All-Stars on the rise in Pittsburgh
Fresh faces ready to debut at Midsummer Classic
Among millions of baseball fans, hundreds of baseball players, and two baseball managers, a new generation of rising stars has been noticed, appreciated and voted into the 2006 All-Star Game.
Familiar names dot the All-Star landscape, as usual. But what strikes you about the rosters for this Midsummer Classic is the presence of a number of players who not that long ago were merely aspiring All-Stars.
With Sunday's announcement of the results of the All-Star voting it is official: A new generation of All-Stars is upon us, and not just in bits and pieces.
One name above all others ought to be brought immediately forward. That would be the name of Joe Mauer, catcher of the Minnesota Twins. Mauer is 23 years old, but he is already an accomplished defensive catcher, successfully handling some of the best pitching talent in baseball.
But even that is not the story. Mauer came into Sunday hitting .392. Catchers don't hit .392, and for all practical purposes, nobody else does either in the contemporary game, even over three months. But Joe Mauer does. Mauer has not received enough recognition for these accomplishments, possibly because he plays for a small-market team, a team that struggled early in the season and has not been much noticed until recently. Even an All-Star berth may not be enough recognition for what Mauer has done, but it's certainly a start.
But he is just the beginning. In the National League, for instance, you have another catcher, Brian McCann of the Braves, playing in his first full season in the Majors. McCann is 22, but he is already a receiver with poise, maturity and skill, along with hitting prowess.
The Phillies have two stars on the rise in the right side of their infield, first baseman Ryan Howard, 26, a slugger of immense potential, and second baseman Chase Utley, 27, a player of significant versatility and talent.
The Mets have the whole left side of their infield represented and justifiably so. In a breakout season for this club, the eye-popping combination of ability and promise on the left side between David Wright, 23, at third, and Jose Reyes, 23, at shortstop has played a major role. Wright is already a proven run producer, for whom Mets fans chant: "MVP, MVP!" Reyes, a speedster and a sparkplug, has dazzling promise.
Second baseman Dan Uggla, 26, represents a team, the Florida Marlins, which all by itself is a new generation. Uggla was hitting .309 coming into Sunday, and he is fully representative of a young Marlins team that has tons of future potential, but is already beginning to turn that potential into production. His teammate on the Marlins and now on the National League All-Stars, third baseman Miguel Cabrera, is one Marlin whose ability was already widely recognized. But Cabrera is also only 23.
The Pirates have two representatives on the rise as well. Jason Bay, 27, is a truly multitalented outfielder, and also representative of the growing Canadian presence in the game. Third baseman Freddy Sanchez, 28, has not had much recognition before this season, but inside baseball he has already gained wide acknowledgement as a skilled and versatile player.
Outfielder Matt Holliday, 26, is one of the main reasons for the Rockies' return to respectability. Through Saturday, he was hitting .348 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs.
And on the mound, the NL will have the Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb, 27. Webb's sinking fastball has been a sure-thing out producer for most of the season. Derrick Turnbow, 28, is new to the spotlight, coming out of obscurity to record 39 saves for the Brewers last season, with a 1.74 ERA. He is not been quite as untouchable this season, but his fastball reaches the high '90s and he is fully deserving of an All-Star spot.
The Cubs' Carlos Zambrano has already made his mark, but he is only 25 and, in another season of disappointment on the North Side, his pitching has been a bright spot.
The American League also has no shortage of Stars in their formative years. Bobby Jenks, 25, is a flamethrower, who has been solid taking on the heavy-duty role of closing for the defending World Series champion White Sox.
No closer under the big tent has been more reliable, or done better statistical work than Jonathan Papelbon, 25, of the Red Sox. Through Saturday, Papelbon had a microscopic ERA of 0.45, with 24 saves in 26 save opportunities.
Scott Kazmir, 22, is one mistake the Mets made. He was traded to Tampa Bay. Kazmir is an emerging star on the mound, with a 9-5 record for a losing team, more strikeouts than innings pitched and the promise of even better things ahead.
At second base, the Mariners' Jose Lopez, 22, has been a key to his team's recent resurgence. He had 57 RBIs in his first 79 games this season, leading all AL second basemen.
In the outfield, Toronto Vernon Wells, 27, should be an established star with his skills and his numbers, but he has not received the recognition he has deserved. This All-Star berth will help in that regard, and if the Blue Jays remain in contention in the AL East, as they should, his status should rise to meet his ability.
Cleveland's Grady Sizemore, 23, is another multi-talented performer. He is rated, by no less an authority than White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, as one of the two best young players in the American League, along with, of course, Joe Mauer.
Two more young AL stars would have been on display in the Midsummer Classic, but are injured. Toronto outfielder Alex Rios, 25, was having a breakthrough season, and Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano, 23, was doing the same in New York.
The presence of all this young, substantial, emerging talent makes the appeal of the 2006 All-Star Game all that much greater. Beyond that, it also says something very encouraging about the future of the sport itself.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.