MILWAUKEE — Jesus Aguilar has forced his way onto yet another team.
Aguilar earned a spot on the National League All-Star roster after winning the annual “Final Vote” fan balloting competition.
Aguilar entered play Thursday night in Pittsburgh tied with Colorado’s Nolan Arenado for the National League lead with 23 home runs and was second in the league with 67 RBIs. His .307 batting average puts him ninth in the league while his 1.013 OPS is the best among NL qualifiers.
That wasn’t enough to get him on the team when rosters were announced Sunday evening. Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was voted into the starting lineup by fans via the regular vote while the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt were added to the squad as reserves.
Instead, Aguilar had to compete with San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Max Muncy, shortstop Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter for a roster spot. It turned out to be a landslide victory. His 20.2 million votes marked the second-highest total in the competition’s history.
“I’m really excited,” said Aguilar, who also was selected to participate in the Home Run Derby. “I’ve just got to say thank you for the support. It was unbelievable for me, for my family. It’s going to be my dream come true.”
He’ll join teammates Lorenzo Cain, Josh Hader and Christian Yelich for Tuesday’s game in Washington D.C., giving the Brewers four All-Stars for the first time since 2014.
“We’re all thrilled,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s incredibly deserving.”
Aguilar spent nine years in Cleveland’s minor league system, batting .271 with 140 home runs, but was out of minor league options and roadblocked at the big league level when the Indians signed free agent Edwin Encarnacion in Dec. 2016.
Cleveland designated Aguilar for assignment a month later and he was claimed off waivers Feb. 2, 2017 by Milwaukee, which planned to use him as a right-handed option behind Eric Thames at first base.
Aguilar proceeded to tear up the Cactus League, batting .452 with seven home runs, 19 RBIs and a 1.376 OPS. His playing time increased when Thames cooled off after a record-setting April and Aguilar finished the year with 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and an .837 OPS in 133 games.
Milwaukee planned to use the same formula in 2018. The plan was thrown for a loop, though, when the Brewers decided to give Ryan Braun playing time at first after picking up outfielders Cain and Yelich in late January.
That left Aguilar the odd man out as camp opened. He batted .262 with a pair of homers and seven RBIs but remained with the team when it began the season in San Diego.
He was batting .400 in primarily a pinch-hitting role but had yet to hit a home run through his first 11 games. That changed on April 21, when he stepped to the plate against Marlins reliever Junichi Tazawa to lead off the ninth inning of a tie game at Miller Park.
Aguilar fouled off seven consecutive two-strike pitches before belting Tazawa’s 13th pitch to right-center to win it. Four days later, Thames landed on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening a spot in the everyday lineup.
When Thames returned six weeks later, Aguilar had the starting spot to himself.
“That’s why you work so hard,” Aguilar said. “I can’t believe it yet. From no spot in spring training to the All-Star Game. It’s a big step.”
Aguilar is the third Brewers player to win the “Final Vote.” Fans voted Geoff Jenkins onto the roster in 2003 and Corey Hart got the nod in 2008.
Former Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, now with the Seattle Mariners, won the final American League roster spot with 13.6 million votes.
He was followed by Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, Minnesota Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario and Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
The 28-year-old Seattle shortstop was batting .329 and ranked second in the majors with 117 hits. He will join Mariners teammates Nelson Cruz, Edwin Diaz and Mitch Haniger at the All-Star Game. Segura, who made the NL All-Star squad in 2013 with Milwaukee, is the first Seattle player to win the fan voting for the final spot.
“It was unbelievable,” Segura said. “I can’t believe all those people around the world, the fans, the marketing, the organization, the people in Seattle, my teammates, even Felix (Hernandez) yesterday going around the city trying to get some votes for me. It just feels amazing. It feels special. You come from another country and you see how the people support you around the world, it makes it even more special.”
San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt finished second in the NL balloting, followed by Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals and Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals.