THE STARS ARE COMING OUT TO PLAY

MY AMERICAN AMERICAN LEAGUE ALL-STAR TEAM

Every year at this time I have the same debate with myself.  The good thing is I always win. But I always lose, too.

When All-Star voting comes around I am usually conflicted. I have a choice to make.  Do I select the players by thinking the most important component is to win the game?  Do I select the players that I think most deserve to be voted on the team based upon one-half season of performance?

Bud Selig rewarded the winner of the All-Star Game with home-field advantage in the World Series. That is no longer the case under the new commissioner.  The new collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners states the team with the best overall regular season record will have home-field advantage in the World Series.

A pool of money is an incentive now for the league to win the All-Star Game.

Regardless of the stakes of the game, each league wants to win the mid-season showdown against their rival league. Pride is involved.

Often a player having a tremendous half season is voted to the All-Star Game only to fizzle down the stretch. While the same can be said for an iconic traditional all-star player, chances of a late season collapse are relatively rare with the proven stars.

So here, based on their results in the first half of the season are my choices for the American League All-Star team. The roster will include 34 players.  These are the guys I think deserve to represent their league based upon their record at the halfway point of the season.

CATCHER: GARY SANCHEZ-NEW YORK YANKEES

Plenty of people have been critical of what they perceive to be a decline this season in Sanchez’ defense.  That may be true.   However, the case has also been made that his body is being battered by an unusual amount of bruises that are impacting his mobility.  That may or may not be true.

The fact is the guy has a lethal line drive bat. Once he shows he can sustain his current home run pace, he will join the ranks of Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle and Miguel Cabrera regarding the impact the ball has coming off his bat.  Yes, I want to win the game. Yes, I think Sanchez is the best catcher in the American League and deserves to start and play most of the game.

Do I like Sal Perez?  You bet.  And he’s an outstanding player. But I think Gary Sanchez is just a different breed of cat. He’s the guy I don’t want to face if I’m the opposing pitcher. I think I can face Sal Perez. Sanchez is different. Give me Sanchez and I’ll live with his defense behind the plate. And by the way, I think his defense is better than indicated by some.

FIRST BASE: JUSTIN SMOAK-TORONTO BLUE JAYS

I had a tough time deciding between Justin Smoak and Yonder Alonso for the honor of representing the American League at first base. Both are having terrific seasons.  So are Logan Morrison and Eric Hosmer. But this season, where there’s Smoak there’s fire. He’s on fire.

I chose Smoak. But it was thisclose.  As of this writing, Smoak has hit 21 home runs.  The most he had ever hit in his major-league career was 20 in 2013 when he played for Seattle. He drove in 50 runs that season. He already has 49 RBIs in only 260 at bats. If he stays healthy, he has another 250 at-bats remaining.

Smoak is an outstanding first basemen. In his entire career, he has made 31 errors in 6763 chances. That’s amazing. It’s also time to honor Mr. Smoak with his well-earned place as a starting All-Star.

Like Smoak, Alonso has reinvented himself. He has never hit more than nine home runs a season.  That was in 2012 when he hit nine for San Diego. As of this writing, he has 17 with 38 RBIs for Oakland.

It was close, but Smoak gets my vote.

Miguel Cabrera’s swing is lethal. I have seen great right-handed power hitters in my time.  In the past 20 years, Miggy is right in the mix with Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle.  In the past, Richie Allen of the Phillies and White Sox hit the hardest line drives I had ever seen. Cabrera, Ramirez and Belle are almost there with him. Soon Sanchez may be, too. Cabrera? He’s scary good when he’s good.

This year we are not seeing the same Miggy we have seen in the past. He has only ten home runs and 38 RBIs.  But wait.

By the end of the year, it would not surprise if Cabrera doesn’t check in with his usual 30 home run season.  Yes, I want him on my team. But I can’t have him this year.

Jose Altuve

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

SECOND BASE: JOSE ALTUVE-HOUSTON ASTROS

There are few players in the game today with the skill set of Jose Altuve. Not only can he hit for average and for power, he can steal bases, bunt for a sacrifice or a base hit and play a very solid second base.

At a position that has tremendous depth with players like Starlin Castro, Jonathan Schoop, Robbie Cano and Brian Dozier among their ranks, Altuve is a guy I want on my club. He’s a spark plug. He’s a table-setter. He’s a dynamo. And he’s a winner.

If I had to abandon Altuve and choose a backup for him, that might be Cano.  He’s just dangerous. Always. He can take the ball out of the park with a sweet swing and his defense is smooth and almost flawless.  But Altuve gets the nod.

SHORTSTOP:  CARLOS CORREA-HOUSTON ASTROS

Am I nuts? I actually considered making Didi Gregorius my All-Star starter?  Well, I’ll get to that.  First Correa.

We are beginning to see what Correa brings to the Astros. And to baseball. The guy can flat out hit. He hits for power and he hits for average. He’s the man. Correa is a very tough out. He will make a pitcher pay if the pitcher makes a mistake. He has such natural ability that he makes playing baseball look very easy. His movements are natural. His swing is refined and fine.

He’ll be an All-Star for years.

Gregorius is an incredible shortstop. He has to be seen every game to be properly appreciated. On defense, the ball disappears in his glove due to his soft, smooth hands. His range is fabulous. His arm is very, very strong.  He’s a better defensive shortstop than Correa.  And surprise-Gregorius is learning how to hit. He is hitting for power and average. And ultimately, we’ll see him steal bases.

By the way, I think Correa would be a better third baseman than shortstop.

Jose Ramirez

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

THIRD BASEMAN: JOSE RAMIREZ-CLEVELAND INDIANS

I don’t think there’s a better third baseman so far this season than Jose Ramirez.  Manny Machado?  No. Not so far. He just hasn’t hit in the clutch like Ramirez.  Ramirez has almost single-handedly pushed his team to the top of their division.  At times Ramirez was the only Indians player getting on base and driving in runs.  Now perhaps Edwin Encarnacion is starting to help. Michael Brantley is working himself back. Ramirez has been as steady as steady can be all year long. Last year, too.

But Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre has something about him that makes me gravitate to him every single time I think of All-Star third basemen. He’s a winner. He’s a fabulous hitter and a Gold Glove third baseman. He’s a Hall of Famer. He just hit is 450th home run.  That’s my guy in a must win game. But for this year, hats off to Jose Ramirez.  I can’t find room for Beltre and it makes me kind of sad.

OUTFIELDERS:

MIKE TROUT-LOS ANGELES ANGELS (injured)

To my way of thinking, Mike Trout remains the best player in baseball.  He was injured sliding into second base on a stolen base attempt, making it impossible for him to play in the All-Star Game.  In his place, I would add George Springer of the Houston Astros.

AARON JUDGE-NEW YORK YANKEES

Judge doesn’t quite have the track record or longevity that we have seen from veterans that may be considered for the All-Star outfield. But he is on his way to superstardom.  He has learned how to take pitches to the opposite field and is more than a slugger. He is a professional hitter. Already.  He and Trout are my twin American League poster players that should be celebrated by Major League Baseball.

AVISAIL GARCIA-CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Avisail Garcia has become what many had hoped he could be.  He is a solid hitter with improving plate discipline and a true sense of the strike zone. He has flashed power along with a very solid batting average and he deserves a role as a starting outfielder.  He is a possibility to fade in the second half. So far, “little Miggy” is having a wonderful All-Star quality year. I hope he can keep it up.  I do, however, feel he is a fade candidate.

George Springer

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

GEORGE SPRINGER-HOUSTON ASTROS

George Springer replaces Trout for me by a tad versus Mookie Betts.  Springer can beat the opposition with a long double to the gaps, a home run or a stolen base that sets up a game winner.  He’s a dangerous hitter, a good defender and he’s having an All-Star season. He would have been my 4th outfielder with Betts 5th.  But believe me, Betts has every tool I want in my All-Star outfielder. He made my team as a bench player. But he really is an All-Star starter type player.

DESIGNATED HITTER: TREY MANCINI-BALTIMORE ORIOLES

When I saw Mancini in Orioles spring training, I thought he should be an everyday player for Baltimore. The guy has outstanding power, a good eye at the plate and he makes solid, hard contact. He can play first base and the outfield.  He’s a natural hitter.

Mancini can give me home run power from the right side of the plate. If the opposition insists on throwing a left-handed pitcher, Mancini is ready, willing and very able to take the ball deep.

Nelson Cruz has made himself into a very reliable and consistent power hitter. He can be called upon to deliver a clutch hit, a trait that isn’t always possible with sluggers.

I prefer Cruz to Mancini, but I’ll take either. And believe me, the Rays Corey Dickerson got serious consideration from me. He’s now becoming the type of hitter I raved about as many as three seasons ago. So even though I prefer Cruz, I give the nod to Mancini this year, but Cruz and Dickerson are both on my bench.

BENCH

Mookie Betts (OF)

Corey Dickerson-Rays (OF)

Marwin Gonzalez-Astros- (multiple positions)

Starlin Castro-Yankees (2B)

Xander Boegarts-Red Sox (SS)

Didi Gregorius Yankees (SS)

Miguel Sano Twins (3B)

Salvador Perez Royals (C)

Yonder Alonso Athletics (1B)

Nelson Cruz-Mariners (OF)

Robbie Cano-Mariners (2B)

PITCHING STAFF

Chris Sale-Red Sox

Dallas Keuchel-Astros (injured and to be replaced by…

Ervin Santana-Twins

Jose Berrios-Twins

Corey Kluber-Indians

Lance McCullers-Astros

Jason Vargas-Royals

Craig Kimbrel-Red Sox

Chris Devenski-Astros

Roberto Osuna-Blue Jays

Brandon Kintzler-Twins

Andrew Miller-Indians

Luis Severino-Yankees

Michael Fulmer-Tigers

Aroldis Chapman-Yankees

STARTING LINEUP

SPRINGER-RF

ALTUVE-2B

CORREA-SS

JUDGE-LF

RAMIREZ-3B

SANCHEZ-C

SMOAK-1B

MANCINI-DH

GARCIA-CF

SALE-P

BUNTS

I had a chance to attend the annual Society for American Baseball Research convention this past week in New York City. Our editor, Doug Hall joined me and we sat in on some outstanding panels.

Among the most interesting topics at the convention was a panel on the manner in which metrics is changing baseball. Of course, there are differing views on the subject.

Here are some of the questions that have no true answer but have generated plenty of opinions.  You may wish to ask yourself—

Is the baseball itself being constructed in the same manner as previous years, or is the ball being “juiced?”  Is it a livelier ball?

Is that why there are so many home runs being hit?

Do you like this long ball game or do you miss seeing singles?

Do you believe the defensive “shift” is good or bad for baseball?

Are there too many strikeouts for your taste?

If yes, should the mound be lowered?

Is the strike zone too inconsistent?

Should we have automated robot umpires for balls and strikes?

Is the game of baseball, as we know it, in trouble due to high strikeouts, high home run rates and not enough balls in play?

Are the games too long to keep you engaged?

NEXT WEEK: My National League All-Star Team

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. In addition to his BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD column, he's a scout/analyst for FanRag Sports.com. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff