As the 2018 All-Star Game approaches, the popularity contest once again has begun. Many of the perennial all-stars will once again win the fan voting at their position or be picked by the players and managers to play in the midsummer classic. While it is clear that players like Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer are once again worthy of an All-Star Game selection, I looked instead at role players who have taken their game to the next level in 2018. Listed below is my 2018 Breakout All-Star Team, comprised of players who are having the best seasons of their careers. The only qualifier for this squad is that the player has not previously been named an All-Star.
C Francisco Cervelli
A .273 lifetime hitter, Cervelli has never been a slouch at the plate. However, this may be the best season yet for the 32 year old catcher. Cervelli has been driving the ball at a higher rate in 2018, already setting a career high with nine home runs. His hard hit percentage (95+ MPH exit velocity) has gone from 31.8% in 2017 to 44.4% this season. Cervelli has also been a top of line hitting backstop compared to his peers, trailing only J.T. Realmuto in catcher WAR.
1B Jesus Aguilar
The Brewers first baseman has been absolutely mashing in June, ripping ten home runs and sporting a 1.118 OPS. Leading the NL in slugging percentage, Aguilar’s launch angle this year has jumped from 11.8 in 2017 to 19,1 this season. The former Indian (who knew, right?) has done a lot of his damage on fastballs with a .423 wOBA, a substantial leap from his .357 wOBA against the heater in 2017.
2B Scooter Gennett
Gennett broke out 2017, but he has continued to improve in his 2018 campaign. Leading the NL in batting average at .331, the former 16th round pick has shown his prowess to hit whatever pitchers are throwing to him. Gennett is hitting over .300 on fastballs, breaking pitches, and offspeed offerings, and slugging over .490 on all three as well. This includes slugging .607 on breaking balls, significant improvement from his .380 mark on curveballs and sliders in 2017.
SS Brandon Crawford
Crawford has taken a step up this season, especially after his putrid first month of the season in which he put up a .237 on base percentage. Since then, Crawford has caught fire, producing and OPS over 1.000 in both May and June. Crawford’s wRC+ has gone from 86 in 2017 to 138 in 2018, but it may not last. Many of Crawford’s peripherals are nearly identical to last year (K%, BB%, exit velocity) and his BABIP of .370 is significantly higher than his career mark of .301.
3B Eugenio Suarez
After being traded from the Tigers to the Reds for Alfredo Simon, Suarez has proven himself to be a quality everyday player in the previous two seasons for Cincinnati. This year he has taken his game to the next level, hitting .368 with runners in scoring position and leading the NL with 59 RBI. Suarez has simply been hitting the ball a lot harder this season, with his average exit velocity jumping from 86.2 to 91.3 and his hard hit percentage skyrocketing from 31.9 to 45.9. A big change for Suarez has come on breaking balls, as the third baseman has a .465 wOBA against them this year compared to a .268 mark in 2017.
OF Brandon Nimmo
A former first round pick of the Mets, Nimmo seems to be reaching his potential this season. Originally a fill-in for the injured Mets outfield, Nimmo has taken a starting spot and held on, ranking second in the NL in outfielder WAR (2.7). Nimmo is certainly hitting for more power than he did in 70 games a season ago, with his launch angle rising from 9.6 to 13.2 and his isolated power going from .158 to .281.
OF Eddie Rosario
Like Gennett, Rosario had somewhat of a breakout season in 2017, but has taken his game to new heights in 2018. Rosario seems to be another hitter that has benefited from an increased launch angle, going from 12.7 in 2017 to 19.9 in 2018. One of baseball’s best bad-ball hitters, Rosario has a contact rate on pitches that he chases out of the zone of 72.3%. Even with his unorthodox approach, Rosario ranks 11th in the MLB in position player WAR. He has also made a habit of ambushing pitchers on the first pitch of an at-bat, with a 1.289 OPS when putting the initial offering into play.
OF Andrew Benintendi
A top prospect in the minor leagues, Benintendi showed he could play in the bigs in 2017. After a slow start to this season, Benintendi has pushed his wRC+ up to 137, and his 2018 WAR (2.8) has already topped his 2017 mark of 2.1. A more aggressive approach seems to be one the keys to the former first round pick’s success, as he is swinging at 31% of first pitches (compared to 19% in 2017) and pulling the ball 37.8% of the time (28.7% in 2017). His barrel rate has nearly doubled as well, going from 5.5% in 2017 to 9.2% in 2018.
DH Max Muncy
After playing sparingly in Oakland in 2015 and 2016 and producing a batting average that hovered around the Mendoza line, Muncy is likely the biggest surprise on this list. Muncy’s isolated power of .349 leads Major League Baseball and his homer total (sitting at 17 at the time of this writing) seems to be climbing by the day. A patient hitter, Muncy’s walk rate of 19.3% trails only Mike Trout, and has lead to .410 on-base percentage. When he does swing, Muncy has a barrel rate of 20.2%, trailing only Joey Gallo. With just a .275 BABIP (league average = .300), Muncy’s production is no fluke and could continue to rise.
Utility: Eduardo Escobar
Standing at 5’ 8.5, the player Torii Hunter labeled as “Mighty Mouse” has more than lived up to his nickname this year, leading Major League Baseball in extra base hits with 47. A switch-hitter, Escobar has done most of his damage from the left side, sporting a .966 OPS. Known for attacking balls low in the zone, the utility infielder has hit .417 on pitches on the lower outside part of the plate and .462 on balls low and in the middle third of the plate as a left-handed batter. Escobar, who has 33 doubles, is still on pace to break the Major League record for two-baggers in a season (67).
Who do you think should have made the 2018 Breakout All-Star Team for position players? Let me know in the comments below. Look for the pitcher’s edition coming soon!