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11 unexpected All-MLB Team candidates

November 30, 2019

Many of the candidates for the inaugural 2019 All-MLB Team presented by Scotts would have been preseason favorites for the honor. By appearing on the ballot, players such as Alex Bregman, Mike Trout and Christian Yelich were fulfilling expectations, not exceeding them.

Many of the candidates for the inaugural 2019 All-MLB Team presented by Scotts would have been preseason favorites for the honor. By appearing on the ballot, players such as Alex Bregman, Mike Trout and Christian Yelich were fulfilling expectations, not exceeding them.

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But for some of their competitors, that was not the case. Heading into 2019, these players had not tasted the sort of recent success would make them frontrunners for end-of-season awards. Things can change quickly, though.

The selection process for the 2019 All-MLB Team runs through 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, with 50% of the vote coming from fans and 50% coming from a panel of experts.

You can vote right here, and may do so once every 24 hours between now and when voting ends. The inaugural All-MLB Team will be announced on Dec. 10 at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings in San Diego.

There will be a first team and second team, and voters are asked to consider performance only from the regular season when casting their ballots. Each team will include one selection at each position (including designated hitter and three outfielders, regardless of specific outfield position), five starting pitchers and two relievers.

Here is a look at 11 players (listed alphabetically) whose inclusion on the ballot would have been widely viewed as a surprise on Opening Day.

Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
His infield partner, Yoán Moncada, could have made this list, too. But Anderson’s offensive breakout felt a bit more dramatic, as he went from batting .240 in 2018 (with a career average of .258) to leading the Majors at .335. Anderson still drew only 15 walks but combined an increased contact rate with an improved hard-hit rate to help raise his OPS almost 200 points (.687 to .865).

Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
Entering 2019, Bell’s .436 slugging percentage and 110 OPS+ were hardly optimal for a first baseman, especially one listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. Most troubling, Bell’s home run total had dropped from 26 in 2017 to 12 in ‘18. But this past season finally saw the rise of a true power threat. Even with a second-half dip, the first-time All-Star ranked in the top 10 in the NL in homers (37), RBIs (116), slugging (.569) and OPS+ (143).

Mitch Garver, C, Twins
A ninth-round Draft pick, Garver was never a hyped prospect and didn’t exactly enter 2019 with a lot of buzz. Then he went out and launched 31 homers in just 311 at-bats as part of Minnesota’s “Bomba Squad,” finishing eighth in MLB in OPS (.995) among those with at least 300 plate appearances. Garver backed that up by ranking near the top of MLB in hard-hit rate and barrel rate, per Statcast.

Lucas Giolito, SP, White Sox
It wouldn’t have seemed like a stretch to predict that Giolito would get here back when he was a top-10 prospect. But by the end of 2018, that bright future had been clouded. Giolito allowed the most earned runs in the Majors in 2018 (118) -- then cut that down to 67 this year, posting a 3.41 ERA in roughly the same numbers of innings. Giolito finished sixth in the AL Cy Young Award race and now seems to be the ace the White Sox envisioned.

Liam Hendriks, RP, A’s
Relief pitchers, by their nature, are unpredictable. And so while at least a few of Hendriks’ peers could have joined him on this list, we’ll limit the bullpen to one here. The righty is perfect evidence of the volatile nature of his role. In the middle of the 2018 season, the A’s designated him for assignment and outrighted him to Triple-A (before he returned to serve as the opener in the AL Wild Card Game). This year, Hendriks posted a 1.80 ERA, made the All-Star team and saved 25 games.

Lance Lynn, SP, Rangers
It came as a bit of a surprise when the Rangers handed Lynn a three-year deal last December, coming off a 4.77 ERA and heading into his age-32 season. Lynn rewarded that faith by dropping his ERA to 3.67 in more than 200 innings, forming a dynamic rotation duo with Mike Minor. The righty ranked fourth in the AL with 246 strikeouts and third in the Majors in pitching WAR, per both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

Ketel Marte, OF, D-backs
Marte hinted at a breakout in 2018, showing significant improvement for the second season in a row. Still, he went from a roughly league-average hitter to a legitimate star this year, slashing .329/.389/.592 (149 OPS+) with 32 homers while handling both center field and second base. Marte produced about 7 WAR and placed fourth in the NL MVP race.

Roberto Pérez, C, Indians; Christian Vázquez, C, Red Sox
We’ll list these two together, because there’s a similar story here. In 2018, Perez (.519) and Vazquez (.540) both ranked in the bottom seven among MLB hitters in OPS (minimum 200 plate appearances) while splitting behind-the-plate duties. In ‘19, both seized an opportunity to take control of starting jobs, producing roughly league-average offense, topping 20 homers and ranking among the game’s best pitch framers, according to Statcast.

Marcus Semien, SS, A’s
Heading into 2019, Semien might have seemed exceptionally unlikely to author any All-MLB-worthy surprises. In the five previous seasons, he had posted OPS+ figures of 93, 98, 99, 97 and 95 -- settling in just below average. A solid defensive shortstop with those sorts of offensive numbers is a strong contributor, but Semien took it to another level this year, batting .285/.369/.522 (138 OPS+) with 33 homers, 92 RBIs, and about 8 WAR, per FanGraphs. He was third in the AL MVP race.

Jorge Soler, DH, Royals
It was always clear that he possessed power. Yet from his August 2014 debut through ‘18, Soler had hit a total of 38 home runs in 307 big league games and slugged just .424, while dealing with injuries and never playing a full season. The baseball world finally saw what Soler could do this year, as he logged 162 games and led the AL with 48 homers, obliterating the Royals’ franchise record while slugging .569.