CINCINNATI – Two years ago, Jacob deGrom was in the middle of an up-and-down season, and not just in the figurative way of mixing good and bad performances.The right-hander pitched at three different minor league

levels in the Mets’ system, putting up less than impressive numbers. In 26 starts, deGrom pitched 147.2 innings, allowing 168 hits with 120 strikeouts and 46 walks. He had a 4.51 ERA. MORE: The last time the All-Star Game was in Cincinnati, things got weird  | What happens if ASG is rained out?Then, last year, deGrom turned a corner in his age-26 season. He was dominant in seven starts at Triple-A, got the call to join New York and never looked back on his way to winning National League Rookie of the Year honors. Tuesday night, he was the Mets’ representative at the All-Star Game – one of several players among the best in the game who, up until recently, were far from household names. “This would’ve been tough to imagine,” deGrom told Sporting News. “In Double-A, I struggled a bit, and it was a tough time for me pitching. I’m thankful to be here now. … My goal, every time I go out there, is to give 100 percent and try to keep us in the ballgame. I think, with that mindset, it’s kind of worked out.”J.D. Martinez was released by the Astros at the end of spring training last year, then signed with the Tigers and had a breakout year, hitting 23 homers. This year, he has proven that it was no fluke, with 25 home runs at the All-Star break and his first nod for the Midsummer Classic.“It’s been a wild ride – it’s been a rollercoaster,” Martinez said. “It’s truly humbling. I’ve always dreamt of being in here, and being in here, it’s a dream come true. Everyone has their story, obviously, but it definitely was a grind for me. I’m happy being here now and I’ll continue to work so I can be here again.”The grind for Mark Melancon took even longer. Pittsburgh’s closer, this year’s major league leader in saves, pitched for the Yankees, Astros and Red Sox with varying levels of success before going to Pittsburgh in the trade that sent another 2015 All-Star, Brock Holt, to Boston. Melancon was an All-Star in his first year with the Pirates, two years ago, then again this year.“It’s something I’ve always known I had in me, but it’s been a fun road and I wouldn’t take back anything I’ve gone through,” Melancon said. “I’ve just been blessed in every situation I’ve been in. I have a great family support team and I wouldn’t be here without them. I’ve had a lot of help along the way, and they’re my biggest support for sure. I’m sure everybody in here has about 10 of those moments (where they think things won’t work out), but those things are what make you better in the long run. There’s some difficult times, but everybody’s got ‘em.”That may not be true for everyone – Chris Sale, for instance, made his major league debut six weeks after getting drafted, and has never had an ERA higher than 3.07 – but it is for most. Lorenzo Cain is in that “most” category even more than many others, never having locked down a full-time job in the major leagues until last year, when he was 28 and took Kansas City by storm. Now, the center fielder is a talismanic figure for the best team in the American League and an All-Star for the first time.“Going through the minors, I played at every single level and it definitely wasn’t easy,” Cain said. “It was a grind. A lot of long nights, a lot of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and that’s what people don’t see, is the grind you go through to get to this point. At the end of the day, it’s all worth it. All the stuff you fought through, growing up, going through the minor leagues to get to the big leagues, it’s all worth it once you get here and succeed.”