New faces have eyes on first All-Star berths
Midsummer Classic in Minnesota likely to feature plenty of first-time All-Stars
Koji Uehara and Johnny Cueto are slam dunks to be invited. Josh Donaldson hasn't been there, and neither has Jonathan Lucroy. All four clearly belong.
Indians teammates Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber and Lonnie Chisenhall are doing everything they can to get there. Nick Markakis is making his case again, and Kyle Lohse is deserving of the trip on career merit.
Brian Dozier and A.J. Pollock are bidding to get on board. Much-overlooked Darren O'Day would love to be recognized with a ticket, and Dallas Keuchel and Jason Hammel are angling impressively for invitations.
Destination? The 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Minnesota is a fine place to gather for some fun in mid-July, and Target Field will dazzle with stars for this season's big show. A handful of the brightest stars on the field when the American and National Leagues meet promise to be first-timers.
Uehara, Cueto, Donaldson and Lucroy highlight an impressive collection of credentialed active players with at least one full season on their resume who have not participated in the Midsummer Classic. Shooting stars such as Jose Abreu, Masahiro Tanaka, Yasiel Puig and Sonny Gray haven't put in full seasons yet.
Donaldson, the A's dynamic third baseman, and Lucroy, the Brewers' all-purpose catcher, head the list alongside Boston's Uehara, who has replaced Mariano Rivera as the game's most dependable closer, and Cueto, Cincinnati's colorful and talented ace.
Uehara's omission from the Citi Field party last year was understandable. He did the lion's share of his work in the second half, as responsible as anyone for the Red Sox winning it all. He has carried that almost surreal magic over to 2014, even more dominant, if that is possible.
Cueto has been even better than he was in winning 19 games in 2012, but the Reds' struggles have left him with a highly deceiving 6-5 record. He's leading the NL in ERA (1.85), innings (102), strikeouts (109) and WHIP (0.775).
Donaldson and Lucroy warrant inclusion in any Most Valuable Player Award conversation for their contributions to two of the game's best first-half teams.
Both Donaldson and Lucroy were bypassed last year despite enjoying superb seasons. Manny Machado got the call behind starter Miguel Cabrera at third base for the AL, while Buster Posey and Brian McCann were the choices as Yadier Molina's backups behind the plate for the NL.
Only Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, at 4.9, owns a higher WAR (wins above replacement) than Donaldson's 4.5 among all Major League players, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Donaldson is leading the fan balloting as a two-way performer with few equals in the game.
"He's a competitor, and his at-bats are even better in big situations," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He loves having the ball hit to him with the game on the line. He likes to be the guy up at the plate with the game on the line. He's not afraid of that spotlight. When you talk about gamers, he is one of those guys."
Cases can be made for Donaldson's teammates, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes, as first-time All-Stars as well.
Lucroy has been a consistent offensive presence while leading the Brewers' pitching staff with his expertise and skills behind the plate. Overshadowed by the great Molina in St. Louis for several years, Lucroy is standing his ground this season with the best of the best.
"Offensively, he's tremendous -- and I think he's going to get better," said Ron Roenicke, in his fourth season as Brewers manager. "He's already done a great job of driving in runs; he's a tough out with runners on base. He likes that.
"Defensively, the [advanced analytics] show he gets more called strikes than any other catcher. He gives a great target: down low, great hands. He's blocking balls better. As for his throwing, I think he keeps getting better. He really works on his game. We're lucky to have him."
Roenicke admittedly is biased in favor of his guy, but Lucroy's numbers also speak volumes. He has the highest WAR among catchers, and his traditional offensive numbers are top of the line as well.
Working with Lucroy, Lohse has been Mr. Consistency in Milwaukee as one of the best free-agent acquisitions of recent seasons. He was 14-8 and 16-3 in consecutive seasons for the Cardinals (2011-12) but did not get an All-Star call.
While Tanaka has commanded most of the national attention for his remarkable debut season for the Yankees, the game's best starter, in WAR terms, has been the Astros' Keuchel, at 3.9. Tanaka and Yu Darvish come in at 3.8, Cueto and Mark Buehrle at 3.4.
Keuchel, a 26-year-old lefty from Tulsa, was a combined 9-18 his first two seasons in Houston with a 5.20 ERA. He's 8-3, 2.38 through 13 starts for the surprising Astros this season.
With Brantley and Chisenhall banging away in pure All-Star fashion, Kluber is following a solid 2013 with another excellent season, going 6-4 with a 3.35 ERA.
Another breakout season is being delivered on Chicago's North Side by Hammel. Bringing a 49-59 record and 4.80 ERA into his ninth MLB season, the right-hander has found Wrigley Field and the Cubs to his liking, going 6-4 with a 2.81 ERA.
Few relievers in the game have been as consistently excellent, without fanfare, as O'Day. The Orioles' durable submariner is 22-9 with a 2.48 ERA in his career, and his ERA is sitting at 0.98 this year in 28 appearances.
The Rays haven't had much to feel good about, but reliever Jake McGee is an exception, with a 1.53 ERA in 31 games, producing 34 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings.
The Cardinals have an appealing bullpen candidate in veteran Pat Neshek, who would be coming home to Minnesota. His 0.99 ERA and 0.659 WHIP through 31 appearances are All-Star quality.
The Royals produced three first-time All-Stars last year in Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Greg Holland. Shortstop Alcides Escobar, in the midst of a strong all-around season, would like to be the latest.
The Mets have durable second baseman Daniel Murphy and starter Jon Niese to present as potential first-time All-Stars, and the Dodgers offer for consideration closer Kenley Jansen and second baseman Dee Gordon, leading the Majors in steals as the leadoff catalyst.
Few players in the game have been as good as Markakis over time without getting an All-Star invite. The Orioles' right fielder, often overshadowed by teammates Adam Jones and Chris Davis, is putting together a typically productive season.
Dozier of the hosting Twins is having a breakout season at second base with his power/speed combination, and Pollock, who was placed on the disabled list a day after he was named NL Player of the Week on June 1, has to recover from hand surgery before putting his versatile talents back on display for the D-backs in center field.
The 2014 All-Star Game is the 85th all-time, and it will be played at Target Field in Minnesota on July 15. The game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.