The 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland, on July 9, will feature four first-time starters. They consist of Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, Jorge Polanco of the Minnesota Twins, and Cleveland’s own Carlos Santana.
For the first time, the MLB held a “Starters Election,” whereby fans had 28 hours to choose All-Star starters after a preliminary vote narrowed down each position to three finalists. Analysts will spend the next week and a half debating whether justice was served in this All-Star vote. Do those who made it to the second round of voting but fell short deserve to start instead of those whose fanbases pushed them over the top?
Whether the new way of selecting starters is fair is an interesting topic, as is whether the best players actually won. For our purposes, though, we’ll look at why these first-time All-Stars, who did make it, won their spots.
With a slash line of .320/.369/.589, Marte has hit 20 home runs this year, almost more than his entire career prior to 2019. He beat the Braves’ Ozzie Albies and the Brewers’ Mike Moustakas for the National League second base position.
Marte is a 25-year-old second baseman from the Dominican Republic. He signed as an international free agent with the Seattle Mariners as a sixteen-year-old. He worked his way up the Mariners system and debuted with the team in 2015. After the 2016 season, the Mariners traded him to the Diamondbacks in a multi-player deal. Last year, he led the MLB in triples, and the team signed him to a five-year $24 million extension.
Marte grew up with Vlad Guerrero Jr. and sees himself as an older brother to the rising Blue Jays star. In fact, Marte tried to get Vlad Jr. to set him up with Vlad’s cousin Elisa. Although Vlad wasn’t interested in playing Cupid, Marte managed to woo her on his own, and he and Vlad Jr. are now cousins-in-law. Perhaps, Vlad Jr. will join his cousin’s husband in next year’s All-Star Game.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
The Braves’ Venezuelan center fielder won National League Rookie of the Year last year. He’s currently hitting .287/.369/.502 with 19 home runs, 51 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases. His selection is especially noticeable because he beat out the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Twins’ Christian Yelich who have both put up insane numbers this year and are almost guaranteed to be future Hall-of-Famers.
Acuña comes from a baseball family. His grandfather Romualdo Blanco played in the Minors. His father was a Mets prospect, and his uncle Jose Escobar played for the Cleveland Indians. He has also had several cousins play in the U.S., including current Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Although this marks his first year as an MLB All-Star, he was named an All-Star in the Australian Baseball League where he played for the Melbourne Aces in 2016.
The Twins’ shortstop Polanco, like Marte, is Dominican and 25 years old. He beat out Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres and the Astros’ Carlos Correa.
Polanco signed with the Twins in 2009 as an international free agent and worked his way through their system until 2014 when the Twins called him up. His first full season did not occur, though, until 2016. He missed 80 games last year due to a suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. After returning, his performance improved, and in 77 games, he hit .288.
Polanco has improved on the hot streak he started after coming back from PED suspension. As of his selection, he’s slashing .321/.379/.532 with 11 home runs, 39 RBIs, and one shy of 100 hits this season.
The Twins have not had a starter in the All-Star Game since Joe Mauer started at catcher in 2013.
The Indians’ first basemen, at 33, is the oldest of the four first-timers and one of the oldest selected overall. Born in the Dominican Republic, Santana was signed with the Dodgers in 2004. He was later traded to the Indians and called up in 2010. In 2012, the Indians signed him to a five-year $21 million deal.
The Phillies signed him as a free agent in 2017. Frustrated with apathy toward winning, he once destroyed a television set in the Phillies clubhouse, which players used to play Fortnite. The Phillies traded him to the Mariners, and the Mariners then traded him back to the Indians in exchange for Edwin Encarnacion.
Santana hit home run number 200 early this season and currently holds a slash line of .290/.411/.541. with 18 home runs in 2019. He beat out the Twins’ CJ Cron and the Yankees’ Luke Voit for the position.
It’s fitting that each league’s team has two first-time all-star in their starting lineups and that one of them plays for the host team. Although there were many players who might have made the starting rosters if they had more passionate fanbases, all four of these men deserve to start in Cleveland.