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Sunday, June 20, 2010

A few potential All-Stars who might surprise you...

There are certain to be a few first-time All-Stars this season.  Ubaldo Jimenez, who has to be the current favorite to start the game for the NL, will certainly get his first selection thanks to a couple of history-making months.  Rookie outfielder, Jason Heyward, is currently among the leading vote-getters in the NL outfield, and should be destined for selection even if he isn't voted in by the fans.  Also much-lauded is the AL co-leader in homeruns, Jose Bautista.

There are, naturally, also a few superb performers who have been largely overlooked by the media.  I offer a handful of unsung heroes who certainly won't be starters and in some cases would be borderline selections, but who definitely deserved consideration and increased publicity based on what they're doing in 2010.

Jose Valverde - RP - Detroit Tigers

Several balked at the size of the contract he received during the offseason, but thusfar he has made Dave Dombrowski look like a genius, saving 16 games in 17 opportunities, and compiling a ridiculously low 0.59 ERA through his first thirty appearances.  Those supposedly much tougher AL lineups have managed to hit just .105 off Valverde, who had spent his previous seven seasons in the National League.    He got roughed up in his second appearance of the season, but has allowed one lonely run since.  Despite being one of the best closers in baseball during the last four season, Valverde has just one previous All-Star selection, in 2007, when he led the NL in saves with 47.

Aubry Huff - 1B/OF - San Francisco Giants

Many fantasy owners gave up on Huff after a shabby April.  Since then, he has been among the top hitters in the National League, batting .342 with 9 HR, 28 RBI, and 1052 OPS in his last forty-some games.  Considering how bad the rest of the Giants have been offensively, Huff has to be given a great deal of the credit for keeping them in the thick of the NL West race.  He move to the outfield certainly helps his chance of selection, as there is a logjam at first base.

Ian Kennedy - SP - Arizona Diamondbacks

I know, I know...I've beat this horse to death, but Ian Kennedy has been damn good this season, especially in the last two months.  His record is merely 3-5, largely because of very modest run support.  Kennedy's shot at selection increases because of his team.  The D-Back's top two players, Justin Upton and Dan Haren, are both having sup-par first halves, and other relatively big-name candidates, Stephen Drew and Mark Reynolds, haven't been spectacular either.  Kennedy's major competition as Arizona's rep comes from resurgent hitters, Kelly Johnson and Chris Young.  His disadvantage is that so many NL starting pitchers are having strong seasons that his avenue to selection may be much more difficult than that of his position-playing teammates.

Marlon Byrd - CF - Chicago Cubs

The Cubs stink.  They stink in no small part because their biggest salaried players - Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Carlos Zambrano, etc. - are all simultaneously having career-worst seasons.  Marlon Byrd, however, the 32-year-old outfielder who was supposed to regress following a breakout season in Texas, has actually gotten better...way better.  All that stands between him an his first All-Star appearance is the equally inexplicable Carlos Silva.

Rafael Furcal - SS - Los Angeles Dodgers

Furcal is very quietly having the season many expected him to have last year.  He has again missed some time, but in 167 at-bats is hiting .305 with a .354 OBP, 9 SB, and, of course, stellar defense.  He has been the Dodgers catalyst at the top of the lineup.  With Troy Tulowitzki and Jimmy Rollins lost to the NL with injuries, there's a good chance Furcal could get the nod as Han-Ram's back-up.

Chris Young - CF - Arizona Diamondbacks

Only eight major-leaguers have double-digit steals and double-digit homers at this juncture in the season.  The group includes superstars like Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, and  David Wright.  It also includes Chris Young, who after two horrible seasons of regression is finally fulfilling the promise of his rookie year.  He's currently on pace for 28 HR and 28 SB, so the 30/30 potential once heralded is still very much a possibility.  Crucially, Young has cut down on his strikeout rate and raised his average.  He's on base more often and is running far more frequently than he did in the past.  He's also been especially good in RBI situations (906 OPS with men in scoring position).

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