Say hello to some of baseball's next generation of stars NOT named Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. All the names above are on the 2013 All-Star ballot for the first time and could end up in the 84th All-Star Game July 16 at Citi Field. Voting began Wednesday and runs through 11:59 p.m. ET on July 4.
Has baseball ever had more exciting young players? Maybe fans of every generation feel they're seeing an unprecedented gold rush of talent. But it seems especially true now as teams fast track their best players through the Minor Leagues, convinced that talent will allow a player to adjust to the challenges of better competition.
One of the best things about baseball's Midsummer Classic is that it introduces an entire nation to the next wave of talent. It's one of those events that helps a young player feel he has arrived. Virtually every first-time All-Star talks about the thrill of walking into the clubhouse and being a teammate of stars they've followed and maybe emulated for years.
Once upon a time, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, David Wright and dozens of others felt exactly the same way. Now they're among the stars that young players would be honored to call teammates for a night.
Last summer's All-Star Game had 26 first-timers. Harper and Trout began the year in the Minor Leagues -- and were therefore not on the ballot, but they were eventually included as reserves. By July 10, 2012, the date of last year's game in Kansas City, they were among the most exciting players in the game.
Buster Posey played in his first All-Star Game last year, too. Now, he seems likely to be a slam-dunk selection for the next decade. Chris Sale, Jim Johnson and David Freese were also first-time All-Stars.
Now, to 2013 and the most deserving young players. Let's look at who ought to be planning a trip to New York.
First, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Yadier Molina has to be in, right? Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright and David Freese should be on almost everyone's checklist.
And the thing that makes the Cardinals special is all that young talent. Second baseman Matt Carpenter is one. First baseman Matt Adams, though he's not on the ballot and would need to win on write-in votes, might be a candidate as well except for the fact that he has just 27 plate appearances and all kinds of talent stacked in front of him. Nevertheless, he is hitting .542 heading into the weekend and taking advantage of the opportunities he's been given.
Check out some more:
Segura: He was the key piece in the Brewers' Zack Greinke deal, and in his first full Major League season, he has been a dazzling presence both at shortstop and on offense, hitting .356 and leading the National League with six stolen bases.
Gomez: He, too, has given the Brewers energy and terrific play in center field. He was in the big leagues six years ago at 21 and has been overwhelmed at times. Now 27, he seems on his way to a breakout season.
Machado: He made his Major League debut last summer at age 20, and he struggled at times. However, his combination of defensive gifts and a solid offensive approach has him on the verge of stardom.
Evan Gattis: Another one who isn't on the ballot but could be a popular write-in candidate if he and the Braves keep it up. He began last season in Rookie ball and was barely on the Braves' radar when Spring Training began. Brian McCann's recovery from shoulder surgery opened a roster spot, and Gattis grabbed it. He's hitting just .246, but has six home runs and four doubles among his 15 hits.
Didi Gregorius: He spent the first two weeks in the Minor Leagues, thus his lack of overall numbers. However, since his promotion he has been tremendous in just about every phase of the game.
Crawford: There are few better defensive shortstops in the game, and that kept manager Bruce Bochy writing Crawford's name in the Giants' lineup even when the offense wasn't there. This season, the offense is there. He's a complete player and could anchor the Giants defense for years to come.
Marte: He climbed steadily through the Pittsburgh organization before finally being promoted to the Major Leagues last summer. The Pirates were excited about his talent then and are even more excited now by both his speed in the outfield and offensive potential at the plate.
Cain: He came to the Royals as part of another Greinke trade -- this one with the Brewers -- and has gotten steadily better. This is the season he seems to have made the transition from being solid to being a star.