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ASG debate: Cozart, Hechavarria not to be short-changed

Reds, Marlins shortstops putting up big numbers, could push Tulowitzki in All-Star balloting
MLB.com @castrovince

*** We will be doing daily ASG debates until balloting ends on July 2. We will frequently be pitting one player against another and have a writer make a case for one of them, but that doesn't mean there aren't other great candidates for that position. In fact, your comments could spark a new debate for us to tackle. So let us know what you think! ***

Troy Tulowitzki has been voted in as the National League's starting shortstop for the All-Star Game each of the last two years and three of the last four. But Tulo might face some stiff competition on this year's ballot, and two of the names in the early mix qualify as a surprise:

*** We will be doing daily ASG debates until balloting ends on July 2. We will frequently be pitting one player against another and have a writer make a case for one of them, but that doesn't mean there aren't other great candidates for that position. In fact, your comments could spark a new debate for us to tackle. So let us know what you think! ***

Troy Tulowitzki has been voted in as the National League's starting shortstop for the All-Star Game each of the last two years and three of the last four. But Tulo might face some stiff competition on this year's ballot, and two of the names in the early mix qualify as a surprise:

Cincinnati's Zack Cozart and Miami's Adeiny Hechavarria.

First, a little perspective: Prior to this 2015 season, Cozart and Hechavarria had combined to log 2,876 at-bats in the big leagues (1,205 for Hechavarria; 1,671 for Cozart) and their collective OPS was a decidedly uninspiring .633 mark.

Suffice it to say, then, we were not expecting much from either guy at the plate.

Cozart has particularly destroyed our expectations early on. He entered the week with a .324/.369/.549 slash line that gave him the highest OPS (.918) of any qualified shortstop in the Majors. Through 28 games, he had already exceeded last year's home run total (4) in 147 games.

Video: CIN@CWS: Cozart ties game with two-run double in 9th

Cozart, 29, has credited his newfound power to carrying his 8-month-old son, Cooper, around and building up shoulder strength. Maybe there's something to that, but there's also a lot of hard work from a guy who struggled mightily last season.

"He has taken a lot of heat for his lack of offensive productivity last year," Reds manager Bryan Price told reporters recently. "And he brought that on himself when he didn't perform to his or our expectations offensively. But he worked hard and didn't let it affect his defense."

Cozart's defense has always been considered superb. He's rated positively on Baseball Info Solutions' defensive runs saved scale each year in the big leagues, with a rating of 19 runs above average last year and a rating of plus-three so far this year.

Hechavarria had never rated quite so well in the advanced metrics scale, but the Marlins were generally pleased with his defensive play. This year, the team's opinion and the numbers are in sync, because Hechavarria, to date, has a plus-five mark on the defensive runs saved tally.

Video: MIA@LAD: Hechavarria makes a nice throw from short

That he's also swung a productive bat is a nice bonus. Hechavarria was the NL Player of the Week from April 20-26, when he went 12-for-24 with 10 RBIs and eight runs scored. For the season, he has a strong .298/.323/.419 slash line, so, in his age-26 season, his OPS is north of .700 for the first time.

"That's why we get excited, when you see young players getting better," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "You don't know what the final product is, but you know that it's something that you like. Defensively, we knew he was one of the best. Now, you're seeing his ABs getting better."

Cozart has the early statistical edge in the "dramatically improved shortstops" department. But both of these guys are looking capable of giving Tulo a run for his money -- or votes, as it were.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Zack Cozart, Adeiny Hechavarria