By Joe Starkey
I asked Josh Harrison, at his baseball camp in the North Hills on Wednesday, to pick the top all-star candidates among his Pirates teammates.
“Wow,” he said. “I don't know where to start.”
The Pirates have at least seven legitimate candidates, each of whom Harrison mentioned. And he started in the right place, despite what happened several hours later at PNC Park.
“I know for sure you gotta go with Gerrit Cole,” he said. “A.J. Burnett, (Tony) Watson, (Mark) Melancon, Cutch, (Starling) Marte, (Francisco) Cervelli. The list is endless. It just shows how deep our team is.”
All the hopefuls won't make the team, of course. Too many complications. For one, only Andrew McCutchen has a chance to be voted in (and is the Pirates' only position player who merits a starting spot).
For another, each of the 15 NL teams must be represented among the 34 roster spots. That's how the Pirates once sent Mike Williams and his 6.29 ERA to the Midsummer Classic.
So this won't be a Kansas City Royals situation. The Royals have seven players leading in American League fan votes. At this rate, Freddie Patek will start at shortstop.
It won't be like the 1960 Pirates, either. That team had eight players on the NL roster for two All-Star Games (somebody thought it was a good idea to play a “doubleheader” a few days apart). Since then, the Pirates have put as many as five players in the All-Star Game twice — 1972 and 2013.
I could see anywhere from three to five this year. That wouldn't be out of line. The Pirates, after all, went into Wednesday's game with the NL's second-best record.
So who's most deserving?
My list, in order:
1. Cole: True, he took a Byrd bath Wednesday and probably lost whatever chance he had to start the All-Star Game. But he's still on pace for about 23 wins. The Reds and Marlon Byrd scored five off Cole and pushed his ERA from 1.78 to 2.16. But did I mention he's still on pace for about 23 wins?
2. McCutchen: By first-half performance alone, maybe McCutchen isn't the second-most deserving player. The reason I placed him here? Well, as McCutchen himself put it when talking about how his lengthy early-season slump soon would end: “I'm Andrew McCutchen.” He's one of the faces of his sport, certainly the face of it in Pittsburgh.
He's Andrew McCutchen, and he belongs in the All-Star Game representing this city. It's that simple. He still has a great chance to start the game, too.
3. Melancon: Before Wednesday, he was leading the league in saves and save percentage. He'd faced the minimum 15 batters in his previous five appearances and had a 0.00 ERA this month.
4. Burnett: The twist here is that Burnett, 37th on the all-time strikeout list and the owner of 161 wins, never has been to an All-Star Game. He belongs this year, though a few more solid starts would bolster his case after a couple of shaky ones this month.
5. Cervelli: The NL carried four catchers last year, three the two years before that. Among those with at least 50 games played this season, Cervelli leads in batting average and pitch-framing (according to statcorner.com). He's fourth in OPS (behind Buster Posey, Yasmani Grandal and Nick Hundley), 10th in home runs, seventh in caught-stealing percentage and seventh in WAR. Yadier Molina looms here, too, with a Cutch-like rep and some pretty good numbers.
6. Watson: As always, the consummate set-up man. Others are having good years, notably San Diego's Brandon Maurer. But if the idea is to win the game (and that's debatable), Watson would be a wonderful guy to have around.
The fringe candidates would be Marte, who had slipped to 12th in OPS among NL outfielders, and Francisco Liriano.
The moral of the story is that the Pirates have come a long, long ways since the days of Mike Williams and his 6.29 ERA.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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