By David Heim
Every MLB season there seems to be a handful of guys that take the league by storm, sometimes unexpectedly. Sometimes, their efforts lead to recognition—like an appearance in the annual MLB All Star Game. The ‘midsummer classic,’ as it is notably called, is a gathering of baseball’s best.
Plain and simple.
But every year there seem to be a handful of players that were not expected to represent – not only their teams – but their respective league prior to the season starting.
Here are five guys that will make All-Star noise in 2015.
1. Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Mookie Betts is the next big minor league prospect to make his way to Fenway. The centerfielder by trade hit .291 as a rookie, appearing in 52 games. He has often been linked to a possible trade for a pitcher to bolster the Red Sox mediocre starting five, but if his torrid spring training is any indication of how Betts might pan out in 2015, there is no chance the Red Sox get rid of him.
The 22-year-old had a .458 average this spring with eight doubles, which is second-most among all MLB players. Fellow outfielder Hanley Ramirez calls him “the best prospect” in the entire organization. Betts has also received praise from veteran teammates David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, who I’m guessing know a thing or two. Betts might not get the starting nod at first with the Red Sox having a crowded outfield, but it won’t be long before Betts is playing his way into a starting role every day and a possible All-Star Game appearance.
2. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
What really is there to say about the Chicago Cubs’ top prospect Kris Bryant? Touted as the second-best overall prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, Bryant is set to burst onto the scene in 2015 and will be a preseason favorite for National League Rookie of the Year. Bryant isn’t just all hype so far either. This spring, Bryant was baseball’s best hitter, sporting a .425 average with a league-high nine (!!!) homeruns and .489 on base percentage.
The bad news for Bryant and Cubs fans everywhere is that Bryant will somehow be starting the 2015 season in Triple-A, for arbitration purposes. The Cubs will have Bryant under contract for a whole extra season if he spends a minimum of 12 days in the minors to start the season. You can bet Bryant will be starting at third base Friday, April 17 against the Padres. His play has shown he could be up to stay for good. He’s that good, and he’ll be the next big rookie to make the All-Star Game.
3. Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics
With Jeff Samardzija now with the Chicago White Sox, Sonny Gray becomes the ace of the Athletics’ pitching staff in 2015. Gray finished 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA a year ago, but the biggest takeaway from Year two compared to his rookie season in 2013 was the huge leap he took.
He has struggled a bit this spring, but I expect Gray to figure things out as the season unfolds. He has to, the A’s don’t have many solid options after Gray in the starting rotation.
4. Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves won’t be competing for a title in 2015, but their young shortstop Andrelton Simmons will certainly be a bright spot on the season. Simmons won a Gold Glove and smashed 17 homeruns in his first full season in 2013, which is enough to land him on this list. He had a bit of a down year in 2014, but if he can regain his 2013 form, he’ll have All Star chatter.
Besides, the National League shortstop pool isn’t all that deep. Who knows if Troy Tulowitzki can stay healthy, and are Ian Desmond and Starlin Castro really confident picks to make the NL All Star Game roster? I don’t think so. 2015 could be a breakout year for Simmons.
5. Michael Pineda, New York Yankees
When the Yankees traded Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda back in 2012, the consensus was that the Yankees were adding a power arm to their rotation. 2013 was a disaster for Pineda in the Bronx, and he found himself suspended twice in 2014 for pine tar on his hat. But when Pineda was on the mound for the Yankees last season, he was dominant. A 5-5 record won’t necessarily back that notion up, but his 1.89 ERA definitely does.
A ton of questions surround the Yankees 2015 starting rotation, notably if ace Masahiro Tanaka can stay healthy and if CC Sabathia can rebound from an injury-plagued 2014 season. Pineda will have to be big for the Yankees in 2015 if the team wants any chance at a playoff appearance. I think he will. Pineda builds off a solid 2014 campaign and not only makes his second-career All-Star game, but will start for the American League in the game.
David Heim can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @davidheim12