One of the great early-summer baseball traditions is trying to figure out who is or isn't worthy to make the All-Star team in July.
The big-name guy that gets all the attention, even though he might not be having the best season? Or the guy that is quietly putting up excellent numbers, but gets overlooked?
Here we look at a sleeper pick for the National League All-Star team from every NL East club:
Braves: Dansby Swanson
If you look at metrics like fWAR, WRC+ and others, there are more than a few NL shortstops ahead of Swanson. But he is on pace for a 30-home run, 100-RBI season, and that should count for something for the defending NL East champions, especially as they rely on him to win a second consecutive division title. Swanson is currently fourth among NL shortstops with an .811 OPS, which is 35 points behind St. Louis’ Paul DeJong. He might not be atop everybody’s NL shortstop list -- Javier Baez, Trevor Story, Corey Seager and DeJong get most of the attention -- but a strong June could push Swanson into the conversation.
Marlins: C Jorge Alfaro
Miami left-hander Caleb Smith has been the team’s most consistent performer, but Alfaro continues to open eyes and turn heads with his power and athleticism. He is quietly putting up numbers that people expected when he moved through the Rangers’ and Phillies’ farm systems as one of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Not only have his traditional statistics impressed, his hard-hit percentage, sprint speed and arm strength rank among the best in the game, making him a triple threat. Alfaro continues to improve behind the plate as he handles a young pitching staff, providing leadership on and off the field. Miami acquired him in February in the J.T. Realmuto trade. It would not be a surprise to see both Alfaro and Realmuto on the same All-Star team at some point in the future, if not next month.
Mets: OF/2B Jeff McNeil
McNeil probably is not on many people’s radar because he recently spent time on the 10-day injured list with a strained left hamstring. But he is batting .337 with 14 doubles, one triple, two home runs, 15 RBIs and an .880 OPS in 199 plate appearances. He has struck out only 22 times and walked 16 times, giving him a .417 on-base percentage. The fact that McNeil can play both the outfield and infield makes him a versatile player that could sneak onto the NL squad in more than one way.
Nationals: INF Howie Kendrick
Kendrick turns 36 on July 12, but he gets better with age. He is batting .322 with nine doubles, 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. The 14-year veteran is right on pace for the highest OPS+ of his career. He has played first base, second base and third base. He also can play in the outfield, giving him, like McNeil, multiple ways to make the team. In a season with a lot of rough patches, Kendrick has been one of the few things going right for the Nationals.
Phillies: 2B Cesar Hernandez
Hernandez is one of those players who never really stands out, but at the end of season has pretty decent numbers. He is third among second basemen in the NL with a .787 OPS, better than Enrique Hernandez (.713), Ozzie Albies (.725) and Kolten Wong (.715). He is tied for third in fWAR (1.0) behind Ketel Marte (2.1) and Mike Moustakas (1.8). Hernandez could easily make a late push for an All-Star spot with a strong June. He will certainly get his opportunities, as he is expected to hit leadoff following Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending knee injury.