Morton, Almora deserving of All-Star status
More than a month remains before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is set to be played, but it’s never too early to forecast the rosters.
The regulars — Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer — figure to return to the midseason classic scheduled for July 17 at Washington’s Nationals Park.
But who will be the new faces among the 64 roster spots?
USA TODAY takes a look at seven players who should be first-time AllStars, a mix of young breakout stars and successful reclamation projects. (Note: Statistics entering Saturday.)
Shohei Ohtani, Angels
There hasn’t been a player in baseball the likes of Ohtani since Babe Ruth. The two-way rookie phenom has proved he can hit (.907 OPS with six home runs in 114 at-bats) and dominate on the mound (4-1 with a 3.10 ERA over nine starts).
The Angels placed Ohtani on the disabled list with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament and is expected to miss at least a month, the team announced Friday, which would put his playing status if elected or chosen in doubt.
Ohtani is listed on the American League ballot as a designated hitter. While the starting spot will likely go to the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez, who has 100 at-bats more than Ohtani and a higher OPS, Ohtani’s unique skill set gives him an intriguing case.
Charlie Morton, Astros
Morton is enjoying a career year after 11 seasons in the big leagues, posting a 7-1 record with 2.84 ERA and a careerhigh 11.3 strikeouts per nine. But perhaps his breakout year has been a bit overshadowed by his teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who are candidates for the Cy Young award.
Trevor Bauer, Indians
Bauer, 27, ranks sixth in the AL in ERA (2.62) and fourth in strikeouts (109) in the finest of his six big-league seasons.
Albert Almora Jr., Cubs
Lurking in the shadows of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez, Almora is breaking out as one of the game’s most dynamic center fielders. He ranks first in batting (.315) among center fielders, ahead of Trout (.305). Defense, however, is what sets Almora apart — perhaps only Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain is more skilled among National League center fielders.
Scooter Gennett, Reds
The NL Player of the Month in May, Gennett is batting .345 with 12 homers and 45 RBI and a .950 OPS. The second baseman has backed up a strong 2017 season in which he slugged 27 homers and drove in 98 runs. Baez will likely be voted the starter, so Gennett will have strong competition against Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies.
Nick Markakis, Braves
At 34, Markakis is having a career year in his 13th season. Never an AllStar despite more than 2,000 career hits, Markakis leads the NL in hits (82) and multihit games (26) and ranks fourth in batting (.327).
Aaron Nola, Phillies
Four years removed from getting selected seventh overall in the 2014 draft, Nola is tied for second in the NL in wins (seven), fifth in ERA (2.35) and tied for third in WHIP (0.96).
Scooter Gennett has hit 12 home runs this season.