There is an inherent awkwardness that accompanies the early May release of the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot, because, unless you follow one of Will Leitch's many themed ballot suggestions, a discerning voter is left with that annual quandary of whether to treat this stage of the voting like an April awards show or, rather, a more realistic guesstimate of who will actually be deserving of the midsummer Miami invite.
The good news is that the balloting goes on long enough that this stuff typically gets sorted out. With occasional exception (Kosuke Fukudome in 2008 comes to mind), I can't think of many instances in which the fans got so caught up in an early, unsustainable burst of brilliance that they lost sight of the big picture. If anything, they're more guilty of voting in star players having bad years.
What follows, then, are All-Star squads made up entirely of players who entered 2017 with little to no star-level track record to their name but got off to stellar starts. Some of these guys will fade, and I'd venture to guess the majority don't make it to Miami. So let's salute them here while we still can.
First base: Logan Morrison, Rays
Morrison hasn't achieved as much baseball fame as he did Twitter fame back in the day, when he was one of baseball's first legit social media stars. But he's generally been a productive player, and he settled into a nice groove with the Rays after a rough start to 2016. This year, he came out swinging with six homers, 15 RBIs and a 148 wRC+ mark in his first 27 games.
Second base: Jed Lowrie, A's
At the risk of sounding pessimistic, it feels like a race to write good things about Lowrie's start before he gets injured again, because he's averaged less than 90 games per season in a career dating back to 2008. He's not a stranger to strong stretches like the one he's put together at the start of '17 (.290/.350/.430 slash), but this one is somewhat surprising after a brutal offensive showing (yes, in 87 games) last season.
Shortstop: Tim Beckham, Rays
Because he has been filling in at short for an injured Matt Duffy since the start of the season, Beckham's not even on the online ballot. With Duffy nearing a return, who knows if Beckham is even starting for the Rays a month from now? The former No. 1 overall pick had a miserable small sample within this small sample. He was batting .156 with a .369 OPS as recently as April 15. But in his next 14 games, he hit .346 with a 1.085 OPS, four homers, two doubles and two triples, lifting him to the fifth-best wRC+ mark among AL shortstops, as of this writing.
Third base: Joey Gallo, Rangers
Miguel Sano might qualify given how terrible his 2016 was, but his start isn't totally shocking considering he had 36 extra-base hits in 80 games and finished third in the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Award voting.
There were a lot of questions about Gallo's stock going into the year, but he's got eight homers with four doubles and a triple so far. He's not on the ballot, because he's been filling in for Adrian Beltre. Gallo is still striking out in roughly a third of his plate appearances (which is why he's hitting .207), but a) that's better than the 63.3(!) percent rate in 30 plate appearances last season and b) at least he's showing his awesome raw power translates to the big leagues.
Outfield: Aaron Judge, Yankees; Avisail Garcia, White Sox; and Steven Souza Jr., Rays (replacing the injured Mitch Haniger, Mariners)
If I had to pick one guy on this small sample squad that I think has a good chance of being voted in as a starter by fans, it's Judge, both because of the potential sustainability of his early stats and, you know, the whole "playing for the Yankees" thing. He's obviously been phenomenal, breaking Statcast™ and breaking a TV while also providing the Yanks with a surprising amount of value with his defense in right field.
Don't know that I'm quite as big a believer in the sustainability of Garcia as a true All-Star candidate, but it's good to see the 26-year-old former top prospect finally put it together (.382/.433/.629 with five homers, three doubles and two triples). The worry is there aren't any major skill changes to account for the upswing, but, hey, maybe something just finally clicked.
Haniger, who had a 1.054 OPS in 21 games, would be my third here, but he's out for several weeks with an oblique injury. So let's replace him with Souza. It's great to see the Rays finally get their end of the three-way swap that sent Trea Turner to Washington and Wil Myers to San Diego. He's shown more patience and pounced on more mistake fastballs en route to a .311/.393/.505 slash with 11 extra-base hits, and he's also a big asset in right (though he'll have to play center for this imaginary club).
Catcher: Alex Avila, Tigers
I've got a lot of respect for Avila as a clubhouse guy, game-caller and solid backup bat against right-handed pitching. But the dude's been playing out of his mind this season. The playing time is limited out of deference to James McCann (who represents the Tigers on the ballot here). But in 53 plate appearances Avila had a .409 average, 1.237 OPS, four homers and two doubles. He's already equaled his homer total from his last season with the Tigers, in 2015.
Austin Romine, who has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Gary Sanchez in the Bronx, would be another good choice here.
Designated hitter: Matt Davidson, White Sox
The cool has already come for Davidson, whose OPS has shrunk a couple hundred points in the last week or so. But man, he was on fire at the start of the season -- a .368/.375/.789 slash with four homers, two doubles and a triple in his first 12 games. This guy was once Chicago's "third baseman of the future" after coming over in the 2013 Addison Reed trade. Maybe if his bat keeps adjusting to adjustments, they'll trade Todd Frazier this summer and he'll have a chance at that spot.
Starting pitcher: Andrew Triggs, A's
Fans don't vote for pitchers, obviously, but what do you say we round out these starting lineups?
Triggs, a 28-year-old, side-arming, ground-ball-inducing right-hander who was claimed off waivers at the start of '16 and was really bad in the big-league bullpen but really good in a small starting sample, has continued to dominate in a rotation role early on. He's 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA in 29 1/3 innings through five starts, and his ability to induce weak contact means he might not be a candidate for ridiculous regression.
First base: Eric Thames, Brewers
Ah, yes, a familiar story. A guy strikes out in the big leagues, goes to South Korea for a bit, gets called "God" by Koreans for his mammoth home runs, comes back to the States and posts a 1.976 OPS against the Reds. Happens all the time. I think Matt Christopher once wrote a book with the exact same plot.
The league seems to have adjusted to Thames a bit in recent weeks, so who knows what his All-Star case will look like come July? But you've got to have him here.
Second base: Cesar Hernandez, Phillies
Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies' inevitable fade last year was Hernandez's second-half surge after a brief and eye-opening mid-season benching. He's carried that over into a sizzling start to '17 (.324/.372/.524) in which he's provided surprising power from the leadoff spot. He's only added to the trade value he seemed to possess over the winter, and we'll see if the Phils keep him or capitalize upon him.
Shortstop: Zack Cozart, Reds
Apparently, this is a regular thing now, Cozart lighting up opposing pitching at the start of the season. Last year, he had a .361/.355/.556 slash with eight doubles in April. This year, it's a .333/.430/.564 slash with seven doubles and four triples through 23 games, and it's amplified by his newfound patience at the plate. Last year, Cozart leveled off and dealt with issues in the same right knee that required season-ending ACL and LCL surgery in 2015. Perhaps his new approach will help him put together a full season of strong production this time around.
Third base: Eugenio Suarez, Reds
As recently as Tuesday afternoon, Suarez was tied for the NL lead in bWAR (with Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman), leading to this genius pun:
@castrovince You mean Eugenio WARez?- Gage (@GageWill13) May 2, 2017
You might remember (but probably don't) Suarez as the guy the Reds acquired when they traded Alfredo Simon to the Tigers some years back. He's become a quality defender at the hot corner, and he showed enough improved discipline to log a .322/.404/.586 slash with five homers, six doubles and a triple through 25 games. It's not a total fluke, because Suarez is only 25 and did hit 21 homers (with five in April) last year.
OF: Aaron Altherr, Phillies; Michael Conforto, Mets; Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Altherr -- another write-in candidate -- was unproven enough that the Phillies played it safe with the acquisition of veterans Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders over the winter. But Kendrick's abdominal strain opened the door for regular playing time for the 26-year-old, and he's responded by looking very much like the guy who appeared poised to break out at the end of 2015, before wrist surgery got in the way. He has power, he runs well and he seems to have rediscovered his swing. Through 57 plate appearances, he had a .333/.404/.627 slash with three homers and six doubles.
Conforto is a stretch for this list, because he does have the track record of that second half of 2015 and some big moments in the ensuing postseason. But his 2016 was rough enough to require a Triple-A demotion, and he came into 2017 without an obvious spot in the big-league lineup (which is why he's not on the ballot either). Sure enough, with Yoenis Cespedes hobbled by hamstring issues, Conforto's been the Mets' best player, with a .344/.421/.688 slash and seven homers in 23 games. Lefties are still an issue for him, but he has tools that necessitate a longer leash than he's had, to date.
Bellinger is a small sample among small samples. He's been in the big leagues barely more than a week, and he was supposed to be shipped back out to the Minors at the end of this week. But he went 10-for-his-first-29 with two homers, a double and a triple to breathe life into an offense that needed it. Doesn't look like he'll be sent out anytime soon.
Catcher: Jett Bandy or Manny Pina, Brewers
Really, take your pick. They share the position in Milwaukee, and they've both exceeded expectations early, with the two highest wRC+ marks among NL catchers (158 for Pina, 163 for Bandy) with at least 50 plate appearances. (For what it's worth, Bandy's the one on the online ballot.)
Starting pitcher: Chase Anderson, Brewers
So many Brewers on this NL squad. The "Chase Anderson for NL Cy Young Award" campaign might already be hitting a snag. What was a league-leading 1.12 ERA going into his last start on April 28 had jumped to -- gasp -- 2.10 six innings later. But give credit to Anderson for maximizing the rotation opportunity he was given when Matt Garza got hurt at the end of spring camp and utilizing his improved velocity via increased muscle mass in the early going. His numbers against fellow right-handers (.164/.274/.297 slash against) are big, big improvements over past years.