The All-Star Game will be played July 19 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and tomorrow we should hear who will be voted in as starters for the American and National League. We’re a long way away from the days when Royals fans stuffed the ballots for their boys in blue, and the Royals can likely expect just one obligatory player representative to the Midsummer Classic.
Who will be the Royals’ rep when complete rosters are announced July 10? With Salvador Perez out with injury, and Whit Merrifield not hitting well, we will likely see someone getting their first All-Star appearance. Here are the leading candidates.
Assembling a pitching staff for the All-Star Game is always difficult because of the schedules of starting pitchers. Those that throw on the Sunday or even Saturday before the exhibition game will bow out, leaving the league to scramble for replacements. An easy solution has been to rely more on relievers, who should be fresh for the game. And one of the best relievers in the American League the last few years is Scott Barlow.
It would be nice to see Barlow rewarded for coming out of nowhere to emerge as one of the best in the league. Since 2018, only 12 relievers in all of baseball have been more valuable, according to Fangraphs. Barlow’s numbers have dropped slightly this year, but his 2.39 ERA is still very solid, among the top 25 among AL relievers. If you still care about saves (does anyone still care about saves?) he is eighth in the league in that category. All-Star skippers always need more bullpen arms, so don’t be surprised if the long-haired reliever from KC gets the call.
Benny seems like the most logical choice. He got off to a terrific start and has been on fire lately, hitting .375/.452/.458 over his last 19 games. He is fourth in the league in batting average at .316 in an age when anything over .300 seems amazing. His 129 wRC+ is tenth among American League outfielders that qualify for the batting title. He is the reigning Gold Glove winner in left field and is tenth among American League outfielders with 1.8 fWAR.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has Benintendi in his All-Star selections in a column today, and it seems like the most likely choice at this point. What would hurt Benny is that he is not a traditional power-hitting outfielder, and there are a lot of sluggers in American League outfields right now. Aaron Judge has already secured a starting spot, and Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton are leading the vote to start with him. Kyle Tucker, Byron Buxton, Julio Rodriguez will all likely get roster spots, leaving Benny to jostle for a spot with guys like George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Plus there may be other teams that need a rep like the Orioles with Austin Hays. Still, Benny is having a terrific season and should be headed to LA for his first All-Star appearance.
Okay, so Zack is not one of the top pitchers in the American League. He has been solid, but unspectacular with a 4.85 ERA and just 0.5 fWAR. But there is a clause in the new labor deal that allows MLB to add a player to the All-Star roster based on their career accomplishments, regardless of how they have fared in the current season. This is to honor “legends” of the game, to give fans one more chance to see Albert Pujols in the All-Star Game.
Could that honor go to Zack Greinke in the American League? The 38-year-old could be headed to Cooperstown someday, and it would be delightful to see him throw his slow eephus-like curveball to awaiting hitters. And it would have the added benefit of giving the Royals their player rep. Still, being honored like this doesn’t seem like something Zack would go for. He has been to six All-Star games and participated in four, but seems reluctant to be in the spotlight. Maybe he’d participate if they let him hit in the Home Run Derby?
Bobby Witt Jr. has gotten more attention, but the Royals rookie with the best offensive numbers is actually MJ Melendez. Despite not getting called up until May 1, Melendez has shown a mature approach to the plate, and his 26 walks are already fourth on the club. His 110 wRC+ is fourth among all American League catchers with at least 200 plate appearances and he already has the sixth-most home runs among AL catchers with nine.
The catching position is not deep in the American League. Alejandro Kirk of the Blue Jays is the leading vote-getter at catcher. Jonah Heim of the Rangers is having a solid season, although nothing extraordinary. If the AL carries a third catcher - perhaps one that can play a bit of outfield in a pinch - Melendez would be a fun selection. All-Star viewers should be used to seeing a Royals jersey behind home plate - Salvador Perez is a seven-time All-Star. But we could see a new face behind the mask this year.
Bobby Witt Jr.
Bobby has electrified Royals fans in his rookie campaign, and if there was anyone with the kind of star power worthy of an All-Star game on the Royals’ roster, it’s Bobby Witt Jr. The 22-year-old got off to a slow start, but he has come on strong lately, hitting .278/.333/.505 with five home runs in his last 25 games. He has made highlight-reel plays at the shortstop position, and has the highest sprint speed in baseball. His inclusion would make him the fourth Royals rookie to appear in the All-Star game, joining Ellie Rodriguez (1969), Kevin Seitzer (1987), and Mike MacDougal (2003).
But while Bobby has overcome his slow start, his overall numbers are still quite average with a 101 wRC+ and a line of .236/.286/.444. Tim Anderson of the White Sox is leading voting at shortstop, leaving several terrific candidates to back him up - Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox, Jeremy Peña of the Astros, and Carlos Correa of the Twins. I would expect an All-Star appearance some time in Bobby’s career, but probably not this year.
Who do you think will be the All-Star rep for the Royals?
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Bobby Witt Jr.