- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Final fan voting ends Thursday afternoon, as MLB will announce the last player -- at least for now, before replacements -- for each squad in the All-Star Game. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this idea of choosing one last performer for the game, as it’s really no less effective than how the other players are chosen. Quibble all you want about a few of the starters (Derek Jeter, Matt Wieters) and several of the manager-chosen reserves (Josh Harrison, Tony Watson), but here’s one last chance to select deserving players, democratically, I suppose.
So here are those 10 eligible players -- five American League pitchers and five National League hitters -- and my thoughts on them, in Player Rater order. Sure, I could have written about New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, but honestly, as of Thursday morning we don’t have enough information at this point to talk about buying, selling or whatever on him.
Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox (25th on the Rater entering Thursday): How he wasn’t chosen over the likes of Scott Kazmir and Mark Buehrle, I really don’t know. Perhaps people weren’t paying attention. Sale missed some time with a strained flexor muscle, but he’s made up for it, and nobody should call him brittle. With Tanaka on the shelf, Sale is the best option to compete with Felix Hernandez for not only top AL pitcher honors, but maybe overall. This guy is so good he could win the final Rater, so invest.
Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals (28th): It doesn’t appear that he’s going to win the vote, but based on the Player Rater, he really should. In fact, he’s fifth in season value among all middle-infield-eligible players, on pace for 24 homers, 95 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and 113 runs scored! Based on how we treat pitchers in preseason drafts -- there’s not enough hitting -- Rendon would be a second-round pick next year. That’s amazing.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs (34th): Whether he wins the NL vote or not, I’m calling his gains in plate discipline All-Star worthy. He’s closing in on last year’s home run total already, and while everyone would probably choose Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman over him, Rizzo has been more valuable. He is also a potential second-round pick in 2015 drafts, with more gains possible.
Garrett Richards, SP/RP, Los Angeles Angels (36th): A year ago he couldn’t crack an average rotation, and now he’s potentially elite. He threw hard, but not this hard, and now he’s among the strikeout leaders. I admit I worry a tad about the hardest throwers and elbow problems, but enjoy this. It sure looks legit.
Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves (43rd): Few star players seem to get whined about more than Upton, but he’s on pace for right around career bests in home runs and RBIs. And he runs a little. He’s back in the top 10 among outfielders and one of these years, he’ll win the MVP.
Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies (57th): As much as I like and prefer Rizzo, it wouldn’t be a disgrace if the resurgent Morneau edges him out for the final spot. After all, it’s a nice story, Morneau returning to Minnesota, where the festivities are, and he’s thriving again. And by the way, unlike most Rockies, Morneau is hitting pretty nicely away from Coors Field. He’s not a top-10 first baseman to me, but he’s still worth investing in.
Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians (60th): Like Richards, to a degree, Kluber has made large strides in his strikeout rate, and everything we’re seeing appears sustainable. Kluber was one of my preseason breakout performers, but a pace for a ridiculous 249 strikeouts I didn’t see coming. He’ll pass 200, and only 12 pitchers achieved that last season.
Dallas Keuchel, SP/RP, Houston Astros (117th): I admit it took me awhile to believe in this 26-year-old lefty, but it happened. Now I’m questioning that stance again, since he’s been below average his past few outings and was never a strikeout guy to start with. Perhaps a wrist injury is the problem. Don’t overreact. His peripherals say he’s for real, and the Astros score enough for their pitchers.
Casey McGehee, 1B/3B, Miami Marlins (122nd): OK, now who expected this? I actually chose the relatively ignored McGehee in the USA Today NL-LABR league for a few bucks, and now he leads the NL in hits. His transformation from exiled to Japan to hitting .320 and on pace for 100 RBIs -- albeit with only one home run -- is phenomenal. Can it continue? He’s walking and hits behind Giancarlo Stanton. I say he ends up around .295 with five home runs and 80 RBIs. Still, that’s incredible.
Rick Porcello, SP, Detroit Tigers (133rd): He looked considerably better to most before the Tampa Bay Rays tuned him up on Sunday Night Baseball for 11 hits and seven runs, but I admit I haven’t been buying all season. Wins don’t tell us much analytically, and Porcello’s meager strikeout rate is an issue. I say the ERA, as always, rises above 4. Again.
AL report: OK, Tanaka has elbow inflammation, but nobody should panic just yet. Maybe he misses just a few starts. (Maybe he misses a year.) Don’t do anything yet. And by the way, he’s 15th on the Player Rater. This one could really hurt. … The Toronto Blue Jays will be without valuable platoon DH Adam Lind for 6-8 weeks after a foot fracture was discovered. Lind is hitting a legit .320, although sans power, but now fantasy owners should move on. I wrote about available fantasy first basemen earlier in the week when Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto each hit the DL as well. … On the field, Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier had four hits Wednesday, including a grand slam off Kansas City Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura. Kiermaier has really slumped over the past month and is someone to be avoided. He never hit for much power in the minors and he’s been caught stealing on his past three attempts. … Rip Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols all you like, but his homer Wednesday was his 20th. When he tops 30 homers and 100 RBIs, will his detractors apologize? … I wrote earlier in the week of my interest in new Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Nolan Reimold, and he’s hit so far, although he’s faced several lefties. Reimold singled, doubled and knocked in three runs. He’s certainly going to play when healthy. … Angels lefty C.J. Wilson has been brutal in his past four outings, permitting 22 runs over 16 2/3 innings, including Wednesday’s pounding by Toronto. The normally reliable Wilson is starting to be cut in leagues, but try to be more patient.
NL report: A San Diego Padre has made it to double digit home runs! It’s outfielder Seth Smith, who really isn’t worth owning in a 10- or 12-team format. In fact, no Padres hitter is owned in more than 40 percent of ESPN standard leagues! I can't recall seeing that before. … Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson claims he’s sticking with homer-prone closer Addison Reed, and setup man Brad Ziegler certainly didn’t make his case by permitting a couple 10th-inning runs Wednesday. Keep Reed owned. … No MLB pitcher has won more games than Cincinnati Reds right-hander Alfredo Simon. It’s hard to believe. Simon isn’t accruing many strikeouts and his FIP is well over 4. I’m still selling. … I’m buying on New York Mets right-hander Dillon Gee. He returned from the DL Wednesday and tossed seven innings of one-run ball to beat the Braves. Gee’s ERA since last season’s All-Star break, in 22 starts, is a cool 2.66. Invest.