MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Trout-field: Open spots remain in AL All-Star OF race

Ranking the contenders for final two starting slots behind Angels superstar

Trout-field: Open spots remain in AL All-Star OF race

This much we know: Mike Trout is a lock for one of the three starting outfield spots on the American League All-Star team. Come to think of it, we can go ahead and pencil him in for next season and the foreseeable future while we're at it.

Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is solidly positioned to get the second of the three AL starting spots in what would be his first All-Star appearance.

After that, it gets interesting as the June 30th end of online voting approaches. Three others -- Mookie Betts, Mark Trumbo and Lorenzo Cain -- are closely bunched together, while a fourth, Jose Bautista, surged in the most recent balloting update. Others -- for instance Ian Desmond -- seem likely to end up being selected for the game.

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The closeness of the voting reflects the closeness in the talent -- that is, the wave of new talent that has entered baseball in recent years. Trout is part of that wave as well even though he long ago established himself as one of the special players in the history of the game.

Before we look at the other outfielders, let's pause for a moment to reflect on Trout's greatness. He isn't just the leading vote-getter -- by a wide margin -- among AL outfielders with 2.3 million. He remains the player against whom pretty much every other one in the game is measured.

Trout's solo homer

Among a string of impressive numbers, Trout's most impressive one may be: He's still only 24 years old. He has done so much already that we understand we're seeing one of the great players of this or any other generation.

This will be his fifth consecutive All-Star Game and his fourth straight AL start. He has arrived in that special space only the great ones occupy in our hearts and minds.

There would be something appropriate in seeing Bradley, 26, starting beside Trout in the AL outfield. Bradley is on track to do just that with 1.7 million votes, a strong showing, but 600,000 behind the leader.

Now to sort out the rest:

Betts, Trumbo and Cain are separated by a mere 31,601 votes for the final starting spot. Bautista is 133,000 votes behind Betts and still within range.

How do we separate them? Who deserves the final berth, or for that matter, the final two berths?

Betts, Desmond, Trumbo, etc., almost surely will end up as members of the AL All-Star Team, but there's a distinct honor to starting the game.

So let's rank the candidates:

1. Trout (2.3 million votes, first)
He has never finished lower than second in AL Most Valuable Player balloting in his four full seasons, and he's right back there in 2016, tied for second in the AL in Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs, and his name is again dotted across the statistics leaderboard.

2. Desmond (688,464 votes, ninth)
Among AL outfielders, he's second only to Trout with a 3.5 WAR, and he's having one of his best offensive seasons: .885 OPS, .316 batting average, 19 doubles, 12 homers, 47 RBIs.

Desmond's diving catch

He has been the best player on a Rangers team with the best record in the American League and possibly the smartest off-season signing, given that he's costing Texas only $8 million.

He has also made a smooth transition from former All-Star shortstop to very good outfielder, both in left and in center. Given that he's running ninth in the latest voting, he's unlikely to start, but he has earned a berth in San Diego.

3. Bradley (1.7 million, second)
Like Trout, Bradley arrived as a highly-touted prospect and the next great thing. Like Trout, he struggled some at the beginning of his career. And now, like Trout, he has burst onto the scene with a 29-game hitting streak that shined a spotlight on how good every part of his game is.

That voters are rewarding him says plenty about their appreciation for Bradley's breakout season: .305 batting average, .968 OPS, 35 extra base hits and spectacular defense in center.

Bradley Jr.'s triple

4. Betts (1.4 million votes, third)
We're going to have a Red Sox love fest at this All-Star Game, with Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz also likely to be honored. Betts, 23, impacts games in all sorts of ways, leading the AL in runs (62) while collecting 17 doubles, four triples, 15 home runs and 11 stolen bases. To start this game would be a fitting followup to last season's breakout performance.

5. Trumbo (1.4 million votes, fourth)
He has been a huge factor in getting the Orioles back into contention in the AL East race. He's tied for the lead in the AL with 21 home runs and is among the leaders with an .891 OPS.

Trumbo's 21st home run

6. Bautista (1.3 million votes, sixth)
His availability is in question after being placed on the disabled list with a left toe injury on June 17. His 1.3 million votes reflects both his stature as one of the great Blue Jays of all-time as well as the importance of Toronto making the postseason last year for the first time since 1993. Despite a .230 batting average, his on-base percentage is .360, and he has 15 doubles and 12 home runs.

7. Cain (1.4 million votes, fifth)
He's one of the faces of baseball's defending champs and a guy who represents the defense-first approach of the Royals. He's tied for 14th among AL outfielders with 37 RBIs and tied for 16th with 35 runs.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.