#ASGWorthy: Walker heads NL 2B with hot start

#ASGWorthy: Walker heads NL 2B with hot start

The 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Ballot has been released, and while the season is young, it's never too early to start evaluating candidates. Many have already begun to stand out, while others are sure to hit their strides in the coming months leading up to the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on July 12 at San Diego's Petco Park.

As fans cast their votes for who they deem worthy of 2016 All-Star status, MLB.com is looking position by position through each league, continuing today with the National League second basemen.

Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot #ASGWorthy players

The stalwarts
There was reason to think Chase Utley was on a steep decline after he posted a .629 OPS over 107 games last season. But the 37-year-old is looking more like his old self, batting .301/.370/.438 with eight extra-base hits. Another All-Star selection would give the 14-year veteran seven in his career.

Brandon Phillips exercised his no-trade clause to stay with the Reds this offseason, and so far, it's working out pretty well. In his 11th season with Cincinnati, Phillips is batting .308 and slugging .462 through 18 games, possibly paving the way for a fourth All-Star appearance in a Reds uniform.

Phillips' four-hit game

The fast starters
This offseason, the Mets let Daniel Murphy leave for the Nationals as a free agent and replaced him by acquiring Neil Walker in a trade with the Pirates. It's a combination of moves that seems to be panning out for everyone.

Walker is tied with Bryce Harper, Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado for the Majors lead in homers with nine and already is a little more than halfway to his total from last season. Walker, looking for his first All-Star nod, has walked only three times against 18 strikeouts, but he is batting .286 and slugging .597.

Murphy, an All-Star with New York in 2014, enjoyed a breakout performance last postseason and has carried that into his first month with Washington. While he has a modest two home runs, Murphy is hitting a scorching .394/.467/.636, putting him third in the Majors in OPS.

Murphy's RBI single

Like Walker, Arizona's Jean Segura is thriving after a trade. An All-Star in 2013, Segura had scuffled to a .615 OPS over the next two years before being sent from the Brewers to the D-backs. He picked up multiple hits in each of his first five games with his new club and hasn't slowed down much, with 10 extra-base hits, a .932 OPS and three stolen bases.

The rising stars
Joe Panik debuted for the Giants in mid-2014 and was an All-Star with an .833 OPS last year, though an injury wiped out most of the final two months. The 25-year-old has come back with no ill effects, closely replicating that production. Panik already has more triples (three) than in 2015, and he has added three homers after hitting nine over his first 173 career games.

Panik's solo homer

After a solid 2015, his first full season in the Majors, the Cardinals rewarded Kolten Wong with a new contract that will carry him through at least 2020. But that's where the good news ends for the 25-year-old, who is batting .204 with no extra-base hits through 17 games. Wong will need to jump-start his season soon to earn his first trip to the Midsummer Classic.

Lying in the weeds

The versatile Ben Zobrist actually hasn't moved around at all in his first season with the Cubs, making each of his starts at second base. The 34-year-old is getting on base at a high rate as usual (.390 OBP), but the rest of Zobrist's offensive game is lagging behind, as he has the same number of walks and hits (16) and a modest .354 slugging percentage.

Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- on their computers, tablets and smartphones -- exclusively online using the 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot until Thursday, June 30, at 11:59 p.m. ET. Vote up to five times in any 24-hour period for a maximum of 35 times.

Fans may also receive the ballot by texting VOTE to 89269 (USA) or 101010 (Canada). Or text VOTA for a ballot in Spanish. Message and data rates may apply. Up to five messages. No purchase required. Reply STOP to cancel. Reply HELP for info.

Following the announcement of the 2016 All-Stars, be sure to return to MLB.com and cast your 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote for the final player on each league's All-Star roster. On Tuesday, July 12, watch the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote.

The 87th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.