Picking MLB First-Time All-Stars: Red Sox, Padres Standouts Lead the Way (2024)

Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper … you know the All-Star Game locks. What makes the game so fascinating are the first-time All-Stars. Their journeys cover everything from announcing their arrival on the national stage for the start of an era (Adley Rutschman, 25 years old last year) to hot-shot rookies (Corbin Carroll, 22) to the oldest first-timer who turned out to be the game’s MVP (Elias Diaz, 32).

There were 33 first-time All-Stars last season. The record is 42 first timers in 2021, a record that could be challenged this year as the game increasingly is owned by younger players and as the injured lists fill.

Anybody can pick an obvious All-Star. The fun is in identifying the breakout and breakthrough players—young and old—that could be in Arlington, Texas, for the game on July 16. So here you go: All-Star teams made up entirely of players looking for their first Midsummer Classic selection.

Note: Statistics up to date heading into games on 7/1/24.

Catcher: Connor Wong, Red Sox, 28

The former Houston University shortstop gets the nod in a close race over Ryan Jeffers of the Twins and Cal Raleigh of the Mariners. Among AL catchers, only Rutschman of the Orioles has a higher WAR and a higher OPS+ than Wong.

Telling stat: Wong has a .908 OPS away from Fenway Park.

First Base: Josh Naylor, Guardians, 27

Winning a close call over Ryan Mountcastle of the Orioles, Naylor leads all AL first basem*n in home runs, RBIs and slugging. His 20 homers tie a career high.

Telling stat: Only two Cleveland first basem*n have hit 35 homers: Hal Trosky and Jim Thome.

Second base: Jordan Westburg, Orioles, 25

Westburg has played more games at third base (54) than second base (33), but he has enough innings at second to get the nod over another multi-position infielder, Isiah Kiner-Falefa of the Blue Jays.

Telling stat: Westburg has 24 two-strike RBIs. Only Jose Ramirez and Judge have more in the AL.

Shortstop: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles, 23

It’s hard not to pick Bobby Witt Jr. of the Royals, but the choice is clear. That’s how good Henderson has been. He leads all AL shortstops in home runs (26), RBIs (58), total bases (197) and WAR (6.1).

Telling stat: In his first 265 career games, Henderson reached 58 homers, 24 steals and 522 total bases. Only three others reached those thresholds that quickly: Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ryan Braun.

Third base: Josh Smith, Rangers, 26

What an amazing breakout year for Smith, who has seized his opportunity due to injuries with Texas infielders. A career .191 hitter entering this season, he leads AL third basem*n in WAR. He also has started 14 games at shortstop.

Telling stat: Smith is hitting .500 (23-for-46) and slugging .826 when he puts the first pitch into play.

Outfield: Jarren Duran, Red Sox, 27

Only Judge and Soto have a higher WAR among AL outfielders than Duran, who leads the league in doubles (23) and triples (10). Nobody has done that since Cesar Tovar in 1970.

Telling stat: Duran is on pace for a 40-40-20 season (doubles, steals and triples). That’s been done only five times, and not at all since Kiki Cuyler in 1925.

Outfield: Riley Greene, Tigers, 23

An all-fields hitter with patience, Greene has a steady, almost slump-proof approach and swing path at the plate.

Telling stat: Over the past two years, Greene has popped out only six times, the fewest of any hitter who has seen 3,000 or more pitches.

Outfield: Steven Kwan, Guardians, 26

It’s always been a joy to watch Kwan defend in the outfield, run the bases and put the ball in play. This year he has added more pop, with a .535 slugging percentage. The last qualified hitter in a full season to slug .500 with less than 50 strikeouts was Albert Pujols in 2006; Kwan may very well achieve that this season.

Telling stat: Kwan has seen 367 fastballs in the zone. He has swung and missed at only two of them.

Picking MLB First-Time All-Stars: Red Sox, Padres Standouts Lead the Way (1)

Starting Pitcher: Tanner Houck, Red Sox, 28

Houck is among the league leaders in ERA, ERA+, FIP and home run rate. He has obtained at least 17 outs in 16 of his 17 starts. He has been so efficient in providing that consistent length that he has walked only 17 batters while throwing 100 pitches just three times.

Telling stat: Including cutters, Houck has thrown only 33.1% fastballs, the lowest percentage among the 120 pitchers with 1,000 pitches.

Relief Pitcher: Mason Miller, A’s, 25

An outlier even in this age of high velocity, Miller is striking out 47% of the batters he faces while allowing just a .132 batting average.

Telling stat: He has thrown 265 pitches clocked at 100 mph or more—109 more than anybody else, and 93 more than any other team.

National League

Catcher: Patrick Bailey, Giants, 25

Bailey always has been a premier receiver. He ranks second among catchers in pop time and framing. This year he has blossomed into a solid hitter, improving his strikeout and walk rates and exit velocity by wide margins.

Telling stat: Bailey has the highest percentage of batted balls hit in the launch angle sweet spot in MLB (45.4% between eight and 32 degrees; minimum 150 batted balls).

First Base: Christian Walker, Diamondbacks, 33

Nobody on these First-Time All-Star teams has waited longer. Waived by the Orioles, Braves and Reds, Walker did not become an everyday player until age 28 in 2019. Since then, he has won two Gold Gloves and hit the sixth most home runs among all first basem*n.

Telling stat: Walker has 60 barrels this season, sixth most in MLB.

Second base: Brice Turang, Brewers, 24

A .218 hitter last year, Turang is one of the most improved players in baseball—hitting .292 this season. He has also stolen 28 bases in 32 attempts.

Telling stat: Turang is a .265 hitter with two strikes. In the NL, only Luis Arraez is better.

Shortstop: CJ Abrams, Nationals, 23

It’s close, but Abrams gets the nod over Elly De La Cruz of the Reds. Abrams edges De La Cruz in WAR, OPS, OPS+, RBI, hits and total bases.

Telling stat: Abrams is the best fastball hitter in MLB (.372).

Third base: Ryan McMahon, Rockies, 29

Only Matt Chapman has a higher WAR among NL third basem*n. And for teams interested in trading for McMahon, his home/road OPS splits are appealing, not concerning (.827 at home at Coors Field vs. .798 on the road), and he hits lefthanded pitching (.323). McMahon hits .253 with the bases empty and .296 with bases occupied. Oddly, he sees more four-seamers than any hitter (43.4%, while hitting .271 against them).

Telling stat: The sweet-swinging McMahon has hit only three pop-ups this year.

Picking MLB First-Time All-Stars: Red Sox, Padres Standouts Lead the Way (2)

Outfield: Jurickson Profar, Padres, 31

It’s been a strange career arc. Profar, once a top hitting prospect, has bounced from the Rangers to the A’s to the Padres to the Rockies and back to the Padres. He did not sign this year until Feb. 24. Suddenly he is an on-base machine who is hitting the ball harder than ever before in his life.

Telling stat: Profar’s average exit velocity has jumped from 86.5 mph last year to 90.4, the biggest jump in MLB.

Outfield: Jackson Merrill, Padres, 21

The rookie is tied for fifth among NL outfielders in homers, sixth in hits and eighth in total bases. He is the youngest player on these First-Time All-Star teams.

Telling stat: Merrill ranks in the 90th percentile in arm strength, expected slugging and baserunning. Only one other player has such a skill set: fellow rookie Colton Cowser of Baltimore.

Outfield: Brandon Nimmo, Mets, 31

Where have all the sluggers gone? NL outfielders are slugging .382, the lowest since the mound was lowered in 1969. With 13 home runs, Nimmo has more homers than any NL outfielder except Teoscar Hernandez, Tatis and Bryan Reynolds. His slash numbers are down from last year, but he’s good enough to get a spot here.

Telling stat: Because he lets the ball travel so deep, Nimmo sees a ton of fastballs (54.1%, ninth most, not including cutters) and doesn’t do much with them (.221). He’s better against off-speed and spin (.263).

Starting Pitcher: Ranger Suarez, Phillies, 28

In 16 starts Suarez is 10–2 with a league-leading 2.27 ERA and a strikeout to walk rate of 4.71:1. If the Philly ace is able to get those numbers back to an ERA below 2.00 and a 5:1 strikeout to walk rate, he would join quite the elite club. Since Sandy Koufax in 1963, only six qualified pitchers in a full season posted a sub-2.00 ERA with five times as many strikeouts as walks: Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander.

Telling stat: Until giving up a home run to the Marlins’ Bryan De La Cruz on Sunday, Suarez had not allowed a long ball on a four-seamer since Sept. 3, 2023. His command on the pitch is so good that batters barely hit above .200 against it over that span.

Relief Pitcher: Robert Suarez, Padres, 33

Suarez was working construction and playing semipro ball in Venezuela when a buddy suggested the Mexican League paid decent money. So in 2015, at age 24, he became a professional for the first time. He pitched in Mexico and Japan before, at age 31, he signed with his first major league organization, the Padres. Rewarded last year with a three-year, $30 million deal, Suarez has become a bargain.

Telling stat: Suarez has thrown 78% four-seam fastballs—and batters are hitting .165 against them.

Picking MLB First-Time All-Stars: Red Sox, Padres Standouts Lead the Way (2024)
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