Mor­ton, Almora de­serv­ing of All-Star sta­tus

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - SPORTS - Scott Boeck

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).

DAVID KOHL/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Scooter Gen­nett has hit 12 home runs this sea­son.

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