Any invite to the 2017 MLB All-Star Game presented by MasterCard is an honor. But there's just something extra special about being in the starting lineup -- the pride of being voted in by millions of fans via the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot, the jog from the dugout as they announce your name among the starting nine and, yes, the ability to come out of the game in like the fifth inning and either catch your flight home or take in the rest of the Midsummer Classic as a spectator.
These five players haven't had that honor yet, but they have each presented an especially appealing case in the early stages of 2017.
1. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Nationals
I don't know where Dusty Baker understandably calling Zimmerman "Bonds-like" ranks among early season surprises, but it has to be pretty high. Zimmerman has had a good career. He was the National League Rookie of the Year Award runner-up in 2006, he's won a couple NL Silver Slugger Awards, he was an All-Star in '09, he got a nine-figure extension back before some guy named Bryce Harper came along and took his place as the face of the franchise. But here, in his age-32 season and after two miserable, injury-plagued campaigns, Zimmerman has been extraordinary -- Major League bests in batting average (.420), slugging percentage (.875) and RBIs (34), while being tied for the MLB lead in homers (13). Back in his perceived prime, there was no way you'd vote for Zimmerman over an Jose Pujols or a Joey Votto, but there's no denying him right now.
This one could be fun to monitor, though, because the Braves' Freddie Freeman has built off his sensational second half of 2016 to make a strong case for his first starting nod, too.
2. Starlin Castro, 2B, Yankees
Who knows if Castro can sustain his early season success (.358/.397/.545 slash line), but it has been one of many surprise storylines associated with the first-place Yankees. Back before the Cubs had All-Star candidates out the wazoo, Castro was the token selection -- their lone All-Star in 2011 and '12. But here in his age-27 season with the Yankees, he's looked much more like the legit star-level player he once seemed destined to be.
"You're seeing Starlin at the top of his game," Joe Maddon, Castro's former skipper, said over the weekend. "Physically, he looks better. He looks like he is in better shape. I don't know if that's true or not. He just looks better, and he's moving really well. And that's, I think, part of why you're seeing him swing the bat so well."
3. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians
Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson are on the shelf, and last year's starter, Manny Machado, has only recently started hitting like his All-Star self. Obviously, there is still plenty of time for Machado's greatness to kick in more consistently, but don't sell Ramirez short, even if he is listed at 5-foot-9. He has the superior statistical case to Machado for 2017, and it's coming on the heels of a '16 in which Ramirez was, surprisingly, one of the more valuable players on a contending team (without getting the All-Star invite). Going back to the start of last season, Ramirez has a .309/.365/.473 slash line, and his wRC+ mark (127) in that time is basically identical to that of Machado (128).
Ramirez's mate on the left-hand side of the Indians' infield, Francisco Lindor, is also deserving of his first starting nod, but that one ought to be obvious to a discerning voter such as yourself.
4. Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers
Or, if you prefer, Nolan Arenado. Both guys are as worthy of starting for the NL as reigning NL MVP Award winner (and starter) Kristopher Bryant, and neither one has been an All-Star starter.
But I'm touting Turner here for two reasons: His wRC+ (162) and OPS (.960) marks are second among NL third basemen to only the Reds' Eugenio Suarez (who obviously doesn't have nearly as much of a track record as Turner), and Turner, despite being one of the more reliable bats in the big leagues the past four seasons, has never been an All-Star. Let's give the red-bearded one some love!
5. Daniel Murphy, 2B, Nationals
This one might seem pretty obvious. But then again, shouldn't it have been obvious a year ago, too? Murphy found himself in a nip-and-tuck ballot battle with the Cubs' Benjamin Zobrist, and though Zobrist and his terrific .283/.388/.467 first-half slash line won out, it was tough to see Murphy, with his .348/.387/.598 marks, relegated to a bench role.
No way that should happen again. The Murphy magic just keeps coming, as he's sitting on a .928 OPS with 16 extra-base hits in the early going.