Every year you see ‘em – players who come seemingly out of nowhere to become All-Stars.
Many play for low-profile clubs. Some disappear in the second half. But the unlikely All-Stars, no matter how fluky, always make for great stories.
Here are 10 names to remember as the selections draw near. Not all of these players will make it to Phoenix. Some might even collapse over the next month. But if nothing else, enjoy ‘em while you can.
Jamey Carroll, Dodgers: Didn’t reach the majors until he was 28, enjoying his best season at 37. Carroll ranks fifth in the NL with a .320 batting average and is first in road BA (.383) and three-hit games (11). The Dodgers would be much worse off if he had not bailed them out during the absences of shortstop Rafael Furcal and second baseman Juan Uribe.
Jair Jurrjens, Braves: Not exactly an unknown – he combined for 27 wins in 2008 and ’09 – but how many fans would guess that he leads the majors with a 1.82 ERA? The Braves also have the reliever with the best ERA in the majors – lefty Jonny Venters at 0.44.
David Pauley, Mariners: Would you believe 27 relievers in the majors currently own ERAs below 2.00? Pauley, a right-hander, leads the AL at 0.96, though three of his five inherited runners have scored. Not bad for a guy who spent all of 2009 at Triple A, mostly as a starter, before signing a minor-league deal with the M’s.
Alex Avila, Tigers: I scoffed at my colleague Jon Paul Morosi a few weeks back when he told me that Tigers catcher Avila should be an All-Star. Actually, J.P. didn’t go far enough – Avila, batting .297/.359/.549 while playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Comerica Park, should be the AL starter over the Yankees’ fading Russell Martin.
Ben Zobrist, Rays: Teammate Matt Joyce is more unheralded – Zobrist was an All-Star in 2009 – but the outfielder’s .381 batting average on balls in play screams second-half decline (I know, I know, Avila’s BABIP also is high). Zobrist plays second base and right field, and since April 23 has batted .310/.385/.530.
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: The D-backs could have numerous All-Stars: Shortstop Stephen Drew, right fielder Justin Upton, closer J.J. Putz. Kennedy, 7-2 with a 3.23 ERA, qualifies as the biggest surprise. The former Yankees right-hander is a better fit in the NL than he would have been in the AL East, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman always loved him.
Michael Morse, Nationals: A tall, rangy late bloomer, some scouts compare him to his new teammate, Jayson Werth. Morse appeared headed for a monster year in spring training, then started 4-for-30 and batted only .211 in April. Since then: .358/.407/.679 with nine homers in 109 at-bats.
Dillon Gee, Mets: Chuckle if you must, but the former 21st-round pick is 7-0 with a 2.65 ERA as a starter. He doesn’t have big stuff, and some of his sabermetric stats (BABIP, fielding-independent pitching) point to regression. Still, Gee commands four pitches and knows what he’s doing. If he somehow gets to 10-0 – or shoot, even 9-1 – who will deny him?
Jhonny Peralta, Tigers: Forget Derek Jeter and Elvis Andrus; the two best offensive shortstops in the AL are Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera. Advanced metrics show that Peralta is average at best defensively, but his .306/365/.510 batting line is a big reason the Tigers are tied for first place in the AL Central.
Mitch Moreland, Rangers: Zero chance of making the AL team at first base ahead of Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Konerko and Mark Teixeira, and not much of a chance as an outfielder, either. Right-hander Alexi Ogando will be the Rangers’ feel-good All-Star story, but the team leader among qualifying hitters in OPS? It’s Moreland at .871.
HONESTY IS HIS POLICY
Talk to anyone around the Marlins, and you will hear that left fielder Logan Morrison is the emerging leader of the club.
Morrison, 23, proved it twice recently, calling out Giants GM Brian Sabean for his comments about the Marlins’ Scott Cousins and then his own owner, Jeffrey Loria, for the team’s firing of hitting coach Dave Mallee.
Many of the younger Marlins were upset by the dismissal of Mallee, their former minor-league hitting coach. Morrison merely gave voice to their concerns, but both Loria and Marlins GM Larry Beinfest spoke to him about criticizing the owner.
Yet, Morrison is not backing down.
If anything, he found it curious that in his conversation with Loria, the owner linked Morrison’s reaction to the player’s loss of his father, Tom, last December.
“(Loria) said he’s not mad at me,” Morrison said. “He basically said that you’re an important part of this organization and you’re going to be for a long time, and that going through what I’ve gone through, he understands why I’d be mad.
“I didn’t understand what one thing would have to do with another, personal life and baseball. But I kind of went along with it.”
Some with the Marlins say a change in hitting coaches was necessary, that Mallee placed too strong an emphasis on hitting mechanics and too little on mental approach.
The bottom line: The Marlins indeed operate differently than most clubs, with Loria occasionally making impulsive decisions. It will be interesting to see how much dissent the team tolerates from Morrison, one of the top young hitters in the game.
“They talked to me about it and said I can’t call out the owner and say this is why he got fired,” Morrison said. “I really don’t understand what I did wrong. It was accurate. It wasn’t a lie.
“I still don’t understand it. But sometimes you do things you don’t understand. I won’t do it again, I guess.”
Well, Morrison at times might want to choose his words more carefully, but he shouldn’t hesitate to be honest. Baseball needs more players who actually speak their minds.
WHOLE NEW BALLGAME FOR MELVIN
Bob Melvin managed the Mariners in 2003 and ’04, the Diamondbacks from 2005 to ’09. He scouted for the Mets last season, monitoring the AL East and AL West.
Yet, his prior experience didn’t mean all that much when he took over suddenly as the Athletics’ interim manager last week, replacing Bob Geren.
“The first day was absolute chaos,” Melvin said. “It was interviews, meetings, interviews, meetings. I never even got a chance to look at the numbers, just prepare for a game like I normally do, let alone know my personnel, have some idea who I’m going to run out there.
“I walked into a whole new clubhouse in the middle of a season, in the middle of a nine-game losing streak. I didn’t have spring training to evaluate. I didn’t even have my coaches.
“The second day was a little easier. I spent three hours advancing (examining advance scouting reports). And for the first time in my career, I advanced my own team.”
As a scout, Melvin said it was difficult for him not knowing players the way he did as a manager, “their inner workings, who had (good) makeup, who I would want up with the game on the line.”
Melvin must learn that aspect all over again, but it’s coming back quickly: He quickly determined that shortstop Cliff Pennington is a much better player than he originally thought, and installed him as the team’s No. 2 hitter.
Still, Melvin is in a difficult spot, knowing he is secure only through the end of the season. The Orioles gave Buck Showalter much greater authority last season when they hired him in August and awarded him a three-year contract.
The Athletics’ rotation is depleted by injuries. Their offense is one of the worst in the AL. But, despite going 1-3 against the surging White Sox, they responded fairly well in their first days under Melvin, producing a four-run rally in the ninth inning for their only win, twice losing by one run.
WHICH WAY, JOSE?
While the Mets are not currently looking to trade shortstop Jose Reyes, they would listen if a suitor “bowled them over,” according to a source with knowledge of the club’s thinking.
Perhaps the better question is how aggressively the Mets will try to retain Reyes, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season. On that front, the club might be growing more flexible.
The Mets still aren’t willing to give Reyes a contract similar to Carl Crawford’s seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox. But according to the source, club officials know they will not retain Reyes at the price they desired initially – three years, $45 to $50 million.
The question is whether Reyes would be willing to meet the team somewhere in the middle – assuming, of course, that the Mets would be financially capable of striking say, a five-year, $95 million deal.
HARD GUY TO MOVE
Think Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy looks like an ideal trade candidate? Not so fast.
The Orioles want to discuss a contract extension with Hardy before the season is over, major-league sources say.
Hardy, who turns 29 on Aug. 19, missed nearly a month with a strained left oblique, but since has become a favorite of manager Buck Showalter and his staff.
“The game never catches him by surprise,” one Orioles official says. “He shows up, you ask him a question, he gives the right answer. And he tells (teammates) the right things instead of what they want to hear.”
Hardy, earning $5.85 million in his final season before free agency, could be a perfect two-year bridge to Class A shortstop Manny Machado, one of the game’s top prospects.
Any trades the Orioles will make likely will be similar to the George Sherrill-for-Josh Bell deal in 2009, when president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail leveraged an asset to acquire a potential long-term solution.
While right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is a target of many clubs and eligible for free agency after next season, the Orioles view him as difficult to replace.
THE ROCKIES’ OUTFIELD QUANDARY
The arrival of Charlie Blackmon, injury to Dexter Fowler and return of Carlos Gonzalez to center field could lead to some interesting decisions for the Rockies.
Some believe the Rockies are a better club with Gonzalez in center, though the only advantage he offers over Fowler defensively is his arm.
Fowler, however, has gone backward offensively, and Blackmon is the team’s leadoff man of the future, a Steve Finley-type with less power.
Blackmon joined the team last week when Fowler went on the disabled list with a lower left abdominal strain.
THE LATEST ASSEMBLY LINE IN DETROIT
Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland are good friends and like-minded in their approaches, so perhaps it’s no surprise to see some of the Tigers’ lesser position players – Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, Danny Worth – thriving in more prominent roles.
While it’s difficult for AL managers to spin role players into gold the way La Russa does for the Cardinals, Leyland has adapted well in dealing with the losses of third baseman Brandon Inge, right fielder Magglio Ordonez and second baseman Carlos Guillen.
Granted, the Tigers probably will need someone other than Kelly in the No. 2 spot to win a World Series. Still, Leyland loves him as a utility man, and scouts do, too.
“Their spare parts are pretty good pieces,” one scout says.
THE DODGERS’ TALENT GAP
Want to know one reason the Dodgers have aggressively promoted youngsters such as shortstop Dee Gordon, right-hander Rubby De La Rosa and outfielder Jerry Sands?
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw was the team’s only first-round success between 2005 and ’09, creating something of a void after the bountiful ’02 and ’03 draft classes.
On the flip side, the Dodgers did well to grab Gordon in the fourth round and Sands in the 25th in 2008 – and to sign De La Rosa for $15,000 out of the Dominican Republic in ‘07.
But when injuries struck, they had nowhere else to turn.
AROUND THE HORN
• Yankees super-scout Gene “Stick” Michael saw prized left-hander Manny Banuelos pitch Saturday night at Double A – and left after Banuelos’s 5 2/3-inning start was complete.
Banuelos threw 93 to 95 mph with an above-average breaking ball, one scout reports, but struggled at times with his fastball command.
Right-hander Dellin Betances actually has better numbers at Double A – Betances is 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 10 starts, while Banuelos is 2-0 with a 2.88 ERA in 12.
The Yankees are reluctant to rush either youngster, but one or both could figure in the team’s plans in the second half, either in the rotation or bullpen.
• Oft-injured Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard would be a risky trade acquistion, but one scout says, “somebody’s going to take him down the stretch” – assuming, of course, that the M’s fall out of contention.
The scout says that Bedard is throwing 88 to 92 mph with an above-average curveball, and over-rotating in his delivery to create deception.
• Getting outscored 35-6 by the Red Sox in a three-game series likely will end any notion that the Blue Jays could be buyers, but the team could look for pitching help from within.
Double A right-handers Zach Stewart (4-3, 4.39) and Henderson Alvarez (3-1, 3.10) both could be candidates for promotion in the second half.
• The Padres also have harbored notions of contention, figuring that they could pull the same trick as the Diamondbacks, vaulting into contention with two hot weeks.
But the Pads, after promoting first baseman Anthony Rizzo, scored a grand total of two runs in dropping three straight to the Nationals over the weekend and falling to 14-26 at Petco Park.
They now begin a trip to Colorado, Minnesota and Boston.
• Twins rookie outfielder Ben Revere has only a .590 OPS in 85 plate appearances, but brings the dimension that club officials sought when they committed to a middle infield of Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka last offseason.
“He adds serious speed, both when he’s on the bases and out in the field,” Twins GM Bill Smith says of Revere. “One of the things we looked forward to when we changed up our middle infield was adding speed to our lineup. Revere has allowed Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) to play the game he wanted to from the very start.”
• Speaking of fast rookie outfielders, let’s not forget the Cubs’ Tony Campana.
Cubs first base coach Bob Dernier says he once clocked Campana circling the bases at Double A in 12.8 seconds – and Campana could have gone even faster if he cut the bases more sharply.
Dernier recorded the time when he was the team’s minor-league outfield and baserunning coordinator.