The List: Nine Unlikely All-Stars

Not all top prospects become all-stars, and not all all-stars were top prospects. It’s a fact of baseball reinforced every year during the Midsummer Classic, and 2016 is no exception.

A total of 79 players were named all-stars this season, including injury and Sunday starter replacements. Here is a look at the nine who appeared least likely to become all-stars as prospects, but managed the feat anyhow.

1. Will Harris, rhp, Astros

Age: 31
Prospect status: Harris was a first and third baseman at LSU who didn’t pitch until his senior year, and did so only briefly in relief, but the Rockies drafted him in the ninth round as a pitcher in 2006 and signed him for $16,000. Harris never ranked in the top 30 prospects of an organization, was waived three times, and missed nearly two full seasons due to injury.
What changed: Harris’ tale has been well told by now. He pitched only one inning between August 2008 and May 2011 after first having his elbow scoped, then having Tommy John surgery, and finally microfracture surgery. He was waived by the Rockies, Athletics and Diamondbacks all in the span of a year and half after making it back. When he was healthy, though, he averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine inning to 3.1 walks per nine in his minor league career with a 2.90 ERA. Health concerns and his advanced age because of injury setbacks kept Harris off the prospect charts, but his mix of high strikeout rates and low WHIPs were an indication something might have been there, and it turned out there was indeed once he got healthy.

2. Jose Quintana, lhp, White Sox
Age: 27
Prospect status: The Mets signed Quintana out of Colombia as a 17-year old in 2006 but released him after he failed a drug test in his first season. He then spent five years in the Yankees’ system, and New York let him walk as a minor league free agent in 2011. The White Sox picked him up in 2012, and he never ranked in the Top 30 prospects in any of the three organizations.
What changed: Quintana grew to become consistently one of the best at throwing first-pitch strikes and locating all of his pitches. His curveball developed into a tremendous weapon, and pinpoint control against both lefties and righties has made him tough to square up, giving him one of the lowest hard-hit rates in baseball in recent years despite lower-end velocity. Like many international signees, Quintana needed time to develop, and the team patient enough with him—the White Sox—reaped the rewards.

3. Jose Altuve, 2b, Astros
Age: 26
Prospect status: Altuve signed for just $15,000 out of Venezuela in 2006 and ranked in an organizational Top 30 just once, coming in as the Astros’ No. 28 prospect after the 2010 season.
What changed: Altuve’s 5-foot-5 stature caused him to be overlooked despite a long demonstrated ability to control the strike zone and make hard contact at every level. His own organization was hesitant to sign him in the first place, and then again to bring him stateside, and only did at the urging of the urging of the international scouts on the ground seeing Altuve in person. Not much baseball-wise actually changed for Altuve, who was a top-flight hitter even in the low minors despite being consistently younger than league average. His plus hitting, baserunning, and defensive tools were just discounted because of his size, until they couldn’t be anymore.

4. Brad Brach, rhp, Orioles
Baltimore Orioles
Age: 30
Prospect status: Brach was a 42nd-round pick by the Padres in 2008 out of Monmouth who signed for $1,000. He was ranked San Diego’s No. 29 and No. 30 prospect in his only two seasons appearing in a Top 30.
What changed: College righthanders from cold-weather schools in lower-tier conferences aren’t exactly a hot commodity or in good position to be seen. Immediately, though, Brach moved from starting to the bullpen once he entered pro ball and demonstrated an ability to throw strikes, posting strikeout-to-walk ratios of at least 6-to-1 in each of his first four minor league seasons. By starting from a base of consistently throwing strikes and gradually getting stronger as he developed to increase his velocity, Brach grew to become one of baseball’s most reliable relievers.

5. Stephen Vogt, c, Athletics
Age: 31
Prospect status: Vogt was a 12th-round selection by the Rays in 2007 out of Azusa (Calif.) Pacific, then an NAIA program, and signed for $6,000. He was ranked a Top 30 prospect twice in seven minor league seasons, topping out as the Rays’ No. 22 prospect after the 2011 season.
What changed: Vogt didn’t check off a lot of the prospect boxes. He was old for every level—he didn’t reach Double-A until his age-26 season—wasn’t particularly strong defensively as a catcher and reached double-digit homers only once as in six years in the Rays’ system. As such, Tampa Bay sold his contract to Oakland for the grand sum of $150,000 in 2013. The A’s were enticed by the fact that Vogt had hit and gotten on-base at every level despite his perceived shortcomings, posting a .305/.367/.467 career slash line in the minors. By focusing on what Vogt could do, rather than what he couldn’t, the A’s ultimately came away a multiple-time all-star backstop.

6. Salvador Perez, c, Royals
Age: 26
Prospect status: The Royals signed Perez for $65,000 as a 16-year old out of Venezuela in 2006. He never ranked higher than the No. 17 prospect in the Royals system.
What changed: Perez was heavier and was consistently knocked for his lack of athleticism and thick lower half, despite the fact he was selected as the best defensive catcher in Kansas City’s system for three straight years. While others were worrying about his body, Perez kept playing elite defense while consistently hovering around a .300 average at each stop at the minors. Now, he’s making his fourth straight all-star appearance, has won three straight Gold Gloves, and is the reigning World Series MVP.

7. Daniel Murphy, 2b, Nationals
Washington Nationals
Age: 31
Prospect status: Murphy was a 13th-round selection out of Jacksonville in 2006. He ranked as the Mets’ No. 15 prospect after the 2007 season, and he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2008.
What changed: While Murphy’s physical tools didn’t turn heads, he became renowned for his ability to process information and apply it at the plate. He controlled the strike zone and forced pitchers to come to him, getting good pitches to hit and drilling them consistently. His pitch selection and smarts allowed him to excel to such a level that he was named the best hitter in the Double-A Eastern League in 2008, and he was starting in the majors for good less than three years after he was a nondescript 13th-round selection from a mid-major college.

8. A.J. Ramos, rhp, Marlins
Miami Marlins
Age: 29
Prospect status: The Marlins waited until the 21st round to draft Ramos out of Texas Tech in 2009. His highest organizational prospect ranking was No. 14 after 2012.
What changed: Ramos had Tommy John surgery early in his junior season in 2008 and wasn’t particularly effective when he came back just 10 months later, posting a 5.21 ERA in 13 outings as a senior. Senior college righthanders with injury concerns don’t exactly make for top prospects. But Ramos’ swing-and-miss stuff came back by the time he entered the Marlins system, and he posted averages of at least 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings in each of his first four minor league seasons. His control eventually came back as well—he lowered his walk rate from 4.9 walks per nine innings in 2010 to 2.8 by the time he reached Double-A in 2012—and before long the Marlins had one of baseball’s top relief pitchers.

9. Matt Carpenter, 3b, Cardinals
Age: 30
Prospect status: The Cardinals drafted Carpenter as a fifth-year senior in the 13th round in 2009 and signed him for $1,000 out of Texas Christian. He never ranked in the Top 10 in the Cardinals system, topping out with a No. 11 ranking after a breakout 2010.
What changed: Carpenter’s thin frame and standstill swing led to questions about his power potential when he first arrived in the minors, while his defense was regarded as adequate at best. At each level though, his exceptional batting eye and smooth lefthanded swing resulted in high averages and a high OPS, to the point he forced his way into the Cardinals lineup and is now a three-time all-star selection.

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