All-Star-worthy outfielders continue to blossom
New candidates for Midsummer Classic emerging during season's first month
One of the best things about any All-Star Game is that it's an opportunity to introduce new stars on one of the game's biggest stages. That's especially true at a time when teams are fast-tracking their best young players to the Major Leagues and allowing their talent to take over.
Has Major League Baseball ever had more exciting young talent? Say hello to Carlos Gomez. And to Mark Trumbo. And Lorenzo Cain. And don't forget Bryce Harper and Adam Jones.
They're among the young stars who could be part of a dramatic outfield turnover on both the American and National League All-Star teams. They speak volumes about the continued emergence of new talent and the game's ever-changing face.
There certainly could be openings as some of last year's starting outfielders have had a rough starts, either because of injuries or sub-par performances.
Last year, Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista were the starting American League outfielders. Granderson has spent the entire season on the disabled list and Hamilton has struggled mightily after signing with the Angels. Bautista, too, has had a tough start.
In the end, AL manager Jim Leyland could have different faces in the outfield -- for instance, Oakland's Coco Crisp.
Crisp leads AL outfielders with a .943 OPS and has done almost everything well. Trumbo is also off to a terrific start with the Angels. Far from being overshadowed by Hamilton and Mike Trout, he has outplayed them both, hitting .294 with eight home runs, eight doubles and a .912 OPS.
Another one of Trumbo's teammates, center fielder Peter Bourjos, has inserted himself into the conversation with a .313 batting average.
Kansas City's Cain is another possibility, hitting .337 for the reborn Royals. And Baltimore's Jones is hitting .331 with 22 RBIs.
Not all the faces could be fresh young ones. At 37, Torii Hunter is hitting .361 and could end up with his fifth All-Star selection in his first season with the Tigers.
One of the sweetest stories of all could be Nate McLouth grabbing one of the AL spots. After being released by the Pirates in late May, he was reborn with the Orioles, hitting seven home runs and stealing 12 bases in 55 games as Baltimore made its first playoff appearance in 15 years.
He has been even better this year, doing almost everything well, not just in hitting .313, but in stealing nine bases to go with eight doubles and three home runs.
Likewise, the NL could have a significant turnover. Melky Cabrera, Carlos Beltran and Ryan Braun were last season's All-Star starters.
Beltran and Braun could very well be back after getting off to solid starts. As for Cabrera, he switched leagues and is hitting just .252 for the Blue Jays.
NL manager Bruce Bochy almost certainly will have Gomez and the Braves' Upton, both of whom have been among the best players in the game.
For Gomez, his seventh Major League season has been a breakthrough on a variety of levels. He's leading the NL with a .368 batting average, but that's just the beginning of the story.
He has played solid defense in center and provided energy for the Brewers. Upton has done that in his first season with the Braves, leading the Major Leagues with 12 home runs and powering Atlanta into first place in the NL East.
Harper, who came to the Majors last season at age 19, has built on his solid first season. His name is dotted across the NL leaderboards, with a .312 batting average and nine home runs.
Shin-Soo Choo is also flirting with a batting title, hitting .331 and giving the Reds exactly what they hoped they'd get from him in the leadoff spot.
Last year's All-Star Game had 26 new faces, and it was hugely refreshing to see their excitement at being asked to share a clubhouse with the best of the best. That trend seems likely to continue in 2013.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.