Kansas City is preparing to play host to Major League Baseball's All-Star Game on July 10 and rosters will be announced Sunday.
Fan voting will determine the starting lineups. For this exercise, though, we'll ignore the fan vote. What follows is one take on the players who most deserve to make up the 34-player American and National League rosters (with statistics through Monday):
1B: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (.355, 14 HR, 47 RBI): No one is more clearly the best player at his position in the NL than Votto is at his.
2B: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (.309, 5 HR, 23 RBI): Just 5-foot-5, this guy certainly hasn't been short on production. He's too anonymous to ever win a fan vote, but he's going to be in Kansas City.
SS: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs (.301, 6 HR, 39 RBI): A big bright spot in a miserable season for the Cubs. He and the Astros' Altuve are just 22 years old.
3B: David Wright, New York Mets (.358, 8 HR, 41 RBI): After a couple of injury- riddled and subpar seasons, Wright is back where he belongs among the NL's elite.
C: Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies (.354, 9 HR, 39 RBI): Yadier Molina's having his best season, too, and he's the unquestioned top defensive catcher. Still, how could anyone deny Ruiz, who is having a breakout season with a .982 OPS at age 33?
OF: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (.327, 17 HR, 53 RBI): The Rockies have some really talented players, but they're struggling mightily because none of them is a pitcher. Gonzalez is the best hitter of the bunch, and he's having another huge season.
OF: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates (.339, 13 HR, 46 RBI): This guy would probably be a bigger star if he played in nearly any other market. This will be the second of many All-Star Game appearances for the five-tool center fielder.
OF: Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals (.313, 20 HR, 57 RBI): Albert who? A healthy Beltran has been one of the league's top players in the first half of the season. Basically signed to replace Albert Pujols' in the Cardinals' batting order, the 35-year-old outfielder has out-produced the Angels' new first baseman.
DH: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers (.314, 20 HR, 52 RBI): The reigning league MVP, Braun is on pace to post even better power numbers this season. Fortunate to win an appeal of a 50-game steroid suspension, we'll put him at designated hitter because the other three outfield starters are superior defenders.
1B: Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals (.251, 13 HR, 44 RBI): This is an incredibly weak position in the NL this season, thanks to the departures of Pujols and Prince Fielder and a ruptured Achilles tendon that has sidelined the Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard. LaRoche, based on his solid RBI total, gets the nod over Chicago's Bryan LaHair and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt to back up Votto.
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks (.291, 10 HR, 35 RBI): Hill has been fabulous lately, boosting the slow-starting Diamondbacks back into contention. He leads all NL second basemen in OPS and he'd even be a solid choice as the NL's starter.
2B: Brandon Phillips, Reds (.284, 10 HR, 45 RBI): He doesn't run as much as he did in the past (only three steals), but Phillips is a top-notch fielder and run producer for a middle infielder.
SS: Jed Lowrie, Astros (.266, 13 HR, 32 RBI): Wow, where has that power come from? Lowrie already has four more homers than his previous career high, which should earn him a nod as an NL reserve.
3B: Chase Headley, San Diego Padres (.265, 7 HR, 35 RBI): Perhaps not truly deserving, but Headley could be the obligatory Padres selection (which could come at the expense of the Cardinals' David Freese). The best other San Diego options are closer Huston Street (1.50 ERA, 11 saves, but only 18 innings) or outfielder Carlos Quentin (sidelined until Memorial Day with a knee injury, but has six homers in just 73 at-bats).
C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (.319, 11 HR, 41 RBI): Molina's defense was All- Star caliber from the start. Now he's one of the majors' top offensive catchers, too, and he'd be a fine choice to start the game.
C: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (.295, 10 HR, 40 RBI): Posey has bounced back nicely from last year's gruesome leg injury to again provide a strong presence in the middle of the Giants' order. This roster spot could easily come down to either Posey or the Los Angeles Dodgers' A.J. Ellis, who has also had a remarkable first half.
OF: Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves (.311, 6 HR, 24 RBI): The free-agent-to-be has been a solid all-around player this season, even showing a little pop.
OF: Melky Cabrera, Giants (.351, 6 HR, 35 RBI): A strong case could be made for Cabrera to be in the starting lineup. Either way, he'll be returning on July 10 to Kansas City, where he had a breakthrough season last summer before being dealt to San Francisco in the offseason.
OF: Andre Ethier, Dodgers (.292, 10 HR, 55 RBI): His 55 RBIs are second in the league, so Ethier has earned a spot. Teammate Matt Kemp might win the fan vote in the outfield and might be the league's top player. Kemp wasn't picked here because he's missed so much time with a hamstring injury.
OF: Matt Holliday, Cardinals (.304, 12 HR, 47 RBI): Teammate Carlos Beltran's remarkable season has overshadowed Holliday a bit, but the Cardinals' left fielder is as consistent as they get and is in the middle of a typically productive year.
OF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (.267, 16 HR, 45 RBI): He's in as the Marlins' lone representative, but his red-hot May has given him All-Star-caliber stats. The only problem is that there are so many quality candidates left off this roster, such as Cincinnati's Jay Bruce, Arizona's Jason Kubel and Atlanta's Martin Prado and Jason Heyward, etc.
R.A. Dickey, New York Mets (11-1, 2.31 ERA): The knuckleballer has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball, and he could get the starting nod for the NL.
Matt Cain, Giants (9-2, 2.27 ERA): With two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum struggling mightily, Cain has stepped up to become the ace whom many thought he'd become. He signed a huge contract at the start of the season, but he's been well worth the investment.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (9-2, 2.60 ERA): Just as advertised, the phenom has become one of the league's best pitchers. It's going to be a shame when he gets shut down (as the organization says) by a team-imposed innings limit when the pennant race heats up in September.
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals (9-3, 2.55 ERA): Washington gave up plenty to obtain Gonzalez, but there have been no regrets after his strong first-half performance.
Johnny Cueto, Reds (9-3, 2.21 ERA): Cincinnati had been a pitching ace away from becoming a solid contender. Cueto has taken on the challenge and filled that role capably.
Zack Greinke, Brewers (8-2, 2.81 ERA): Greinke was solid for the Brewers last year, and his ERA is over a run lower this season.
James McDonald, Pirates (6-3, 2.19 ERA): Pitching is keeping the low-scoring Pirates in the hunt for an NL Central title. McDonald has been the Bucs' best pitcher, tied for third in ERA in the league. Teammate A.J. Burnett will be strongly considered for an All-Star nod, too.
Cole Hamels, Phillies (10-3, 3.03 ERA): He's never exceeded 15 wins in a season, but it sure looks like he's going to top that total this year. He has the highest ERA of the 10 starters on this All-Star squad. If the NL wants another sub-3.00 ERA guy, 2011 Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw could replace Hamels.
Chris Capuano, Dodgers (9-2, 2.60 ERA): He's always had potential and he's always been injured. Well, he's healthy this year, and the results have been remarkable.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds (4-4, 2.04 ERA, 8 saves): Finally given the chance to become the Reds' closer, Chapman had been thriving in the role before a couple of hiccups last week. Still, he is dominant most of the time and a nightmare for left-handed hitters.
Wade Miley, Diamondbacks (9-3, 2.19 ERA): He didn't start the year in Arizona's rotation, but he's been the team's ace in the first half. Miley might be the NL's biggest surprise All-Star, but he's deserving.
Craig Kimbrell, Braves (0-0, 1.33 ERA, 21 saves): With the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera on the shelf with a knee injury, Kimbrell has taken over the as best closer in baseball.
Tyler Clippard, Nationals (1-2, 1.95 ERA, 12 saves): Clippard made the NL squad as a set-up man last season. He's closing now, and he's handled that job with all-star quality, too. This NL all-star staff is heavy on starters, but closers Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies and Santiago Casilla of the Giants wouldn't be bad selections, either.
1B: Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox (.337, 13 HR, 39 RBI): A power hitter, Konerko has never had an average higher than .313 for a season. He's threatening to win his first batting title this year.
2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees (.302, 17 HR, 39 RBI): He has the highest OPS in the Yankees' power-packed lineup (.941), and he figures to be an All-Star quite a few more times in his career.
SS: Derek Jeter, Yankees (.304, 7 HR, 25 RBI): One would have expected Jeter to decline in his age-37 season. Instead, he has a chance to hit higher than .300 for a season for the first time since 2009.
3B: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (.307, 15 HR, 59 RBI): The Tigers have had a disappointing year, but Cabrera has been as good as usual. He's even been better than expected defensively in his return to third base; he's committed just seven errors.
C: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox (.284, 12 HR, 41 RBI): He has solid, all-around numbers, and he gets the nod here over the Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer because of his superior power.
OF: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers (.318, 23 HR, 66 RBI): He's cooled off some after an incredible start. A run at the AL Triple Crown is still a possibility, though.
OF: Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels (.316, 17 HR, 49 RBI): If the Angels overtake the Rangers in the West Division, Trumbo could become an MVP candidate. With a $500,000 salary, he's possibly baseball's best bargain. Unless, of course, teammate Mike Trout is.
OF: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (.300, 19 HR, 40 RBI): The Orioles' surprising first half is mostly the result of fine pitching, but Jones has given them a top power presence in the middle of the order, too.
DH: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (.304, 20 HR, 52 RBI): Not a whole lot has gone right for Boston in the first half, but Big Papi hasn't been one of the problems. At 36, he's on pace for his best season since 2007.
1B: Prince Fielder, Tigers (.303, 11 HR, 46 RBI): The home run total has decreased with the move to pitcher-friendly Comerica Park, but Fielder's still hitting for average and driving in runs like always.
1B/DH: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (.286, 21 HR, 51 RBI): Yes, there are too many designated hitter types on this squad, but Encarnacion could fill in at third base, too. With his numbers, it's hard to deny him an All-Star bid.
2B: Jason Kipnis, Indians (.274, 11 HR, 42 RBI): Kipnis has a nice speed/power combination for a middle infielder.
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians (.291, 9 HR, 33 RBI): If not for Jeter's presence, Cabrera would be the most deserving AL All-Star starter at shortstop. He might be the league's best all-around player at the position.
3B: Adrian Beltre, Rangers (.328, 13 HR, 48 RBI): Flip a coin for the starting nod at third base for the AL. It would be hard to argue with either Beltre or Cabrera.
3B: Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners (.258, 10 HR, 45 RBI): No one's really having an All-Star season for the Mariners, but Seager has given a good boost to the offense. If he doesn't make the All-Star team, then Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.36 ERA) would be Seattle's representative.
C: Joe Mauer, Twins (.323, 3 HR, 34 RBI): His power has decreased dramatically since a 28-homer campaign in 2009. Still, .300-hitting catchers don't grow on trees. Fans would like to see him do more to justify a $23 million salary, but he would even be a worthy AL starter.
OF: Mike Trout, Angels (.338, 7 HR, 29 RBI): At 20, Trout has immediately established himself as one of the best players in the league. Although he began the year in the minor leagues, he might deserve to crack the AL's starting lineup. Through Monday, he leads the AL in batting average.
OF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (.237, 24 HR, 57 RBI): The batting average is slowly creeping up during a strong June. It still might keep him off the AL squad, but Bautista has been mighty productive. He has a great chance to win his third consecutive AL home run crown.
OF: Curtis Granderson, Yankees (.243, 21 HR, 41 RBI): The batting average is down, but Granderson is on pace for his second 40-plus home run season and has played flawless defense in center field.
OF: Josh Willingham, Twins (.275, 15 HR, 49 RBI): Willingham has been a productive free-agent signing for the non-contending Twins. They'll probably field multiple offers for him before the trade deadline.
OF: Austin Jackson, Tigers (.311, 7 HR, 30 RBI): Jackson has missed time with an abdominal strain. When he's played, he's shown great all-around skills.
Jered Weaver, Angels (7-1, 2.40 ERA): A back injury sidelined him for about three weeks, but Weaver has been terrific when healthy.
C.J. Wilson, Angels (8-4, 2.44 ERA): The prized free-agent signing has picked up where he left off in Texas.
Jason Hammel, Orioles (8-2, 2.61 ERA): He flashed potential during six previous big-league seasons with Tampa Bay and Colorado, but he had never been more than mediocre. After getting traded to Baltimore, he has suddenly become a Cy Young Award candidate.
Chris Sale, White Sox (8-2, 2.24 ERA): New to the White Sox's rotation this year, the former reliever has become an instant ace.
Justin Verlander, Tigers (8-4, 2.52 ERA): The win total is down, but that's not really Verlander's fault for the most part. His other stats aren't all that different from last year, when he was the AL MVP and Cy Young winner.
Jake Peavy, White Sox (6-4, 2.84 ERA): He's allowed less than one base runner per inning. Peavy is in a tough park for pitchers, but he's having his best season since 2007. If the low win total is bothersome, the AL could opt instead for 10-game winner Matt Harrison of the Rangers or nine-game winner CC Sabathia of the Yankees.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays (10-4, 2.95 ERA): Another solid season has confirmed Price's reputation as one of the game's finest young left-handers.
Jim Johnson, Orioles (1-0, 1.10 ERA, 22 saves): His strikeout rate is a little low for a closer (20 in 32 2/3 innings), but Johnson is having a magical season nonetheless.
Chris Perez, Indians (0-1, 2.54 ERA, 23 saves): Thought to be on shaky ground at the start of the season, Perez has been outstanding while leading the AL in saves. He has yet to allow a home run.
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals (1-1, 1.57 ERA, 18 saves): Struggling through injuries and inconsistency the last couple of years with the Dodgers, Broxton has rejuvenated his career as Kansas City's closer. He's the All-Star host Royals' best bet to get picked to the AL team, although Billy Butler is a good possibility, too.
Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics (2-2, 1.65 ERA, 5 saves): With Brandon McCarthy out with a shoulder injury, the Athletics' All-Star selection basically comes down to Cook or Josh Reddick. With just 11 hits allowed in 32 2/3 innings of relief, Cook gets the nod here.
Joe Nathan, Rangers (0-2, 2.05 ERA, 16 saves): The former Twins closer got off to a shaky start in Texas, but that's a faded memory now. He's re-established himself as one of the game's best closers.
Fernando Rodney, Rays (2-1, 1.07 ERA, 21 saves): For a pitcher with an ERA above 4.00 for five consecutive years, Rodney has been remarkable in the first half. He's rarely issued walks or allowed homers, which is a good recipe for success.