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Imagining a 2015 MLB All-Star Freshman vs. Sophomore Game

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2015

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Imagine, for a moment, Joc Pederson squaring off against Masahiro Tanaka. Or Jose Abreu versus Noah Syndergaard.

We're not talking about interleague action here and certainly not spring training. Rather, we're conjuring a tantalizing hypothetical: What if MLB held an annual freshman vs. sophomore game during the All-Star break similar to the format the NBA has used at times for its Rising Stars Challenge?

Before we launch into this particular thought exercise, let's establish some ground rules.

First, we'll structure it as a pure first-year against second-year players affair, with only guys who have spent time on a big league roster eligible to participate. And we'll look for positional balance, meaning each roster must contain enough players spread across the diamond to make a game work.

Second, we'll limit the rosters to the traditional 25 men because even if we expanded them, this game will almost surely never happen. Managers and front offices are simply too protective of their young studs to let them play in a glorified exhibition preceding the other glorified exhibition.

If the universe were a fair and balanced place, however, we'd get this game, particularly considering the influx of talent that has recently flooded the sport.

New York Mets phenom Noah Syndergaard could start the game for the rookie squad.
New York Mets phenom Noah Syndergaard could start the game for the rookie squad.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press/Associated Press

"You look around the league, it seems like every team has a high-end prospect in the lineup right now," Minnesota Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said, per the Star Tribune's Phil Miller (h/t Gregg Patton of the National). "Guys are coming up fast."

The bottom line: Baseball is stuffed with budding stars. Why not pit them against each other to see who shines the brightest?

The Rosters

OK, so the commissioner has agreed, the rules have been outlined, and the stage is set. Which players earn slots on the rookie and sophomore squads?

To begin, we'll consider guys who are injured and/or have been demoted (this is a parallel world, after all). We'll also make picks based as much on potential as output, since some of these players have only sipped a cup of coffee so far.

So Blake Swihart—the Boston Red Sox's No. 1 prospect at the end of last season, per Baseball Americagets the starting nod behind the dish, even though he's hit just .241 in 133 big league at-bats.

And Joey Gallo cracks the starting lineup as well, even though he whiffed 43 times in 98 plate appearances with the Texas Rangers before being sent back to Triple-A. Because, well, his ability to bash baseballs is impossible to resist.

Joey Gallo was a strikeout machine in his brief big league debut, but he also flashed awe-inspiring power.
Joey Gallo was a strikeout machine in his brief big league debut, but he also flashed awe-inspiring power.Jim Cowsert/Associated Press/Associated Press

Which brings us to another caveat: We want this game to be competitive, but we're also angling for entertainment value. So guys like Gallo and Byron Buxton, who haven't proved much at the highest level, get in because they're the elite, hyped prospects fans want to see.

On the sophomore side, we can look a little harder at MLB numbers, but even there we're prioritizing star wattage and potential over achievement, though if you've got both, all the better.

Alright, enough preamble. On to the rosters:

Rookie Team

C Blake Swihart (BOS)

1B Justin Bour (MIA)

2B Addison Russell (CHC)

3B Kris Bryant (CHC)

SS Carlos Correa (HOU)

LF Joey Gallo (TEX)

CF Joc Pederson (LAD)

RF Byron Buxton (MIN)

Pitchers: Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Carlos Rodon (CWS), Chris Heston (SF), Nate Karns (TB), Andrew Heaney (LAA), Steven Matz (NYM), Kendall Graveman (OAK), Michael Blazek (MIL), Carson Smith (SEA), Roberto Osuna (TOR), Hunter Strickland (SF)

Bench: Maikel Franco, 3B (PHI); Francisco Lindor, SS (CLE); Matt Duffy, 3B (SF); Yasmany Tomas, OF/3B (ARI); Jorge Soler, OF (CHC); James McCann, C (DET)

Sophomore Team

Joe Panik proved his big-game ability during last season's World Series run.
Joe Panik proved his big-game ability during last season's World Series run.Ben Margot/Associated Press/Associated Press

C Travis d'Arnaud (NYM)

1B Jose Abreu (CWS)

2B Joe Panik (SF)

3B Brock Holt (BOS)

SS Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

LF David Peralta (ARI)

CF Mookie Betts (BOS)

RF George Springer (HOU)

Pitchers: Masahiro Tanaka (NYY); Jacob deGrom (NYM); Jake Odorizzi (TB); Yordano Ventura (KC); Trevor Bauer (CLE); Carlos Martinez (STL); Collin McHugh (HOU); Taijuan Walker (SEA); Dellin Betances (NYY); Jeurys Familia (NYM); Ken Giles (PHI)

Bench: Kolten Wong, 2B (STL); Billy Hamilton, OF (CIN); Kevin Kiermaier, OF (TB); Marcus Semien, INF (OAK); C.J. Cron, 1B (LAA); Josmil Pinto, C (MIN)

Who Wins?

We're treading into the realm of pure guesswork now. And again, we're allowing players dealing with injuries to compete, so let's assume everyone is healthy and fully available.

Who takes this game if it's staged tomorrow?

Let's say Tanaka starts for the sophomores and Syndergaard for the rookies. Advantage Tanaka, who, when right, is one of the filthiest pitchers alive and a veteran to boot, with more than 1,300 innings under his belt in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.

Masahiro Tanaka may be a second-year big league pitcher, but he's a veteran of Japanese pro baseball.
Masahiro Tanaka may be a second-year big league pitcher, but he's a veteran of Japanese pro baseball.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press/Associated Press

So Tanaka holds the rookies scoreless for the first few frames while the sophomores scratch across a couple of runs on a timely hit by Joe Panik, who proved his big-game mettle during last season's World Series run with San Francisco.

That gets it to the bullpen, where the sophomores have a string of excellent arms, capped by Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia, ready and waiting to slam the door.

With so much thump, however, let's assume the rookies manage to launch one. Joc Pederson seems as good a candidate as any with his swing-from-the-heels approach, or it could be Gallo the preternatural powerhouse, or, naturally, Kris Bryant.

So it'll be a close game, competitive and exciting throughout. 

In the end, though, we'll give the edge to the sophomores because of their pitching depth, experience and the weapons on their bench, including Billy Hamilton, whose speed can change games, quite literally, in the blink of an eye.

The point, of course, is that you'd eagerly watch this contest and maybe even rewind the DVR and watch it again.

MLB is blessed with an embarrassment of up-and-coming riches, young stars who will thrill fans and shape the sport for years to come.

In fact, as Miller noted June 20, "of Baseball America's preseason ranking of the game's 20 best prospects, 13 are now in the major leagues, including nine of the top 12."

They're here; the rookie invasion is real and unstoppable. And there are some gifted second-year guys who could give them one heck of a game.

All statistics current as of July 8 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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