MLB All-Star Game

Kansan sports columnist Ronnie Lozano looks at three reasons why you should watch the 2019 MLB All-Star game on Tuesday, July 9.

The 90th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played at Progressive Field in Cleveland Tuesday, July 9. Whether it’s to see your favorite team get represented on a national stage or see a Yankee turn a double play with a member of the Red Sox, the game has a lot to offer. However, this year there are three specific reasons to tune into the midsummer classic.

Players making their all-star game debuts

There are 36 first-time all-stars. The list includes replacements, and it’s filled with young talent, veterans,and players who may just be entering their prime.

New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, who is also in the Home Run Derby, is a first-time all-star to watch. Alonso has hit 30 home runs and broke the Mets’ rookie record for home runs on June 23.

The other National League reserve first baseman is also making his All-Star Game debut. Pittsburgh Pirates switch-hitter Josh Bell leads the majors in RBIs by a wide margin with 84. Bell has hit two of his 27 homers into the Allegheny River so far this year and will be competing in the derby as well.

Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman is a defensive wizard who earned the platinum glove in the American League last season. Like Bell, this could be the first of many for all-star appearances for the A’s cornerstone who has hit 21 home runs so far this season.

Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana is the only starter from the host city’s team. Santana is playing in his 10th season (ninth with Cleveland) and has a career .815 on-base plus slugging percentage, but he still hadn’t made an all-star team. He was a staple with the Indians until he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2018 season. However, Cleveland re-acquired him this past offseason, and he will now represent them in the All-Star game.

The stories behind the first-time all-stars

Some other players, like Santana, have had long journeys to their first midsummer classic.

Kansas City Royals super utility player Whit Merrifield didn’t make his Major League debut until 2016 when he was 27 years old. He even thought about retiring from professional baseball before he ever made it to the Majors. Since then, he has led the American League in steals twice, led the majors in hits last season and leads again with 117 going into the break.

According to MLB.com, Los Angeles Dodger lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu would be the first South Korean-born player to start the All-Star game. Ryu, who is playing in his sixth season with the Dodgers, missed all of the 2015 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He only made one appearance the next year and missed time due to injuries in the following two seasons as well. However, in 2019, the 32-year-old hasn’t been on the injured list and leads baseball with a 1.73 earned run average.

Another Dodger, Max Muncy, is being rewarded for his breakout performance over the last season and a half after Oakland sent him down to the minors in 2017 for his slow performance. Muncy hit 35 home runs last season and hit a walk-off homer in Game 3 of the World Series. He has also started at least 20 games at first, second and third base, while posting a .903 on-base plus slugging percentage this season for the NL-leading Dodgers.

Young talent

The Atlanta Braves are filled with young stars, and two of them will showcase their skills in this year’s game. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. has become one of the faces of baseball at just 21 years old in part because of his ability to live up to his former top prospect status. Acuna won NL Rookie of the Year in 2018 and has continued to develop this season.

His teammate, starting pitcher Mike Soroka, will be competing with the Mets’ Alonso for the award this season. Soroka didn’t allow more than one earned run in his first eight starts this season.

Another young pitcher, Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, will be a must-watch too if he gets into the game. The 24-year-old has an explosive fastball that averages 96.6 mph, according to Statcast, and he mixes it with a devastating curveball.

One player who has been able to solve Buehler this season happens to be another young star making his debut in the All-Star game. Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks is 4-for-9 with three RBIs this season against Buehler, and he will start at second base for the National League. Marte has become one of the most exciting players in baseball since he’s begun to hit with more power at the plate this season. He hit 22 home runs in the first 402 games of his career, but has hit 20 through 88 games in 2019. The versatile star has even started more games in centerfield (44) than at second base (36).