Matt Thornton provided the model. Gavin Floyd reaffirmed it, reaching his potential for the White Sox after frustrating the Phillies.
General manager Ken Williams had those success stories, and others, in mind when he read scouting reports from one of the White Sox's pro scouts last summer. Philip Humber intrigued Bill Scherrer. Humber got a quick look in the Royals' bullpen after spending most of 2010 starting for Kansas City's Pacific Coast League team.
Pitching coach Don Cooper, on Williams' alert, watched closely when Humber started against the White Sox last August, and again when he came out of the bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field in September. Scherrer believed the former first-round pick still had plus stuff but needed to develop more consistency with his secondary pitches, and Cooper saw a way to make that happen. As always, the White Sox's resourceful pitching coach was eager for the challenge.
Less than a year later, Humber has pitched well enough to deserve serious consideration for the American League All-Star team with a 7-4 record and 2.89 ERA. It's a great story that would attract a crowd of reporters at the All-Star media day, especially those covering the Mets (who selected Humber third overall in the 2004 draft) and Royals.
But unfortunately for him, Humber probably will get crowded off the All-Star roster. This is a banner season for AL starting pitchers. Only about 10 starters will be picked for the team, and Humber is in a group of 23 who entered the weekend with at least eight victories or an ERA below 3.00.
It may be little consolation after teams are announced Sunday, but he's on the Tribune's list of baseball's unsung All-Stars. Here are the others:
Catcher Matt Wieters, Orioles: The switch hitter from Georgia Tech has been the toughest in the majors to run on and is having a solid season at the plate (.262-7-33 entering the weekend). He might be going to Phoenix for the July 12 All-Star Game if not for fans putting the Yankees' Russell Martin into the lead for a starting spot.
First baseman Michael Morse, Nationals: The converted shortstop was force-fit into first as a replacement for Adam Dunn but just keeps hitting. He knocked his 15th home run Thursday, getting his OPS up to .900.
Second baseman Neil Walker, Pirates: His consistent run production has been one of the major assets for one of baseball's most surprising teams. He has a shot to be an All-Star but probably would need his fellow players to vote him on ahead of Rickie Weeks and Brandon Phillips.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, White Sox: His best hope is that Derek Jeter (who leads fan voting) isn't recovered from his calf injury in time to play, and it looks like Jeter could be back as early as Monday. Ramirez is a two-way contributor, with good range and a quick bat.
Third baseman Ryan Roberts, Diamondbacks: Like Walker, he has been a big contributor on a team on the rise. He entered the weekend in double figures in homers and stolen bases.
Outfielder Alex Gordon, Royals: He has been a little streaky but is closing in on 50 RBIs. Manager Ned Yost has used him in the leadoff and No.3 spots.
Outfielder Matt Joyce, Rays: He led the AL in hitting for a long time but had slipped to .304 entering the weekend. The Rays know how important his bat has been in the absence of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. He could be an All-Star reserve, but it will hurt his chances if Josh Hamilton hangs on to a starting spot in the fan vote.
Outfielder Chris Young, Diamondbacks: Like Roberts, he's a speed-power guy and still covers a lot of ground in center field. He entered the weekend ninth in runs (51) in the National League.
Reliever Drew Storen, Nationals: He has gone 19 of 22 in save situations, allowing only one baserunner per inning. Solid performance. But entering the weekend, nine NL closers had 20-plus saves.
Hot fun in the summer: PNC Park was packed last weekend with the Red Sox in town. But this wasn't just a case of the Nation taking over a rival outpost. Pittsburgh fans are into their Pirates, who entered the weekend having won 10 of their last 16 to climb to 41-39.
Attendance is up 17 percent, but that's not the truest reflection of the increased interest. That indication is a 34 percent improvement in television ratings.
The Pirates are trying to have their first winning season since 1992.
"We haven't done anything,'' said Walker, who grew up 20 minutes north of Pittsburgh. "We haven't proven anything to anybody, but I know a lot of people have said to a lot of us in this clubhouse, 'Thanks for making us Pirates fans again.'"
The last word: "Obviously people up there are probably going to say, 'Oh, he's no Teddy Ballgame.' We all know that. He was tremendous. But the one thing I do have is a championship." — Johnny Damon, who last week tied Ted Williams with his 2,654th career hit.