By JAY LeBLANC
May 30, 2008
I was taking in a minor league game last week when a stadium employee handed me an All-Star ballot. Up to that point, I hadn’t given this summer’s All-Star Game a moment’s thought, but with a ballot in my hand, the gears in my head started turning. Unlike some fans, I won’t just pop the chads of my favorite players or those on the hometown team - as a fan of Major League Baseball in general, I feel like it’s my duty to vote responsibly in hopes that the most deserving players nab starting gigs in the Midsummer Classic, even though I know deep down that it won’t work out that way. So anyway, without further adieu, here are my American League picks, with my National League selections to follow tomorrow:
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
The normally injury-prone Mauer has managed to stay healthy so far this season and enters the day hitting .324 with 21 RBI despite the fact that he’s yet to go deep in 2008. The sweet-swinging lefty plays the game the right way and is one of the main reasons the Twins find themselves just two games out in the A.L. Central. He narrowly edges out the White Sox’ A.J. Pierzynski as the Junior Circuit’s top backstop so far.
First Base: Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
Often overlooked in Boston’s stacked lineup, Youkilis is really coming into his own this season at age 29. After a solid April in which he hit .316 with 2 home runs and 15 RBI, he’s gone on a power binge since the beginning of May, smacking 7 home runs so far this month to go along with 20 RBI. Youk gets the nod over the Twins’ Justin Morneau and emerging Angels star Casey Kotchman.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Kinsler is having another great season, entering the day with a .294 average, 7 home runs, 32 RBI and 15 stolen bases for the slugging Rangers. His superior stats give him the edge over last season’s American League Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia. Hitting second in Boston’s potent lineup, Pedroia is hitting .284 with 3 home runs, 27 RBI and 32 runs scored while playing solid defense to boot.
Third Base: Joe Crede, Chicago White Sox
Alex Rodriguez will obviously be voted in by the fans, but early Comeback Player of the Year Award favorite Crede has been the best third baseman in the A.L. so far this year with A-Rod missing significant time with a quadriceps injury. After hitting just .216 with 4 home runs in 167 at-bats in an injury-shortened 2007 campaign, Crede’s batting .271 with 9 jacks so far this season for the ChiSox, and deserves the start at this point over Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who plays first base now anyway.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
The heart and soul of the Bronx Bombers doesn’t have the range he once had at the shortstop position, but he’s still adequate out there and his skills in the batter’s box are still there. The Captain hit in the No. 3 spot in the Yankees’ stacked lineup when A-Rod was on the shelf and is hitting .280 with 2 home runs, 25 RBI and 26 runs scored on the season. It’s the intangibles that give him the edge over the Rangers’ Michael Young.
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Having apparently beaten the drug problems that nearly derailed his promising career, Hamilton is now beating on American League pitchers after coming over from the Reds in the offseason. The former No. 1 overall pick started the season on fire and hasn’t looked back as he currently leads the majors with 58 RBI to go along with a .324 batting average and 13 home runs. If not for the Rangers’ mediocrity, he’d be the favorite for A.L. MVP honors at this point.
Outfield: Carlos Quentin, Chicago White Sox
Quentin posted big numbers in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system, but never showed the ability to consistently hit big-league pitching the past two years in Arizona. He was traded to the White Sox this past offseason, and the change of scenery has done wonders for him. The 25-year-old isn’t even on the All-Star ballot but entered the day hitting .299 with 14 home runs and 48 RBI, making him worthy of the extra effort needed to pencil him in as a write-in.
Outfield: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays
Crawford, who has spent his career as the best player on a series of bad Tampa Bay teams, is finally getting his moment in the sun now that the newly-rechristened Rays have developed some young pitching to complement their hitting talent. The Rays lead in the A.L. East, and Crawford’s .274 average, 4 home runs, 30 RBI, 39 runs scored, 14 stolen bases and solid defense are major reasons why. He barely gets the nod over the perenially outstanding Ichiro Suzuki.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
After an incredibly slow start, Big Papi has come on in a big way since bottoming out with a .111 average on April 17. Ortiz went deep and added five RBI the following day and hasn’t looked back since. His early-season struggles are still reflected in his .249 average, but he’s up to 12 home runs and 40 RBI and is once again looking like one of the game’s most feared sluggers. Ortiz is the choice over write in candidate Milton Bradley of Texas, who is healthy for once and hitting .328 with 8 home runs and 31 RBI.
Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Where did I go wrong? Please leave a comment in the field below and set me straight.