Although it is technically just an exhibition game –one that no longer ‘counts’— being selected to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is a distinction that carries some weight. But coming off a year where the Midsummer Classic was canceled for the first time since World War II, there are a number of would-be All-Stars whose dream of making the game has been deferred into the new year. Here’s a look at some of the best players in the game who are yet to make their All-Star debut, but are in position to change that in 2021.
Two years ago, Alvarez put on one of the most surprising debut performances in recent history, invoking comparisons to a young Albert Pujols. In just 87 games, Alvarez won AL Rookie of the Year after hitting 27 home runs and producing a 1.067 OPS, which would have been behind only Christian Yelich & Mike Trout if he had enough at-bats. His 2020 was limited to only eight at-bats due to COVID-19 and a pair of knee surgeries. He will be returning as a full-time DH and if he can channel his previous form, an All-Star selection should be easily obtained.
It was a small sample size (six starts), but Anderson showed he has front of the rotation stuff during his MLB debut in 2020. Over 32.1 innings, Ian Anderson struck out 41, produced a 1.95 ERA, and held opponents to a .172 average against. He’ll start his first full campaign as a prominent contender for NL Rookie of the Year.
Since coming over to Tampa Bay midway through 2019, Anderson has been one of the most effective relievers in the game. Over 42 appearances with the Rays, he has owned a 1.43 ERA, while his microscopic 0.58 WHIP is by far the best in all of baseball among relievers. Although he struggled some in the postseason, the versatile righty converted six saves and six holds in 2020 and is poised to continue to get plenty of work in the new year.
One of the most exciting players in the game and possessors of an undeniable flair, Anderson has the stuff that All-Star Games should be made out of. After winning the AL batting title in 2019, he continued his ascent with a pace that would’ve seen him shatter his previous career bests over the course of a full season. Since the beginning of 2019, Anderson’s .331 average is the second-best in the game.
Over the first 75 games of his career, the dynamic second-generation star-in-the-making has hit .307 with a .896 OPS. In his brief career, Bichette already has set an MLB record for most consecutive games with a double, with nine, and joined none other than Ted Williams with the longest streak of games with an extra-base hit to start a career (11). His ascent seems assured to continue and he could be among the players to make the most with a full slate of games at his disposal.
Arozarena went from little known trade chip at the beginning of 2020 to the breakout sensation of the season. The 26-year-old entered 2020 with just 23 career plate appearances and finished it plastered all over the all-time postseason record book, setting new records for home runs (10) and total hits (29), in an oft-spectacular fashion. All eyes will now be on Arozarena as he looks to parlay huge postseason into a full-time star turn, at the heart of the Rays lineup in 2021.
He didn’t have the all-universe showing in 2020 (4.91 ERA over nine starts) that he finished 2019 with, there are few pitchers on Earth as talented as Flaherty. Over his first three full seasons, Flaherty owns a 3.20 ERA, while his .198 average against is the third-lowest in baseball among starters. He also places in the MLB top 10 in WHIP (1.04) and strikeout percentage (29.7%) over the same time span.
Gallen proved that his strong rookie season was no fluke in 2020. Over 12 starts, the 25-year-old finished tied for third in pitching WAR (2.7), while also finishing in the NL top 10 in ERA (2.75) as well as 14 other categories. Amid a retooling effort in Arizona, Gallen could be the easy selection for All-Star representation among D’Backs with another strong showing.
One of the most anticipated and hyped prospects in recent memory, Guerrero’s early returns have not been up to the level of some of his other prodigious, sub-23-year-old contemporaries – even on his own team. The time to buy (relatively) low on Vlad Jr stock is now. While the ‘Best Shape of his Life’ narrative that will be in play this spring after he shed 40 pounds over the winter is odd to see attached to a 22-year-old, it should carry a noteworthy impact on speeding up the guaranteed upswing of what is an elite impact of his bat.
The centerpiece of Boston’s young lineup, Devers is just beginning to realize his full potential and is positioned to muscle his way into a crowded All-Star scene at third base. No player in baseball has more total bases than the 24-year-old’s 471 over the past two years, while his 163 extra-base hits are second-most among all players 25 or younger since 2018. He could certainly ensure his ASG turn if he can cut down on his league-high error count, which he led the AL in for the third-consecutive season in 2020.
Fried followed up on his 17-win breakout from 2019 with an even stronger campaign in 2020. The 27-year-old went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA and added a Gold Glove Award for good measure. His 2.9 WAR led National League pitchers and was notoriously hard to create solid contact against. He’ll enter the year atop a very strong Braves lineup and has the chance a true star turn in the process.
Hayes only played the final month of the season, but still led all MLB rookies with a 1.9 WAR. This came courtesy of a .376 average (32-for-85), with a 1.124 OPS and committing just one error in just under 200 innings. The 24-year-old produced an extra-base hit in 43% of his total hits and was an excellent base runner as well. With the striping of the Pirates roster and his exceptional all-around game, Hayes could have a fairly direct path as an All-Star representative.
Few pitchers miss more bats, more often than Karinchak. Over his first 32 MLB games, the righty has struck out a whopping 17 batters per nine innings (61 Ks in 32.1 innings). Opponents hit a feeble .159 against the 25-year-old last season while striking out in 48% of opportunities against him – the fifth-highest single-season reliever strikeout percentage ever. With the departure of Brad Hand, Karnichak will take his prime-Craig Kimbrel level returns to the ninth inning for the Tribe this year.
The Mariners long-time top prospect made a sizeable impact in his first full season. The athletic centerfielder did a bit of everything, hitting 11 home runs with a .801 OPS, scoring 34 runs, and stealing five bases. As a reward for his breakout, Lewis was unanimously named AL Rookie of the Year, becoming the first Mariner since Ichiro in 2001 to win the award. He became the fourth player in franchise history to take home top rookie honors and first since Ichiro 20 years ago.
An imposing figure behind the plate at 6’3 and nearly 230 pounds, Murphy had a strong all-around effort in his first MLB campaign. As a rookie, he contributed seven home runs at the plate, while throwing out nearly 30% of would-be base thieves behind it. His 1.2 WAR was seventh-best among all catchers and helped him earn a fourth-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
While Olson had a down season last year, he still has been easily among the most productive first basemen in the game to still be without an All-Star nod. A two-time Gold Glove winner with three seasons of 20+ homers and 80+ RBI, Olson leads all AL first basemen in WAR since 2018 at 10.9. Given his track record of ascent before the mess that was 2020, the odds say he gets back on track to get over that All-Star hump in 2021.
There are few players in the game with more tools to call on than Robert. The top game’s top prospect headed into 2020, he delivered on promise as a rookie, hitting 11 home runs with nine stolen bases, while also taking home a Gold Glove in center field. This was a pace that would have had Robert in line to join Mike Trout as the only rookie in history to have a 30 homer/30 stolen base season. The sky is the limit for the young Cuban stud as he anchors the White Sox outfield.
With a young career that so far has been associated with those of Ted Williams, Albert Pujols, and Frank Robinson, that fact that Soto has not been an All-Star yet is laughable. As a rookie, Soto didn’t come up until May, then in 2019, he was ridiculously overlooked despite hitting .300 at the break. However, on the heels of a year where he rallied from a bout with COVID-19 to win the NL batting title at .351, while also leading it in on-base %, slugging % and OPS and finished fifth in MVP voting, Soto is a virtual lock to begin a long string of All-Star nods this year.
The #1 overall pick in the 2015 draft had his best season to date in 2020, in what looks like a preview of coming attractions as he matures into a top-tier shortstop. Swanson contributed career highs across the board and was on pace that would’ve shattered his bests at the plate. However, the place he truly shined was in the field, where he was second in defensive WAR and first in double plays turned.
Tatis narrowly missed an All-Star appearance as a 20-year-old, when a back injury ended his season early. However, had there been an All-Star Game in 2020, he’d have been a shoo-in, as he finished atop the National League leaders in virtually everything possible. Entering his age 22 season, Tatis’s mixture of prodigious talent and flair for the big moment has put him among the most famous players in the game already and could mount a run at Josh Donaldson’s record of 14 million votes in 2015.
In the current golden era of shortstops, it is simply a numbers game as to why so many accomplished contributors at the keystone are still without an All-Star trip. Turner sits squarely among that group, but perhaps not much longer. In 2020, he led the NL in hits and took big steps forward in power, leading to a career-best .982 OPS, the best among NL all MLB shortstops. Add in his ever-present speed and Turner is becoming one of the most well-rounded contributors in the game – and inspired by a potential date with free agency after 2021.
In 62 fewer games, Voit bettered his home run total from the year before to an AL-best 22. Had he been given the full slate of games in a normal season, he would’ve been on pace for a 63-homer season, putting the 30-year-old first baseman in some rarified air all-time. With a swing that is perfect for the confines of Yankee Stadium and amid a lineup where he’ll get plenty of pitches to hit, Voit should have an All-Star debut squarely in his sights for the new year.
The Phillies inked Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million deal before 2020 and he returned on the investment with an impressive debut effort. Over 11 starts, Wheeler was 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA and benefited by making big strides in controlling his own fate (just 16 walks and three home runs in 71 innings). His 2.9 WAR tied for tops among NL pitchers and behind only Mookie Betts for tops in the league.
Just three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Williams turned in one of the most dominant relief seasons in recent history. The 25-year-old setup man allowed just one run over 22 appearances, good for a 0.33 ERA while striking out 53% of batters he faced. He became the first reliever to win Rookie of the Year since Craig Kimbrel in 2011 and the first-ever to win the award without notching a save. Alongside Josh Hader, he’ll return to give the Brewers the most lethal pair of late-inning options in the game.
It shouldn’t be too hard to make a name for yourself when your last name is as unique as Yastrzemski’s – unless you share it with a Hall of Fame grandfather with over 3,400 hits. Yet the younger, late-blooming Yaz accomplished just that in 2020 when he was one of the breakout performers of the year. In his second season, Yastrzemski finished in the top 10 in NL MVP voting, after hitting .298 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI, while finishing in the NL top 10 in OPS (.968), extra-base hits (28), and leading the league in range factor for right fielders with the glove.
Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.