A platoon of 23 players will play in their first All-Star Game on July 11 in Pittsburgh. Some of them are destined to make several future trips to the Midsummer Classic.
The new stars will make their biggest impact on the National League’s starting infield. The New York Mets will send a pair of 23-year-olds – 3B David Wright and SS Jose Reyes – to the All-Star Game to start alongside Phillies 2B Chase Utley.
The sudden emergence of the power-hitting Wright (.325 with 18 homers) and leadoff sparkplug Reyes (34 steals) have helped the Mets rise to the top of the NL East.
Utley (.300 batting average) has been the catalyst of the Phillies offense along with 1B Ryan Howard (28 homers), who also made the All-Star roster for the first time.
The NL All-Stars will also have four new pitchers: Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, Bronson Arroyo of the Reds, Brad Penny of the Dodgers and closer Derrick Turnbow of the Brewers.
Of this group, the 27-year-old Webb has the best potential to be a perennial All-Star. He has a lifetime ERA of 3.24 and he should improve over time. Arroyo has cooled off after winning his first five decisions. Turnbow has 23 saves but a bloated (for a closer) ERA of 4.04. Penny is 9-2, but this is his first winning season since 2003.
Other new All-Stars on the NL side are Marlins 2B Dan Uggla, Braves C Brian McCann, Pirates 3B Freddy Sanchez and Rockies OF Matt Holliday.
Uggla has broken out of the no-name pack for Florida with a .307 batting average. He could be the Rookie of the Year. McCann is one of the Braves’ few bright spots. Holliday is working on his third straight consistent year in Colorado. Sanchez hit .293 last year in Pittsburgh, but his average is now a gaudy .363.
For the American League, the biggest impact player is Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. With 25 saves and a near-invisible 0.43 ERA, the 25-year-old Papelbon could challenge for the Cy Young Award and possibly the Most Valuable Player Award.
Another young closer, Bobby Jenks of the White Sox, has also racked up 25 saves. He is picking up where he left off last year, when his 4 postseason saves helped Chicago win the world title.
Scott Kazmir of Tampa Bay is the class of the new All-Star starting pitchers. The 22-year-old Kazmir is 9-5 for the lowly Devil Rays, and he will be a major star in the future. The same can’t be said about Jose Contreras of the White Sox and Mark Redman of the Royals, who are both in their 30s.
Robinson Cano is hitting .325 in his second year as the Yankees’ 2B. Jose Lopez (.282), another 2B will be the lone representative for the Mariners.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer is fulfilling his promise as a future star, hitting the lights out with a .392 batting average. He will be back again, possibly as the successor to 13-time All-Star Ivan Rodriguez of the Tigers.
The AL will have three new outfielders in Toronto’s Alex Rios, Texas’ Gary Matthews Jr. and Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore.
Rios is blossoming for the Blue Jays after the San Francisco Giants gave up on him. Five teams gave up of Matthews (including the Orioles and Padres twice each) before he finally hit .334 with the Rangers this year.
Sizemore is getting better in his second year with Cleveland, which pinched him from Montreal along with Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips in the Bartolo Colon trade in 2002. His commitment to the game’s fundamentals will bring him back to future All-Star Games.