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July 11, 2013

The Lineup Card

Ten of Our Personal All-Stars

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Josh Donaldson
My personal All-Star of the first half of the season is a player who actually should be an All-Star. While the voters and staffs did a respectable job this year with their selections, Donaldson deserved to be a part of the American League squad headed to Citi Field.

No, I'm not suggesting that Donaldson should have been selected over Miguel Cabrera. Nor am I saying that Manny Machado shouldn’t have made the team. And I do believe Bartolo Colon earned a spot on the AL pitching staff. But the A's are sitting in first place in the tough American League West, and they only have one representative headed to the Midsummer Classic?

Not only has Donaldson carried the team offensively with a slash line of .316/.385/.529, but going into Wednesday, he led the team in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, doubles (tied), RBI, and walks. He was also 12th in the majors in batting, 17th in on-base percentage, 14th in slugging, and 10th in OPS—all numbers that were even better than Machado's! —Joe Hamrahi

2. Hank Conger
If you look hard enough at most players’ careers, you’ll find at least one point where a lot of people could have given up expectations. That was where Conger was a few months ago, when the Angels locked up Chris Iannetta to a long-term deal. Conger’s defense was the most obvious issue--his throwing, particularly--but for a guy whose bat was supposed to be a carrying tool, the .201/.280/.330 triple-slash line was arguably the more troubling. Conger has been atop Ben Lindbergh’s catcher framing standards for most of the season, and he has thrown out 39 percent of base stealers. He’s got the same slugging percentage as Mark Trumbo. He’s done enough that, even if everything goes wrong, he’ll get second, third, and fourth chances from desperate teams into his 30s. But he’s also done enough that you can probably expect considerably more than that. —Sam Miller

3. Julio Teheran
Julio Teheran was BP’s no. 5 overall prospect coming into last season. Then he collapsed, struggling so badly in Triple-A (5.03 ERA, 5.84 FIP. 6.10 FRA) that he barely got a sniff of the majors in 2012 and prompted the Braves to send organizational pitching guru Dom Chiti to Gwinnett late in the year to try to fix the broken right-hander. As R.J. Anderson documented, Teheran bounced back with a good 2013 spring training—but then looked shaky again in his first starts of the year in April. Was the Braves’ prized young pitcher going to turn out to be a “Juan Cruz Redux,” as some worried (via Anderson’s report), no better than a middle reliever?

The problem seemed to stem partially from Teheran’s loss of his once formidable changeup, which he scarcely threw to start 2013. Yet he adapted, honing his fastball and slider, and finding via those two pitches an improvised mojo that peaked with a near no-hitter a little over a month ago. He faltered in his next start but has since come correct, with four very good outings and one decent one dropping his ERA, after last night’s 7 1/3-inning win over Miami, to a season-low 3.09. This is the Braves’ fifth starter, and he has so far accumulated more PVORP than all but two other pitchers in Atlanta’s starting rotation, tied with Tim Hudson and barely trailing Mike Minor.

I could have chosen Minor himself, of course, and Minor is worthy, too. But Teheran, just 22 years old, showed great maturity in rebuilding his arsenal around unexpected pitches when he lost the feel for his change, and regained more than prospect status: He re-established himself as a possible future stalwart at or near the top of the Braves’ rotation. And he’s one of the notable reasons why Atlanta has led the NL East since Opening Day. —Adam Sobsey

4. Matt Tuiasosopo
To qualify for the batting title, one must have at least three plate appearances per game, but if we scaled it back to one PA, entering Tuesday's games, Tuiasosopo would lead the league in on-base percentage and be sixth in OPS behind Jeff Baker (!), Chris Davis, Yasiel Puig, Miguel Cabrera, and Hanley Ramirez.

This after not sniffing the big leagues since 2010. He toiled through three partial seasons with the Mariners, hitting .176/.234/.306, and was never called back up after that. A year with the Mets did not impress either, nor did he have employment prospects in 2013, so he did what any unemployed man in America would do: email the résumé around. The Tigers answered first, since they were in the market for a right-handed outfield bat and also some organizational depth. And, as the spring training outfield candidates fell one by one, Tuiasosopo remained standing on the 25-man roster, platooning with Andy Dirks in left field.

He'll never be mistaken for an All-Star, but he has flourished while doing all that has been asked of him—no more, no less—which is what can happen when a player is used almost perfectly by situation and by volume. —Matt Sussman

5. James Shields
Shields remains tremendous, even if the general feelings toward the trade, as well as the Royals' so-so play, have left him under the radar. In normal fashion only two of his starts have lasted fewer than six innings, and his rate stats are about what's come to be expected from the right-hander. —R.J. Anderson

6. Alexei Ramirez
There has been little to cheer for on the South Side of Chicago this season, but that has not stopped Alexei Ramirez from trying to become the Cuban Cal Ripken. Until he was pulled before the 9th inning in St. Petersburg this past Friday night, Ramirez had played in every inning of the season. In fact, that remains the only inning he has missed the entire season. That run includes 11 extra-inning affairs, including a stretch of three consecutive extra-inning games from May 5-7.

At the plate, Ramirez has taken a step backward in the power department; he has hit but one home run this season after hitting at least nine in each of the previous four seasons. What he has given up in power, he has gained in speed, as the Cuban Missile is just one stolen base shy of tying his career high of 20 set just last season in 71 more games played.

The fact that Ramirez is running like this while playing all but one inning of the 2013 season makes him my unsung all-star. —Jason Collette

7. Russell Martin
Russell Martin’s 2007 season was one to be proud of: an all-star selection, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger award. He stole 21 bases. Slowly, though, the toll of catching wore him down. His ISO dropped to just .079 in 2009. He missed much of the 2010 season with a hairline hip fracture and had surgery in the offseason to repair his meniscus. His two seasons with the Yankees were pretty solid—showing better power than the latter part of his Dodgers stint—but his batting average dropped to .211 last year, and his defense was iffy.

Martin is back in full force this year. His .278 TAv is the best he’s had since the ’07 season. He’s also an above-average fielder (by FRAA) for the first time since then. He’s caught 50 percent of baserunners stealing against him. The Pirates pitching staff he catches is first in the majors with a 3.14 team ERA. The Buccos are hovering around .600 at the moment. Life is good for the 30-year-old Russell Nathan Jeanson Coltrane Martin, Jr.—certainly a lot better than things looked a few years ago. —Dan Rozenson

8. Daniel Nava
The first item for which Mr. Nava should be commended is for being not Josh Hamilton. It wasn't a strict either/or, but when the Angels got the winner's curse, the Red Sox got the loser's gain when Nava accidentally became part of their plans. It wasn't even really supposed to be him as the guy who has the plurality of their starts in left field, but when Jackie Bradley Jr. sputtered early, it was on the independent ball veteran who already has set a career-high for plate appearances.

He's been a little BABIP-y with his .295/.377/.445 line bolstered by a .336 BABIP, but there's some power there with 10 home runs, there's some patience, and there's basically been a free 1.8 WARP first half on the AL East's best team. —Zachary Levine

9. Julio Urias
The fun thing about baseball is seeing firsts, and no matter how long you've been a fan, there's always something you can see for the first time. This year, the most exciting first I've seen has been the first 16-yea- old in the Midwest League in my lifetime. Urias, a pitching prospect for the Dodgers (who was recently ranked as the No. 41 prospect in baseball by the Prospect Team at BP) has not only been playing at the age of consent, but he's been pretty amazing to boot. In eight starts for the Great Lakes Loons, he has a 2.78 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. That's so crazy it doesn't even seem possible, but it's happening before our very eyes. And it's arguably more worthy of recognition from the baseball community than anything that's happening in the major leagues this season. Yes, Yasiel Puig is Superman, Mike Trout is from another planet, and Carlos Gomez might get to 10 wins above replacement, but let's get serious--when I was 16, I was fumbling through Zeppelin covers on the drums and was barely beyond legitimately thinking I could convince other kids I had a girlfriend from Canada.

So in order to get the most firsts as possible out of the highly talented Urias, I want to see him added to the National League roster in the All-Star Game. Imagine how much excitement would be generated by the 16-year-old kid jogging out of the bullpen to pitch to Prince Fielder or Alex Gordon in front of millions and millions of viewers. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about this. And while the phrase "chance of a lifetime" often gets overused to the point where it's almost meaningless, this time we can say it and actually MEAN it. This may be our only chance to get a 16-year-old into the All-Star Game. —Bret Sayre

10. Mat Latos
Over the past three-plus seasons, Mat Latos has started 113 games, pitched 704 1/3 innings, struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings, and posted a 3.28 ERA. He ranks in the top 25 among qualified starters in all of those categories, and he’s having his best year yet. Given how many players make modern all-star teams, you’d think he would have had an appearance or two. But Latos has never been an all-star.

In fact, Latos hasn’t made headlines in many respects. Baseball America never named him a top 100 prospect (though we once ranked him no. 61.) His radar readings are respectable, but they don’t stand out. None of his pitches regularly draws oohs and ahhs or gets GIF’d and passed around. And he’s not going to be asked to pose for the ESPN The Magazine Bodies issue (although we know what he looks like catching sharks shirtless). But he is a durable, above-average arm who can be counted on to turn in an ERA in the 3.00-3.50 range—and a FIP to match—whether he’s pitching in Petco or Great American Ball Park. That might not be the kind of pitcher who makes all-star rosters, but it is the type who would fit in near the top of every team’s rotation. —Ben Lindbergh

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