Sneaky Good MLB Players Seeking 1st All-Star Game Appearance in 2022

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 14, 2022

Sneaky Good MLB Players Seeking 1st All-Star Game Appearance in 2022

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    Is this the year that 2021 NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario finally makes an All-Star roster?
    Is this the year that 2021 NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario finally makes an All-Star roster?Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    In 2021, a record-setting 40 players were selected to Major League Baseball's All-Star Game for the first time.

    It's still absurdly early to think about mid-July, but we've assembled a list of 10 sneaky good (and in a few cases, perhaps better than that), well-established players who could join that first timers' club in 2022.

    One important note before we dive in: We are only interested in players who have spent a semi-significant portion of at least three previous seasons in the big leagues. Rookies such as Seiya Suzuki and Bobby Witt Jr. were out of the running. Even 2021 Rookies of the Year Randy Arozarena and Jonathan India were not eligible.

    Rather, consider this a "How has that guy never been an All-Star?" All-Star team, solely featuring guys who might finally break that drought this season.

    One more pre-dive note: only one player per team. As a result of this arbitrary maximum, guys such as Willy Adames, Framber Valdez and Rhys Hoskins were considered but ultimately omitted because a teammate was a better candidate.

    Players are listed in no particular order, aside from oscillating between the American League and the National League.

Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros

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    Houston's Kyle Tucker
    Houston's Kyle TuckerDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

    For my fellow fantasy baseball addicts, there's nothing sneaky about Kyle Tucker's talent. After a 2021 campaign in which he hit .294, swatted 30 home runs and stole 14 bases, the No. 5 pick in the 2015 draft was going top-15 across the board in fantasy drafts one week ago.

    That's one heck of a lot of faith in a player who has yet to be named to an All-Star team, but that's only still the case because he got out to such a slow start last season. At the beginning of play on Mother's Day (May 9), Tucker was hitting .175 with five home runs and was seemingly on the brink of losing his job as an everyday starter.

    From that point forward, though, he hit .329 with 25 dingers. And he has already more than picked up where he left off, hitting two home runs in the Houston Astros' second game of the seasonthe first multi-homer contest of his MLB career.

    However, the Astros still have Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley, not to mention a loaded rotation featuring ageless wonder Justin Verlander. That makes it tough for Tucker to get the type of national acclaim he deserves. And it doesn't help matters that in his big opportunity to make a name for himself, he hit a modest 6-for-21 with no runs batted in during the 2021 World Series loss to the Atlanta Braves.

    Tucker's star is on the rise, though, and he should be a part of this year's Midsummer Classic.

Kyle Hendricks, SP, Chicago Cubs

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    Chicago's Kyle Hendricks
    Chicago's Kyle HendricksGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Tim Salmon is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to have never been selected to an All-Star Game, and he finished his career worth 35.4 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.

    Well, if Kyle Hendricks (22.4 fWAR) pitches for another four or five productive years without making it to a Midsummer Classic, he may well supplant Salmon at the top of that list.

    2021 was not a banner year for Hendricks, but he had a career 3.12 ERA in the seven seasons prior to allowing the most hits (200) among all pitchers last season.

    Most notably, he won the ERA title in 2016 (2.13) and was even more dominant during the postseason (1.42) while helping to lead the Chicago Cubs to that long-awaited World Series title.

    However, at the end of that June, teammates Jon Lester (2.03) and Jake Arrieta (2.10) both had a better ERA than Hendricks (2.76), so they got the nod over him for the All-Star Game. And then the following year, Hendricks both started out a bit poorly and was sidelined for nearly two months by an injury in early June, so he didn't even get the "belated" honor of the ASG appearance the year after the real All-Star season.

    There's still time, though. He's only 32, after all.

    Rookie sensation Seiya Suzuki is the early odds-on favorite to represent Chicago this summer. But if the 102-loss Rangers could get three guys in last year, surely there's enough room for a second Cubbie.

Franmil Reyes, DH, Cleveland Guardians

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    Cleveland's Franmil Reyes
    Cleveland's Franmil ReyesDarryl Webb/Associated Press

    Seventeen players have hit at least 30 home runs in each of 2019 and 2021, most of whom are multiple-time All-Stars with names that are well-known in households across North America. We're talking Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, Jose Altuve, Nolan Arenado, etc.

    But one of the lesser-known names on that list is the Cleveland Guardians' Franmil Reyes.

    Reyes originally signed with the San Diego Padres as a 16-year-old in 2011, and he quickly made a significant impact when he got to the big leagues seven years later. In 186 games played with the Padres, the then-right fielder clubbed 43 home runs and batted .266 with an .844 OPS.

    However, right as it was starting to look like he could be a key building block, he was dealt to Cleveland as part of the Trevor Bauer/Yasiel Puig trade at the July 2019 deadline.

    Since then, he has been the Guardians' primary DH. Reyes only played in 115 games last season because of an oblique strain, but he still managed to hit 30 home runs with 85 runs batted in. The then-25-year-old slugger also flashed some speed that he's previously not shown in MLB. He had two triples and four stolen bases in 2021 after none of either in the previous three seasons.

Ranger Suarez, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Philadelphia's Ranger Suarez
    Philadelphia's Ranger SuarezLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    In the past century of Major League Baseball, there have been 12,111 instances of a pitcher logging at least 100 innings in a season. And in 2021, Ranger Suarez became just the fifth pitcher (first since Bruce Sutter in 1977) to reach that 100-inning plateau with an ERA below 1.40.

    What is perhaps most impressive about that dominance is that it didn't matter if he was pitching in the first, fifth or ninth inning. He had a sub-2.50 ERA in every frame, although he was particularly lights-out in the sixth (11.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 13.0 K/BB).

    Suarez missed most of the 2020 campaign after contracting COVID-19 right before that season began and then didn't make his 2021 MLB debut until early May as a middle reliever. He proceeded to allow just one unearned run in his first 20.1 innings, quickly blossoming into one of the Philadelphia Phillies' most (only?) trustworthy relievers.

    After Hector Neris lost the job, Suarez became Philadelphia's primary closer in July until the club traded for Ian Kennedy. At that point, Suarez made the rarely seen midseason shift from closer to starter. And over the subsequent 12 starts, he posted a 1.51 ERA.

    No one is realistically expecting a repeat of the 1.36 ERA Suarez recorded during his 106.0 innings, but it's plenty realistic to expect this left-handed starter to play a key role in leading the Phillies to their first NL East division crown since 2011. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are the well-known aces of the staff, but Suarez will play a strong third fiddle.

Alex Verdugo, OF, Boston Red Sox

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    Boston's Alex Verdugo
    Boston's Alex VerdugoDustin Satloff/Getty Images

    Alex Verdugo will forever be the guy the Boston Red Sox got for sending Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, but perhaps this will be the year the 25-year-old outfielder really starts to make a name for himself beyond that (in)famous February 2020 trade.

    To his credit, Verdugo's bat has been solid, as he's hit at least .289 in each of the past three seasons. Like Seattle's Ty France, he doesn't hit many home runs31 total in 1,202 plate appearances from 2019 to 2021—but he has a bit of a "Michael Brantley Lite" thing going on with his ability to hit for average.

    Verdugo has also been a strong presence in the field for the Red Sox. He can play any of the three outfield spots, though left field is his bread and butter. He made one error in 119 chances in left in 2021, navigating the Green Monster better than many who came before him.

    Now, if he could just figure out how to combine his .320 batting average against left-handed pitchers in 2020 with his .321 batting average against right-handed pitchers in 2021, Dugie would be a no-brainer All-Star for years.

Devin Williams, RP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Milwaukee's Devin Williams
    Milwaukee's Devin WilliamsNuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

    Does the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year seriously count as "sneaky" good?

    Well, probably not. However, this is Devin Williams' third full season in the majors and fourth overall, and he hasn't been named an All-Star yet, so he counts for this list. Also, he's a middle reliever for the small-market Milwaukee Brewers, and he won that ROY during a pandemic-shortened season in front of no fans. That's not exactly a formula for achieving household-name status.

    Williams is certainly worthy of it, though.

    Among the 407 pitchers to log at least 90 innings from 2019 to 2021, his 14.64 K/9 rate ranks fourth-best, trailing only Aroldis Chapman (14.69), Craig Kimbrel (14.86) and teammate Josh Hader (15.91).

    In that same subset of 407 pitchers, Williams also has the fourth-lowest ERA at 2.09. Only Jacob deGrom (2.08), Liam Hendriks (2.08) and Emmanuel Clase (1.55) have been tougher to score against.

    Over the past two seasons, Williams has racked up 32 holds and 12 wins with just three blown saves. (Milwaukee still ended up winning two of the games in which he blew the lead in the eighth inning.) He has been arguably the most valuable setup man in the league, and there's little question he would be the primary closer for at least 20 different franchises.

    Getting two relievers from the same team into the All-Star Game doesn't happen all that often, but the Brewers did it in 2018 with Hader and Jeremy Jeffress. Williams and Hader should do it this year.

Frankie Montas, SP, Oakland Athletics

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    Oakland's Frankie Montas
    Oakland's Frankie MontasJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Oakland Athletics' "frugal" approach to this season has been a frequent talking point in recent weeks. But even though the A's pay their entire team roughly what the New York Mets are paying Max Scherzer, they're still going to send a player to the Midsummer Classic, and Frankie Montas is as good a bet as any.

    Montas finished sixth in the 2021 AL Cy Young vote, boasting a 3.37 ERA (and an identical FIP) while averaging a shade under 10 K/9.

    It wasn't until the second half of the season that he really started humming, though.

    From July 8 through the end of the year, 13 of his 15 starts were of the quality variety (six or more innings; three or fewer earned runs), and he fired at least six strikeouts in all but one of those 15 games. Opponents hit just .199 against him, and he had a 2.11 ERA during that stretch of nearly three months.

    That wasn't his first dominant half-season run, either. Prior to testing positive for ostarine and serving an 80-game suspension, Montas was 9-2 with a 2.70 ERA through his first 15 starts in 2019. He probably wouldn't have started the All-Star Game, but he was surely well on his way to a spot on the roster.

    Better late than never, though. If he can bounce back from a bit of a rough first outing (5 ER in 5.0 IP vs. Philadelphia), there's a good chance he'll represent the A's this year.

David Peralta, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Arizona's David Peralta
    Arizona's David PeraltaMatt York/Associated Press

    Most of the guys on this list are still in their mid- to late 20syoung enough that further improvement upon recent success can reasonably be expected but not yet experienced enough to have gotten the national attention necessary to become an All-Star.

    David Peralta is an exception. The 2018 Silver Slugger recipient and 2019 Gold Glove winner turns 35 in August, but he is still searching for that elusive first invitation to the Midsummer Classic.

    A .285 career hitter who homers once every 35 trips to the plate and doesn't steal many bags, Peralta reminds me of former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who was an All-Star in 2010 and 2011.

    Except Ethier was more durable, and the injury bug (and the Arizona Diamondbacks' general irrelevance over the past decade) is largely to blame for Peralta's lack of fame. He hit .312 with 17 home runs in 2015, but he only played in 48 games the following year. And then after batting .293 with 30 dingers in 2018, he missed 63 games in 2019.

    So, maybe it's foolish to bank on a guy finally staying healthy in his mid-30s. But similar to Montas, Peralta benefits from the "Well, someone from that likely last-place team still has to go to the All-Star Game" factor. Eduardo Escobar represented the D-backs last year, but the slugging third baseman is with the Mets now.

    It might finally be Peralta's time to shine.

Ty France, 1B, Seattle Mariners

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    Seattle's Ty France
    Seattle's Ty FranceCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Say this much for Ty France: The man can get on base.

    In 2019 while still in San Diego's organization, France hit .399 in 296 at-bats for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas. During the abridged 2020 season, he batted .309 with the Padres and .302 with the Seattle Mariners. And last season, he led the M's with a .291 batting average and tied for the MLB lead with 27 hit-by-pitches.

    There's not a ton of pop in his bat, but 18 home runs in 2021 is nothing to sneeze at. At any rate, he spent most of the season at either No. 2, 3 or 4 in Seattle's batting order, and it's not like opponents were pitching around Kyle Seager or Mitch Haniger to get to France.

    In addition to being one of the more reliable hitters in the game, France is a major asset on defense. In 915.0 innings at first base last season, he was charged with just one error, which came on a dropped foul ball.

    What's a little comical about that work with the glove is France was predominantly a third baseman throughout college and the minors, played a grand total of 37 innings at first base in 89 games with the Padres and spending most of the 2020 season as a DH. Yet, out of nowhere, he easily could have won a Gold Glove at first base in 2021.

    Haniger and Robbie Ray are perhaps the top candidates to represent Seattle at the All-Star Game, but France is a mighty fine option if his 2022 season is anything like his 2021.

Eddie Rosario, OF, Atlanta Braves

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    Atlanta's Eddie Rosario
    Atlanta's Eddie RosarioIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Based on the 2021 NLCS alone, it's difficult to believe that Eddie Rosario has never been an All-Star. In that six-game series against the Dodgers, he triple-slashed .560/.607/1.040 with three home runs and nine runs batted in.

    He was quite good long before that too.

    As a rookie in 2015, Rosario had an MLB-best 15 triples to go along with 13 home runs and 11 stolen bases. And then from 2017 to 2019, he hit .284, averaging 28 home runs and 88 runs batted in per season (32 HR and 100 RBI per 162 games).

    Rosario received AL MVP votes in both 2019 and 2020, but somehow, even playing for a 101-win Twins club in 2019 wasn't enough to get him on the ASG radar. (Had there been an All-Star Game in 2020, though, Rosario surely would've made the cut that year, one season after racking up 32 HR and 109 RBI and while with the Twins in the midst of back-to-back AL Central titles.)

    After his heroics last postseason, though, the right fielder for the reigning World Champion Atlanta Braves is bound to get more attention, right?

    For his sake, here's hoping a slow start doesn't cause people to forget about last October. Rosario is just 1-for-17 at the dish through his first five games. But if and when he gets back into a groove, a long overdue trip to the Midsummer Classic should follow.