NEW YORK — Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak was among 12 first-time starters elected Sunday for the All-Star Game at Miami on July 11, the most since voting was returned to fans in 1970.
Smoak has 22 home runs and is hitting .303 — both career highs — so far this season for Toronto. He stepped into the starting first baseman role for the Blue Jays after former all-star Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Cleveland Indians as a free agent in the off-season.
“It’s awesome. It’s an honour. I think it’s something as a young kid you always dreamed of. It’s what you wanted to be was an all-star in the big leagues,” said Smoak. “I think early in my career, coming up through the minor leagues and getting drafted, that’s what I expected of myself. It didn’t happen that way but I’m here now and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Smoak bounced back to beat Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer by 555,000 at first base, and Tampa Bay’s Corey Dickerson rallied to win at designated hitter by nearly 75,000 over Seattle’s Nelson Cruz. The Royals’ Salvador Perez won at catcher.
Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa and Nolan Arenado are also first-time all-stars and just one player was picked from the World Series champion Cubs: reliever Wade Davis, who wasn’t even with Chicago when it ended a 108-year title drought last fall. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season.
Two of the first-time starters are from the Houston Astros, who have the best record in the major leagues: shortstop Correa and outfielder George Springer. Second baseman Jose Altuve was elected to his third start.
Houston pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. were picked, as well, giving the Astros five All-Stars, tied for the most with the New York Yankees, Cleveland and Washington. Keuchel is hurt and won’t pitch.
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, second baseman Daniel Murphy and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman were elected to start, and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were selected for the pitching staff. Harper led fan voting with 4.63 million ballots. At 32, Zimmerman is an All-Star for the first time since 2009, when he was a reserve third baseman.
Judge, the 6-foot-7 rookie who leads the major leagues with 27 home runs, topped the AL with 4.49 million votes. He is joined in the outfield by Springer and Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, who hopes to return in time from a torn thumb ligament. Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez overtook Minnesota’s Miguel Sano in the final days of balloting to win the AL third base spot by about 54,000 votes,
Arenado overtook the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, last year’s NL MVP, to win at third base by 180,000. Arenado will be joined in the NL lineup by Cincinnati shortstop Zack Cozart, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon, Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna and San Francisco catcher Buster Posey.
There were 11 first-time starters last season in San Diego, the last year the winning league received home-field advantage in the World Series. Under baseball’s new labour contract, the Series now starts in the ballpark of the pennant winner with the better record.
Catcher Gary Sanchez, injured second baseman Starlin Castro and pitchers Dellin Betances and Luis Severino also were picked from the Yankees. Cleveland is sending pitchers Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Michael Brantley.
Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was picked as a reserve and plans to defend his Home Run Derby title on July 10. Judge also has been invited, and Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger, who leads the NL with 24 homers, has said he will be in the derby.
In a sign of the generational change, the All-Stars with the most selections are Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw with eight and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina with seven. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, an 11-time All-Star, wasn’t picked for the first time since 2009.
Among the strong candidates overlooked were Carlos Carrasco, Jacob deGrom, Gio Gonzalez, Ivan Nova, Roberto Osuna, Anthony Rizzo, Travis Shaw, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Alex Wood.
Rosters were cut from 34 per league to 32 under the new labour deal, and online voting determines the last spot on each roster. Elvis Andrus, Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Logan Morrison and Mike Moustakas are the AL candidates, and Justin Bour, Bryant, Anthony Rendon, Mark Reynolds and Justin Turner are on the NL ballot.
The AL had won four straight and went 11-3 in the years the All-Star Game determined World Series home field. Marlins Park is the third of four straight NL ballparks to host the All-Stars and will be followed by Washington in 2018.