Write-in candidates such as Diaz, Mazara also up for consideration
By Matt Kelly
Rookie Trevor Story and his prolific home runs dominated headlines and became the Majors' most surprising narrative during the first month of the 2016 season. But is the Rockies' shortstop deserving of a starring role in the game's biggest summer showcase -- the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on July 12 in San Diego?
Last year's crop of sensational rookies, including All-Star Game participants Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson, ranked among the biggest storylines in 2015. But through these first six weeks of the '16 season, another round of youngsters are showing that the league's talent pool should remain fully stocked for years to come.
Here's an early look at the top first-year players on the 2016 Esurance All-Star Game ballot worthy of your consideration, plus a few more rookies that deserve a hard look for write-in spots:
Trevor Story, Rockies SS
Jose Reyes' suspension to begin the season created a hole at shortstop for Colorado, but Story proved to be a fantastic fill-in. Sure, there were the 10 home runs in April, tying Jose Abreu's 2013 record for most in the opening month by a rookie. There was the fact that he became the only player in Major League history to hit seven home runs in his first six games of the season. And don't forget the hardware: National League Player of the Week to begin the season and the NL Rookie of the Month award for April.
But even though Story has come back to earth a bit in May, hitting just one homer and slugging a more human-like .460 in his first 12 games of the month, consider this: His 87 total bases entering Saturday's games ranked second behind teammate Nolan Arenado in the NL and 11 more than second-place Aledmys Diaz among NL shortstops. If he keeps up his pace for total bases over a 162-game season, Story would reach 415, far surpassing the NL shortstop record of 380 set by the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins in 2007.
MLB.com's No. 1 prospect to begin 2016 has not disappointed in his first full season of Major League action. Seager proved he belonged as a September callup last year, batting .337 over the Dodgers' final 27 regular-season games, and he has carried that over as one of Los Angeles' more dependable hitters.
The youngster from Charlotte, N.C., who celebrated his 22nd birthday on April 27, has really heated up in May, posting a .316/.381/.500 slash line in his first 11 games of the month. His 57 total bases entering Saturday were tops in a lineup featuring sluggers such as Adrian Gonzalez, Pederson and Yasiel Puig.
Park's arrival from Korea has been a blessing to a Twins lineup that has really struggled to hit the ball out of the yard. He has been an indispensable part of Minnesota's power output so far, accounting for 28 percent of the Twins' home runs, 13 percent of the their total bases and 10 percent of their RBIs entering Saturday. His 1.0 WAR leads all American League rookies, according to Fangraphs. Furthermore, his nine home runs are the most by any Twins player through his first 30 career games.
Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals SS
All Diaz has done is lead all rookies in WAR (1.7), batting average (.387), on-base percentage (.415) and slugging percentage (.685). Also consider that his 1.100 OPS led the Majors entering Saturday's games. Diaz is striking out in just 9.3 percent of his plate appearances, a rate that ranks among the top 10 of all Major League players -- first-year or otherwise.
If road games are a good test of a rookie's skill and resilience, then Diaz is passing with flying colors. The Cardinals' shortstop recorded a hit in 13 of his first 15 contests away from Busch Stadium, including seven multihit performances.
It seems the Cardinals' farm system keeps churning out gems year after year, and Diaz and Hazelbaker are no exception. Though it took Hazelbaker a little longer than Diaz to get there -- 588 more Minor League games, to be exact -- the Indiana native has proven just as valuable, posting a robust .906 OPS, slugging six homers in just 84 at-bats entering Saturday and manning all three outfield spots for the Redbirds. Playing amid a crowded outfield that also features Randal Grichuk, Matt Holliday and Steven Piscotty, Hazelbaker is making the most of his opportunities.
The Dominican-born outfielder with a familiar first name has spent nearly every game batting either second or third in a stacked Rangers lineup. On May 11, he became the youngest Rangers player to bat in the No. 3 spot while the team was still in postseason contention since Juan Gonzalez in 1993.
Mazara has 11 multihit games through his first 30 Major League contests, and his .303 average entering Saturday's action led the team. If the average doesn't catch your eye, perhaps this will: On May 7, Mazara and teammate Rougned Odor became the first pair of teammates age-22 or younger to lead off a game with back-to-back home runs.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.