Baseball’s wackiest time of year—All-Star game voting—is underway, a one-month period when Major League Baseball delegates to fans much of the power to choose who plays in the game’s annual midsummer display of supposedly its best players. Fans determine, sometimes by merit and sometimes not, the starters by voting on candidates chosen by the teams. Nine KC Royals appear on the “Phase 1” ballot.
And if the van vote puts a certain Royal in the game, cries for ballot reform may follow.
The potential selection of Nicky Lopez to the team sizes up as simply wrong, not the kind of excellent choice catcher Salvador Perez and left fielder Andrew Benintendi could be. More than that, how Lopez appears on this year’s ballot—the Royals submitted him as designated hitter—is silly.
Yes, Lopez really is a DH candidate. Never mind that he seems to have DH’d only once in a big league game, a late September contest in 2019 when he pinch ran for DH Jorge Soler but didn’t bat.
That’s why the club’s decision to designate Lopez as its DH candidate defies reality. He’s not a designated hitter and never will be. Such, however, is what happens when teams must identify nine starter candidates and, in KC’s case, Adalberto Mondesi won’t be named anywhere but shortstop.
Lopez’s DH candidacy, and the campaigns to elect him sprouting up on the Internet, bring to mind fans’ ridiculous efforts to put Kansas City’s Omar Infante on the 2015 team, and then the 2016 club, despite his remarkable lack of All-Star bona fides both seasons.
Should we blame the Royals for this? Partially. They did what the system allows and made sure Lopez, who has performed well under difficult circumstances this season, could be an All-Star, and the Infante debacles prove marginal choices have a chance. Now, whether Lopez becomes an “All-Star” is up to the voters, but his All-Star caliber glove (which isn’t appropriate criteria for DH selection anyway) won’t be enough to overcome his .224 average.
Salvador Perez and Andrew Benintendi are the KC Royals’ strongest choices.
So, did the Royals provide voters with stronger All-Star choices? The answer depends on whether Kansas City fans base their votes merely on who they want to see in the Game, or on who’s having an All-Star-type season. If it’s the former, every KC candidate will do; if it’s the latter (and it should be), catcher Salvador Perez and left fielder and Andrew Benintendi are the best choices.
Perez should be the hands-down starter because he deserves it. Among American League backstops through Thursday, he ranks first in home runs (14) and RBIs (38), second in average (.284) and OPS (.848), and third in slugging (.536). His 35% caught stealing rate matches his career average.
Benintendi doesn’t place as high among his peer outfielders as Perez does within the catching ranks, but a sizzling May following a subpar April puts him squarely in the outfield conversation. Hitting safely in all but six of his 27 May games, Benintendi blistered opposing pitchers with a .340/.377/.443 line, and is 3-for-8, including a grand slam homer against Pittsburgh Wednesday night, in two June contests through Thursday. The slam complemented Perez’s pair of home runs, and the pair combined for eight RBIs, something Royals fans hadn’t witnessed in over a decade.
Other KC Royals candidates fall short of All-Star seasons, at least for now.
Despite good careers and their selections to the All-Star team in 2019, Whit Merrifield and Carlos Santana don’t at the moment merit selections as starters.
Although he leads the majors with 16 stolen bases, Merrifield is batting an un-Whit-like .260 after slumping from .274 in April to .229 for May. But he’s 9-for-27 with six RBIs in his last six games, so there may be time for him to make a better case for selection.
And Santana’s 10 home runs, 34 RBIs and .389 OBP (he’s hitting .253) warrant attention, but aren’t good enough to defeat Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 17 homers, 45 RBIs and .333/.438/.662 line.
The voting process and how it might impact other KC Royals All-Star hopefuls.
“Phase 1” voting began Thursday, ends at 4 p.m. EDT June 24, and will pare each league’s candidate field to a pool of finalists—three players at each position and nine outfielders—to be announced June 27. “Phase 2” voting then begins the next day and wraps up at 2 p.m. (EDT) July 1; final results will be revealed that evening. (All those details and more, including how and how many times fans can vote, are here.)
The managers select their starting pitchers, while reserves are selected by player voting and the Commissioner’s Office. Each major league team is guaranteed at least one All-Star roster spot; expect the fans to elect Perez. But depending on injuries and pitching needs, other KC Royals could find their way to Colorado’s Coors Field, the site of this year’s Game. Merrifield and Santana are the most likely reserve position player candidates, and relievers Barlow and Staumont may also get in.
All-Star balloting has begun. Nicky Lopez shouldn’t make it as a designated hitter, but voting should be heavy for Royals Salvador Perez and Andrew Benintendi.