Bryce Harper said we need to make baseball fun again. Maybe he's right, although I happen to think the game is plenty entertaining already. The talent level -- especially with what we're seeing from this new wave of under-25 stars -- is amazing. I was talking to future Hall of Famer Jim Thome before the Futures Game, and he mentioned how impressed he is with today's young players. "Not that we didn't keep ourselves in good shape," he said of his generation, "but these kids grew up playing year-around, they're in great shape, they have access to all this video. And they're doing this while facing pitching that is better than ever."
So the game is fun. With that in mind, here's what I'll call my personal Fun Index, a ranking of this year's All-Stars in order of who I like to most watch. The list is absolutely biased. It's my list! I watch some teams more than others, so that affects the rankings, and I might very well have missed something about your favorite player, like how he does cartwheels during his home run trot or something. If so, I apologize in advance.
1.Jose Altuve-- In the minors, everyone knew he could hit. The numbers projected that he would hit at the major league level. But nobody really expected it to happen; they couldn't get past his size. At 5-foot-5 in cleats, he's certainly one of the most distinctive stars we've seen. He's aiming for his second batting title, he steals bases, he defends, he hustles, he has power, he plays with flair, enthusiasm and a love of the game. How can anyone not love a player who inspired a #HowManyAltuves hashtag and Twitter account? Or a guy who on his Twitter says "I love music and sleep"? Or trips over his helmet going for the cycle and laughs about it or even tries the hidden-ball trick.
2.Mookie Betts-- OK, maybe I like short guys. I also love how much power he packs into such a slight frame. Those quick wrists allow him to pull doubles off the Monster or home runs over it. He has speed -- he became only the second Red Sox player with 15 homers and 15 steals before the All-Star break -- and he plays good defense. Like Altuve, he exudes an infectious energy when he plays.
3.Jose Fernandez-- I'm not saying he's the best pitcher. I am saying he's the most exciting, with that Wiffleball slider and electric fastball and a little attitude that suggests he's going to whomp you tonight. His current strikeout rate would be the third-highest all time for one season behind Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson and that's pretty awesome.
4.Francisco Lindor-- If you get the idea that I like all-around players, you're right. His quick release and strong arm allow him to make plays in the field that set him apart from his other young peers at shortstop. Check this and this FROM THE SAME GAME!
5.Nolan Arenado-- Admittedly, I don't watch the Rockies too often, so my exposure to Arenado is mostly on highlights. He never does anything bad on the highlights. He's always hitting home runs or making spectacular plays on defense, and even when I saw him in spring training he got hits every time up. So in my view, he's batting like 1.000 with nothing but home runs and he catches every ball hit within 30 feet of him.
6.David Ortiz-- Is there a case to make him first on the list? Absolutely. You start with what he's doing at age 40 -- on pace for more than 100 extra-base hits -- and throw in the larger-than-life personality and he's must-watch TV, the guy who makes you put your phone down to see what he does. In a way, he has achieved Sandy Koufax-like status: Whether or not he's the best is irrelevant to the idea that he's a player we'll still be talking about 50 years from now.
7.Bartolo Colon-- Then there's Bartolo, who is larger than life. His home run was the most fun event of the year. Well, unless you're James Shields.
8.Bryce Harper-- I compare him to Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirs the drink. Unlike with Reggie, however, I don't quite get the animosity directed Harper's way. Well, I do get it, but I think people just want reasons not to like him. If he was on your team, you'd love the hustle, the production, even the Vegas hair.
9.Clayton Kershaw-- Would you watch Mozart compose, Picasso paint or Hemingway drink? Then you watch Kershaw pitch.
10.Josh Donaldson-- In Jim Bouton's seminal "Ball Four," he has a great line about Lou Piniella, then a rookie trying to make the roster of the Seattle Pilots. "Lou Piniella has the red ass," Bouton wrote. Well, Josh Donaldson has the red ass, only with much more talent than Piniella.
11.Mike Trout-- No, he's not Mr. Personality off the field. It doesn't matter. He's the best player in the game, and he might be headed for his best season yet. Insert obligatory sentence about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.
12.Madison Bumgarner-- Maybe I need to rank him higher.
13.Paul Goldschmidt-- The quiet superstar. When I talked to his Diamondbacks teammates this spring, the universal comment was how smart he is, always one step ahead of everyone else. That's a reason he has stolen over 30 bases the past two seasons even though he's not that fast, why he's so good in the field, and why he's one of the best hitters in the game.
14.Manny Machado-- Jim Palmer, who would know of such things, once said Machado makes plays Brooks Robinson couldn't. Do I have him too low? Don't answer that, Orioles fans!
15.Kris Bryant-- If this baseball thing doesn't work out, he at least has a modeling career to fall back on.
16.Max Scherzer-- I love the three-quarters delivery, the curl of the brim of his cap, the different colored eyeballs, the movement on his pitches. When everything clicks, he's the most dominant pitcher in the game -- the record-tying 20 strikeouts this year, the two no-hitters and one-hitter last year. The home run problem? Yeah, I can't figure that out either.
17.Robinson Cano-- He DOES make everything look easy.
18.Miguel Cabrera-- He can hit. But you already know that.
19.Jake Arrieta-- You know the weird thing about his career arc? Buck Showalter -- and when I say Buck Showalter, I'm really referring to the Orioles organization -- has done wonders turning scrap heap into ace relievers. Zach Britton went from failed starter to the best closer in baseball. Darren O'Day went from the waiver wire to All-Star. Brad Brach was acquired for a guy with a 6.68 ERA in the minors. And so on. But Arrieta? They simply gave up on him.
20.Johnny Cueto-- Maybe he should be higher. The Luis Tiant-like windup, the ball seemingly flying out of those dreadlocks that whip across his face when he delivers the pitch. The body that defies the conventional preference of the tall, lithe right-hander. The arsenal of pitches.
21.Buster Posey-- He doesn't have that one mind-blowing trait -- Yadier Molina's arm, Mike Piazza's power, Carlton Fisk's "Don't mess with me" presence -- but he does everything so well. Except run. But we'll forgive him for that.
22.Noah Syndergaard-- If we had done this in April, he'd probably be in the top 10, maybe the top five. Since then, he just hasn't inspired the same, "What is he going to do today?" mindset that you feel when Fernandez or Kershaw or some others take the mound.
23.Yoenis Cespedes-- He has won me over. I like the neon sleeve. I like the cars. I liked it when he did this and this.
24.Starling Marte-- He should be starting. About as good a player as you can be while walking once a week, he's the bestdefensive left fielder in the game with a cannon for arm, and he's going to steal 50-plus bases. He's kind of a 1980s player in the 2010s, in a fun way.
25.Matt Carpenter-- What a terrific player. It's a shame he got injured, because he has been one of the four or five best players in the NL. And if you find walks and working the count the most exciting part of baseball, he'd be even higher on the list.
26.Corey Seager-- Wow, this kid is putting up some numbers -- much bigger than I would have expected of him as a rookie. Like his older brother Kyle of the Mariners, he lets his bat do his talking, but the bat speaks vociferously. He's not flashy at shortstop, but looks as if he can play the position. (People often underrate the ability of a big guy to play shortstop. Case in point: Cal Ripken, who was an outstanding defender. And, yes, I think I just compared Seager to Cal Ripken.)
27.Chris Sale-- That delivery. As Adam Doster of ESPN The Magazine once wrote, "It starts with a high, sweeping leg kick, then his torso hunches forward as his bony left elbow launches into the air. His upper body morphs into an inverted W, a strained position akin to a scarecrow's in which elbows are higher than wrists and shoulders. As his chest opens up, he rotates, slams his front foot and flings his arm around like a slackened rubber band."
28.Zach Britton-- I'm not a big fan of relievers. Nothing personal. But I'm a huge fan of Zach Britton. He throws the most unhittable pitch in baseball, a 96-mph two-seamer that dives down like a hawk in pursuit of dinner. It's the most unhittable pitch in baseball because it's basically the only pitch he throws. (OK, he mixes in a slider about once every 10 pitches.) The fact that batters are actually hitting .161 against him is testament to how good major league hitters are.
29.Cole Hamels-- The perfect hair to go with the perfect changeup.
30.Anthony Rizzo-- I like the confidence, like when he predicted last year that the Cubs would make the playoffs. He was right. I like the way he hangs his elbows over the plate, daring the pitcher to throw inside. I like the way the bat whips the zone and deposits those inside pitches over the ivy. I like how he stands in there and gets hit by all those pitches. Except when it seems as if the pitch was actually a strike. That's annoying and made me drop him down a few spots.
31.Jon Lester-- I've always loved watching this guy. He doesn't throw the hardest, he doesn't have any special pitch, he never has been the best pitcher in the game. He battles, he gives a ton of innings, and the Red Sox never should have let him go.
32.Stephen Strasburg-- It would be pretty awesome if he ends up going 23-0 or something.
33.Jackie Bradley Jr. -- The big surprise is the bat now outshines the defense. His reputation is that he's a world-class defender, but I don't think he's in that Kevin Pillar/Kevin Kiermaier group. Maybe if his name was Kevin Bradley. Or maybe I've just missed his best plays.
34.Salvador Perez-- I want him on my team.
35.Xander Bogaerts-- I think the power will continue to develop and then he'll get really scary as a hitter.
36.Steven Wright-- He's a knuckleballer. Knuckleballers are fun. As long as the catcher isn't chasing the ball back to the backstop.
37.Daniel Murphy-- It's funny that now that he's with the Nationals, he has become the player Mets fans always thought he was but never actually was aside from one incredible October.
38.Carlos Beltran-- Now, young Carlos, the guy who ran everything down in center field, he'd rate much higher. Old Carlos is still elegant to watch and a force at the plate, but when I see him lumbering around right field, I get a little misty thinking about young Carlos.
39.Edwin Encarnacion -- Here's a fun stat: He's second in the majors in home runs since 2012, but only 95th in strikeouts. He's more than just a masher, although he's very good at that.
40.Eric Hosmer-- TheBrandon Belt of the AL.
41. Brandon Belt -- The Eric Hosmer of the NL.
42.Danny Salazar-- While he has been around since 2013 -- he actually started the wild-card game that year as a rookie, just his 11th major league start -- he has turned up his game another notch after having a very good 2015. He has an electric arm and now he's learning to pitch.
43.Corey Kluber-- His game face never changes, whether he's pitching a shutout or giving up four hits in a row, which is why Indians fans affectionately call him the Klubot. So if you like robots, you probably think I have him ranked too low.
44.Ben Zobrist-- Now that he's starting an All-Star Game we can't call him underrated any longer. At 35, I wonder if he's the oldest guy to start an All-Star Game for the first time.
45.Jonathan Lucroy-- Does he get traded?
46.Carlos Gonzalez-- I mentioned that there's bias on the list. Here's the deal. Nerd alert: I own Gonzalez in a sim league. He never translates that well out of Coors Field. He has had issues with left-handed pitchers. He has been injured. His defensive metrics aren't great. So my view of Gonzalez is absolutely influenced by the fact that he's not a great sim player.
47.Aaron Sanchez-- He was a lights-out as a reliever last year, but I had doubts he had the command to be this good as a starter. He's this good.
48.Michael Saunders-- I watched him a lot when he was with the Mariners. He doesn't have that classic, smooth left-hander's swing and you always felt there was something more there. I guess there was.
49.Ian Desmond-- He always has had eye-popping tools, but his approach at the plate had disintegrated in his recent seasons with the Nationals. He cut his chase, cut his strikeouts and maybe moving off shortstop, where he always made a few too many errors, has helped with the mental side of things.
50.Marco Estrada-- Batters know the changeup is coming and still can't hit it, which is pretty awesome. Unless you just struck out.
51.Marcell Ozuna-- A big strong guy who is probably miscast as a center fielder, but nice to see him rebound after the Marlins screwed around with him last season.
52.Jose Quintana-- Is he still underrated now that he finally has made the All-Star team? Yes, because he made it as an injury replacement when he should have been an original selection.
53.Mark Trumbo-- Swing hard, ball go far.
54.Addison Russell-- The arm strength is pretty special. I don't know if he can win a Gold Glove in a league with Brandon Crawford in it, but he's a plus defender and young enough to get better in the batter's box.
55.Stephen Vogt-- I remember seeing his family in Cincinnati last year, all decked out in VOGT jerseys, as the guy who spent parts of four seasons in Triple-A made the All-Star team with a hot first half. Now he's back.
56.Dexter Fowler-- Does he have long legs? When I think of Dexter Fowler, all I think of are his really long legs.
57.Wil Myers-- He was good, he was bad, now he's good again. He has a chance to go 30-30 (home runs and steals), which used to be a thing. Is it still a thing? Melvin Upton also a chance to do it. The last teammates to do it were Ellis Burks and Dante Bichette of the 1996 Rockies, and you have to be impressed that I managed to work Dante Bichette's name into this list.
58.Julio Teheran-- He'd rank higher if he were in a Red Sox uniform. I kid, Braves fans, I kid.
59.Odubel Herrera-- This is not going to shock you: I haven't watched much of the Phillies the past two seasons. Have I watched an entire Phillies game since Herrera reached the majors? I don't know. I do owe Eric Karabell a trip down to Philly this summer, so maybe my take on Herrera will change. After all, should be considering an ever-evolving list. If I did it tomorrow, it might change.
60.Adam Duvall-- I keep waiting for the league to figure him out, but he keeps hitting home runs. Reds fans also tell me on Twitter that he has played a very good left field (which the defensive numbers back up). Good story, and sometimes these late bloomers will surprise for a few seasons.
61.Drew Pomeranz-- I'm happy for Padres fans. As a kid, I went to the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle and will always rememberBruce Bochte's pinch-hit single. The crowd went crazy. It was pretty much the greatest moment in Mariners history in their first 18 years.
62. Matt Wieters-- Is it fair that we've kind of held our own expectations against him? He was going to be the next Johnny Bench or Carlton Fisk and he wasn't close to that and we're disappointed. Anyway, at least he's healthy again after two seasons of injuries.
63.Aledmys Diaz-- This should be a blurb about Brandon Crawford, who should have been the replacement for the injured Carpenter (the rules don't require the replacement to be from the some team).
64.Wilson Ramos-- He had Lasik surgery in the offseason. I guess it worked. Now he needs surgery to improving his running speed.
65.Jay Bruce-- It's going to be fun watching Bruce and Adam Duvall of the late-place Reds decide home-field advantagein the World Series ... especially when Bruce gets traded to an AL team.
66.Eduardo Nunez-- Sorry, my image of Nunez is him with the Yankees, trying to play shortstop with some of the worst infield hands and range I've ever seen. That he's back playing shortstop again probably says more about the Twins than Nunez.
67.Dellin Betances-- If I ever got the chance to see what it would be like to hit against a major league pitcher, I would not want that pitcher to be Betances.
68. All other relievers -- I think I need somebody else to close out this column.