It's never too early to start predicting what the 2021 MLB All-Star Game rosters will look like.
A little over a month into the season, we put together our way-too-early view on how the Midsummer Classic might take shape if the game were played today.
Using the 32-player roster format that was implemented in 2018, we assembled our American League and National League teams based solely on 2021 performances. Voting trends and popularity did not factor in to these decisions. We simply picked the 32 players who are most deserving while sticking to the rule of including at least one player from every team.
For consistency, each roster was made up of 20 position players and 12 pitchers, with at least one backup for each position.
We also highlighted three notable snubs from each league, since the players who don't get selected are often a bigger story than the ones who do.
Off we go!
American League Starting Lineup
1. CF Byron Buxton, MIN
2. 3B Jose Ramirez, CLE
3. RF Mike Trout, LAA
4. DH J.D. Martinez, BOS
5. 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR
6. SS Xander Bogaerts, BOS
7. 2B Nick Solak, TEX
8. C Salvador Perez, KC
9. LF Cedric Mullins, BAL
SP John Means, BAL
Mike Trout (.380/.496/.728, 16 XBH) and Byron Buxton (.370/.408/.772, 19 XBH) are the American League MVP front-runners, and they are no-brainer choices for spots in the starting lineup.
They're joined by a third center fielder in Cedric Mullins, who is hitting .320/.378/.525 with 39 hits, 10 doubles and five home runs in a breakout season. That group would cover some ground defensively.
Catcher Salvador Perez (125 OPS+, 7 HR), shortstop Xander Bogaerts (176 OPS+, 16 XBH) and third baseman Jose Ramirez (151 OPS+, 9 HR) are no strangers to the AL starting lineup, and they once again rank among the most productive players at their positions.
Slugger J.D. Martinez struggled to a .213 average and 81 OPS+ last year, but he has bounced back in a big way. The 33-year-old has at least a share of the league lead in doubles (10), home runs (10), RBI (31), runs (28) and total bases (80).
This could be the first of many All-Star nods for first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.330/.465/.592, 7 HR) and second baseman Nick Solak (131 OPS+, 7 HR). They have taken significant steps forward after showing flashes early in their careers.
John Means would be the first Baltimore Orioles pitcher to start the All-Star Game since Steve Stone in 1980. After tossing a no-hitter his last time out, he leads AL starters in WHIP (0.67) and WAR (2.2) while ranking second in ERA (1.37).
American League Reserves (Position Players)
C Kyle Higashioka, NYY
1B Matt Olson, OAK
1B/OF Jared Walsh, LAA
2B Luis Arraez, MIN
3B Rafael Devers, BOS
SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa, TEX
OF Michael Brantley, HOU
OF Alex Verdugo, BOS
DH Yermin Mercedes, CWS
DH Giancarlo Stanton, NYY
DH/SP Shohei Ohtani, LAA
Four designated hitters on the AL roster?
It's simply impossible to ignore the numbers Yermin Mercedes (.386 BA, 196 OPS+), Giancarlo Stanton (175 OPS+, 9 HR, 23 RBI) and Shohei Ohtani (165 OPS+, 10 HR) have put up, and a case can be made that Yordan Alvarez, Nelson Cruz and Franmil Reyes are also worthy of inclusion.
Meanwhile, AL catchers have been weak enough that Kyle Higashioka earned the backup spot after playing only 16 games.
He's one of a number of potential first-time selections who are slugging their way into the All-Star conversation, joining Matt Olson (160 OPS+, 7 HR, 20 RBI), Jared Walsh (171 OPS+, 6 HR, 22 RBI) and Alex Verdugo (147 OPS+, 12 XBH).
Middle infielders Luis Arraez and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are playing their way onto the roster for the first time in other ways. Arraez is posting an excellent .398 on-base percentage to go with his usual elite contact skills, while Kiner-Falefa has tallied 5 defensive runs saved already in his first year as an everyday shortstop to go with a 114 OPS+ at the plate.
Veteran left fielder Michael Brantley (139 OPS+, 14 XBH) and rising star Rafael Devers (157 OPS+, 7 HR, 24 RBI) rounded out the reserves.
American League Reserves (Pitchers)
SP Shane Bieber, CLE
SP Matthew Boyd, DET
SP Gerrit Cole, NYY
SP Danny Duffy, KC
SP Tyler Glasnow, TB
SP Carlos Rodon, CWS
RP Aroldis Chapman, NYY
RP Emmanuel Clase, CLE
RP Kendall Graveman, SEA
RP James Karinchak, CLE
RP Ian Kennedy, TEX
With elite strikeout numbers and general dominance, the trio of Gerrit Cole (1.61 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 66 K, 44.2 IP), Shane Bieber (2.98 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 77 K, 48.1 IP) and Tyler Glasnow (2.06 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 64 K, 43.2 IP) were All-Stars as expected.
Far less expected has been the performance of a trio of veteran southpaws in the AL Central.
Danny Duffy (1.26 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 40 K, 35.2 IP) is showing out in a contract year, Matthew Boyd (2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 24 K, 35.2 IP) is pitching to contact more than he has in the past and finding newfound success, and Carlos Rodon (0.72 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 36 K, 25 IP) has made the most of his second chance with the Chicago White Sox after they non-tendered him in the offseason.
Narrowing down the field of deserving relievers was extremely difficult.
Aroldis Chapman has struck out 26 of the 38 batters he's faced while nailing down seven saves, James Karinchak has been similarly overpowering with just three hits allowed and 30 strikeouts in 15 innings, and Ian Kennedy has converted all nine of his save chances with a career-high 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Those three were no-brainers.
Kendall Graveman was the lone representative for the Seattle Mariners but a deserving one with just three hits allowed in 13.1 scoreless innings with three saves and three holds.
The final spot went to flame-thrower Emmanuel Clase who has yet to allow an earned run in 14.1 innings while tallying six saves as Cleveland's new closer.
3 Biggest AL Snubs
RP Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
With seven saves in seven chances and a staggering 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings, Barnes has been one of baseball's elite bullpen arms this year. The 30-year-old is in his first full season as Boston's closer after serving mostly as a setup man in years past, and he was simply the victim of a numbers crunch in the AL bullpen.
DH Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins
The number of designated hitters worthy of a spot on the AL roster has been staggering. While others like Giancarlo Stanton (outfield), Yermin Mercedes (catcher) and Shohei Ohtani (pitcher) can be utilized at other positions, Cruz is a DH only at this point in his career. His .300/.354/.580 line and eight home runs are All-Star worthy, but there just wasn't a spot for him on the roster.
OF Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics
One of baseball's true five-tool players, Laureano ranks among the best defensive center fielders and sports a 144 OPS+ with seven home runs and eight stolen bases. The 26-year-old is going to be an All-Star in the near future, and he still has plenty of time to play his way onto the roster this year.