Harper has comp for spot in NL All-Star OF

Harper has comp for spot in NL All-Star OF

The 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Ballot has been released, and while the season is still young, it's never too early to start evaluating candidates. Many have already begun to stand out, while others are sure to hit their stride 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 going to look position by position through each league, continuing today with National League outfielders.

The stalwarts

The conversation needs to begin with Bryce Harper, the reigning NL MVP Award winner who has spent the first fifth of 2016 adamantly defending that crown. Harper ranks among the NL's top five in home runs, runs, RBIs, walks, slugging percentage and OPS. His fourth All-Star appearance is all but assured.

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It would also be the fourth All-Star selection for Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, and there is little reason to think he'll be excluded. The game's premier power hitter has nine home runs and is on pace to set career highs in walks and total bases.

Harper and Stanton were voted in as starters last season alongside Matt Holliday, who has retained his outfield eligibility despite dabbling at first base this year. A seven-time All-Star, Holliday has a .253/.333/.473 slash line with three home runs after managing just four during an injury-shortened 2015.

Holliday will need to pick up his pace, though, to beat out Ryan Braun. The Brewers' left fielder is batting .368 and has struck out just 15 times while posting a 1.013 OPS.

Braun's reemergence could, in theory, put Andrew McCutchen's streak of five consecutive All-Star appearances in jeopardy. The Pirates' center fielder started slow for a second straight season, entering Friday with a .229/.339/.450 slash line.

Stanton's ninth home run

The fast starters

Meanwhile, McCutchen's center-field counterpart from the rival Cubs is enjoying the best season of his career. Dexter Fowler has been a huge reason for the Cubs' historic run differential, entering Friday batting .340/.462/.574 with an NL-best 11 doubles.

Fowler's .462 on-base percentage also led the Majors entering Friday. Matt Kemp's OBP of .304 isn't close. But the two-time All-Star is providing the Padres with power. Kemp is on pace to crack 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the first time since 2011.

That was the year before Yoenis Cespedes debuted in the Majors, and surprisingly, he's been an All-Star just once since then. Cespedes was a Final Vote candidate last season before losing out to Mike Moustakas. He shouldn't have to sweat so much this year. Cespedes is a bona fide superstar in New York, with a .299/.358/.678 slash line with nine homers and 27 RBIs.

Carlos Gonzalez is third in the NL with 37 hits. Before we start assigning Coors Field caveats to that number, note that Gonzalez's slash line is better on the road (.373/.431/.525) than at home (.288/.327/.500). CarGo's next All-Star appearance will be his third.

Nick Markakis has never earned a trip to the Midsummer Classic, but maybe this is his year. He's been the most productive Braves hitter while putting together one of the more interesting offensive seasons around the league. Markakis doesn't have any home runs, but he's compiled 20 RBIs thanks to an absurd .500 average with runners in scoring position. He's also hitting .281 with a .391 on-base percentage.

Cespedes' ninth homer of 2016

The rising stars

Markakis and Fowler are tied atop the NL doubles leaderboard with Michael Conforto, who is rapidly developing into the hitter the Mets expect him to be. New York's 23-year-old No. 3 hitter is batting .301.

Conforto is far from the only all-fields-hitting left fielder in the NL East, as Christian Yelich's .330/.443/.511 line can attest.

They both have to battle last year's Gold Glove winner in left field. Starling Marte continues to develop into an excellent all-around player, hitting .315 to pace the Pirates. Both Marte and teammate Gregory Polanco (.300/.405/.510) are hoping to make their first All-Star appearances.

A young right fielder coming into his own in the NL Central? The description fits Polanco as well as St. Louis' Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty leads the Cardinals with 34 hits and 20 RBIs.

Arizona continues to get nice production from David Peralta. Last year's triples king has three three-baggers already on the young season.

Piscotty's two-run double

Lying in the weeds

Imagine how good the Mets' lineup would be if Curtis Granderson replicated his 2015 season? Granderson has five home runs, but his batting average (.221) and OBP (.319) are way down so far. Granderson was last an All-Star in 2012.

The NL All-Star team will be loaded with Cubs, but Jason Heyward may not be one of them. Heyward's slow start with the bat (.207 average, zero home runs entering Friday) has negated his defensive value.

Speaking of defense, Yasiel Puig has already provided a slew of first-half highlights in right field. But he's hitting more like he did in 2015 (.255/.309/.422 this year) than in '13 (.319/.391/.534), when his dazzling debut sparked all kinds of All-Star debate.

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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.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.