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NL Central's quick risers may be All-Stars soon

@LangoschMLB
June 20, 2019

With voting for the 2019 All-Star Game about to transition from the Primary phase to the Starters Election, fans already have a feel for who has the best chance to represent their club in next month’s Midsummer Classic. A recent reveal of voting totals distinguished the favorites in each race.

With voting for the 2019 All-Star Game about to transition from the Primary phase to the Starters Election, fans already have a feel for who has the best chance to represent their club in next month’s Midsummer Classic. A recent reveal of voting totals distinguished the favorites in each race.

While we await the outcomes of those races, let’s take a moment to peer into the crystal ball and consider what potential first-time All-Stars we may be talking about a year or two from now. Here’s a look at five such candidates who could become some of the next All-Stars to emerge from the National League Central:

Brewers: 2B Keston Hiura

The Brewers have stood atop the division for much of the first half, but that hasn’t quieted consternation among fans about the club’s hesitance to promote its top prospect, Hiura. He succeeded in his brief callup while third baseman Travis Shaw was on the 10-day injured list, but has otherwise has been confined to Triple-A San Antonio. The assignment has little to do with performance -- Hiura entered Wednesday with a .281/.333/.531 slash line in 69 plate appearances in the Majors and a .315/.392/.663 slash line in 209 plate appearances in the Minors -- and much more to do with need.

As long as the Brewers remain committed to Shaw, Mike Moustakas will continue to block Hiura at second base. But Moustakas is a free agent next year, so regardless of what happens with Shaw, the path will soon be clear for Hiura.

Cubs: INF David Bote

On a roster already dotted with All-Stars and veteran talent, Bote stands out as someone who could be part of the team’s next wave of impact players. Dating back to May 18, Bote has posted a .999 OPS. He’s not likely to keep up that pace, or necessarily emerge as Chicago’s next can’t-miss hitter, but Bote has added value with what else he can offer on the field.

Bote’s defensive versatility has allowed him to bounce between second and third base this year, though it’s easy to envision a scenario in which he assumes the everyday job at second by 2020. Utility players have garnered more attention for All-Star consideration in recent years because of the flexibility they offer a manager. It’s helped other NL Central players like Josh Harrison (Pirates) and Matt Carpenter (Cardinals) crack All-Star rosters.

Cardinals: RHP Jordan Hicks

If the All-Star Game is a means to showcase the game’s best talent, Hicks should find a way onto that stage quite soon. He’s surpassed Aroldis Chapman as the Majors’ hardest-throwing pitcher -- and it’s not even close. Hicks, in his second season with the Cardinals, is averaging 101.2 mph on his sinker and has thrown 48 of the 50 fastest pitches in the Majors this season, according to Statcast.

He’s had a strong first year as the Cardinals’ closer, but not enough opportunities to get noticed for All-Star consideration just yet. That should change in the future, and perhaps the limited workload in 2019 will benefit Hicks down the line. As it is, he’s limited right-handed batters to a lower OPS (.305) than any reliever in the game and has converted 14 consecutive save opportunities since blowing his first one of the year.

Pirates: OF Bryan Reynolds

There is an argument to be made that Reynolds deserves to be an All-Star this summer, but he remains a longshot given his relative anonymity amid an NL outfield picture packed with MVP candidates like Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. But Reynolds will not be overlooked for long if he keeps this up.

He is slashing .353/.411/.549 in 52 games, and has been the Bucs’ second-most productive player behind likely All-Star first baseman Josh Bell. The 24-year-old switch-hitter, who was acquired in the Andrew McCutchen trade in 2018, was called up out of injury-related necessity after only 13 games in Triple-A. Reynolds has remained in the Majors -- and forced a five-man outfield rotation in Pittsburgh -- due to the quality of his at-bats and solid defense at all three outfield spots.

Reds: OF Nick Senzel

If his rookie season is any indication of what’s ahead, Senzel, the organization’s former top prospect, could be a star in the making. He made his Major League debut on May 3 and hit safely in 30 of his first 40 games, including posting 12 multi-hit games. Senzel, who at one point strung together an on-base streak spanning 20 games, has rarely looked overmatched at the plate.

None of this is likely a fluke, either, as Senzel reached the Majors after posting batting averages north of .300 each season in the Minors. He has an advanced plate approach, works deep counts, hits line drives and offers speed from the leadoff spot. Senzel is having all this success while also playing a previously unfamiliar position. A lifetime infielder, the 23-year-old was moved to center field this season.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.