In the late 1780s, American statesman Benjamin Franklin penned a memorable phrase in a letter to French physicist Jean-Baptiste Le Roy: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
As I’m sure you know, however, that phrase didn’t originate with Franklin. Three-quarters of a century earlier, British playwright Christopher Bullock wrote this line in his stage comedy, The Cobbler of Preston: “Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes and Some Guy musing about Reds All-Stars in the Digital pages of a Magazine about a City that does not yet Exist.”
It’s that time of year, my friends! The MLB All-Star Game is fast approaching and, as always, my thoughts have begun drifting to the midsummer classic. Whether the Reds are good, bad, or indifferent, I’m a sucker for this dumb exhibition that was first played all the way back in 1933. (The Reds’ sole representative that year was left fielder Chick Hafey, who went 1-for-4 as the NL’s cleanup hitter.)
Yesterday, I mentioned to someone that I was going to write about which Reds player(s) would be selected in 2022, and I got this response: “So you’re getting ready to write the world’s shortest column? I’ve lost track, but does every team still need to be represented?”
Yes, wise guy. Every team will have at least one All-Star. I think of that rule as the “Reds Rule,” but that’s unfair as it turns out. It’s been more than a decade since the Reds had just one player on the NL All-Star team; that was 2009, when reliever Francisco Cordero pitched a scoreless seventh inning in a 4-3 loss.
Last year, Cincinnati’s Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos both started for the National League, but I’m willing to bet the ranch that neither of those guys will represent the Reds at Dodger Stadium a month from now. (You know, because the Castellinis were too cheap to keep Winker or Castellanos around. I may have mentioned that before.) So who will wear that Reds uniform when the rosters line up along the third base line in Los Angeles?
For much of the season, the answer to that question was pretty obvious: Tyler Stephenson. Cincinnati’s 25-year-old catcher has been magnificent, hitting .305/.361/.468, playing solid defense behind the plate, and generally conducting himself like a 10-year veteran. He’s the best player on the team and is likely to make numerous All-Star teams over the course of his career.
Alas, Stephenson fractured his thumb and is out for four to six weeks. We may have to look elsewhere to find Cincinnati’s All-Star. Brandon Drury, perhaps?
I have a confession to make. If I had pre-written this column before the season, I would likely have mentioned 1,000 different players before Drury. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who was signed to a minor league contract back in March. Literally no team was willing to offer him a big league deal. But Cincinnati invited him to spring training, he made the club, and then he got an opportunity to play every day thanks to the ongoing rash of injuries that have plagued the Reds. And he’s been fantastic ever since, hitting .268/.332/.516 with a team-leading 14 home runs. If rosters were selected today, Drury would be an odds-on favorite to make his first All-Star team.
On the offensive side of the ledger, only two other Reds merit a mention in this discussion. The first is Kyle Farmer, who I wrote about last week. He’s been a top-5 shortstop with the bat by some measures, though his inconsistent glove work depresses his value somewhat in comparison with his peers around the league. But it would be fun to see him rewarded with an All-Star selection.
The other everyday player you can see getting into the All-Star discussion, if you squint a bit, is Tommy Pham. He didn’t get a hit in his first eight games with the Reds but has posted a slash line of .284/.377/.474 since then. Pham could make his first All-Star team, especially if MLB decides to add the “Slap an Opponent” contest to All-Star Saturday just before the Home Run Derby.
Among pitchers, the pickings are slim, as my grandfather was known to say. If Hunter Greene’s overall stat line looked better, he’d be a shoo-in just on star power alone. His day will come, no doubt. By fWAR, Tyler Mahle has been Cincinnati’s most productive pitcher, but despite some great results lately his 2-5, 4.46 ERA line doesn’t scream All-Star. Alexis Diaz has been the sole bright spot among relievers, but he’s on the injured list and non-closers aren’t often selected anyway.
Then there’s Luis Castillo, who of course missed the beginning of the season as he recovered from a shoulder injury—but he’s been pretty good since he returned. He’s just 2-4, but his ERA is 3.33 and he’ll get a few more starts before All-Star rosters are announced, so that’s likely to go even lower. (Castillo’s career ERA in July is 2.95, so he tends to heat up along with the weather.)
Remember when Castillo made the All-Star team in 2019 and prompted some American League All-Stars to rave about him? (Here’s the video.) Around baseball, everyone knows that he’s a special talent. That’s why I predict he will be selected for his second All-Star team in the coming weeks. And, yes, I know what you’re thinking: Just in time for the Reds to trade him! Stop it. I’m trying to have a little fun here, and I don’t need you to intrude on my happiness with a bitter dose of reality.
Bonus prediction: If things go well, Stephenson should return to action just before the All-Star Game. He has a chance of being a late selection to the team if someone is injured and can’t play, as always happens.
Whether it’s Castillo, Stephenson, Drury, Farmer, or some combination of those guys, I’ll be watching. I just can’t help myself.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.