 on the nose for the second-straight season, with a .401 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage.
For counting stats, he had 31 doubles and 22 home runs.
In 12 extra games (156 total) in 2009, Choo had 38 doubles, six triples and 20 home runs. He also stole 43 bases between the seasons and he was caught on just nine occasions.
At the age of 28, Shin-Soo is likely already at his peak.
There is nothing wrong with a reliable 20-20 corner outfielder who gets on base 40 percent of the time. But there is also nothing to suggest that he will continue to improve.
With two seasons of an established reputation, Shin-Soo Choo should be in the All-Star game in 2011.
A large extension is likely also in the works.
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
When the Nationals drafted relief pitcher Drew Storen with the 10th-overall pick in 2009 out of Stanford, they expected him to get to the major leagues quickly.
Over a year-and-a-half, Storen hit each level of the minor leagues from Single-A through Triple-A. He pitched 53.2 innings, registering 64 strikeouts and surrendering just 11 walks.
After 16 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2010, Washington decided he was ready.
Storen throws four pitches: a two-seam fastball in the mid 90s, a hard curve, a softer slider and a developing change-up.
His mix of pitches provides him with the ability to counter hitters of each hand.
This helped Storen to a solid 55-inning debut in 2010. He struck out 52 batters and walked 22.
Owning a 2.6-to-1 control ratio with around a strikeout per inning as a 23-year-old is impressive.
Storen will be given a fair shake to compete for the Nationals' closer role this spring. He is projected to win the job.
With the right opportunity, Drew Storen has enough talent to vault among the best in the business in the ninth inning.
That could happen as early as this season.
Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Rickie Weeks had a career year in 2010.
He hit 39 doubles with 29 home runs and recorded an .830 OPS. The Brewers rewarded him with a four-year, $38 million extension.
Much of Weeks' value stemmed from his ability to stay on the field. The injury-plagued second baseman stuck around for 160 games. He hadn't managed more than 129 in any previous season.
With a full slate of at-bats, Rickie Weeks showed us that he can be both an explosive hitter and a strikeout machine.
Weeks went down swinging or looking 184 times in 2010, good for third most in the majors. He did have at least 100 at-bats on both first-place finisher Mark Reynolds (211 in 499 trips) and second-place man Adam Dunn (199 in 558 trips), however.
It's easy to forget that the injury history prevented Weeks from finding a groove.
But it should also be alarming because players with bad injury pasts tend to get hurt again and again.
I wouldn't bet on Rickie Weeks making it through the 2011 season unscathed.
But if he can at least stay healthy in the first half, a strong 300 at-bat sample could land him in the All-Star game.