MLB: American League April All-Star Team
Through the first month of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, there have been many pleasant surprises and great disappointments.
In both leagues there is a player with realistic shots at the triple crown: the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and the Rangers' Josh Hamilton. The biggest off-season signing, Albert Pujols, is having one of his worst hitting months of his career.
If the season ended right now, the AL East would have three teams in the playoffs, and one of those teams would be the Baltimore Orioles. The AL Central would be won by the Cleveland Indians, not the Detroit Tigers, and the most disappointing team would be the AL West's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with a record of 8-15.
There have been a ton of over- and underachievers in the American League this season, and these are my selections for April's All-Stars.
Catcher: Matt Wieters, BAL
The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season. They have a record of 14-9 and are only 1.0 games back of the AL East lead.
One of their team leaders is their 26-year-old catcher Matt Wieters. He is tied for the team lead in home runs with six, and leads the team with 15 RBI.
Not only has he been a batting leader for the Orioles, but among American League catchers, Wieters leads in extra base hits (8), slugging percentage (.574), and OPS (.937).
First Base: Paul Konerko, CWS
Konerko not only is in the top five among all American League batters in batting average, but also in on-base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.679) and OPS (1.123).
Even at age 36, the White Sox first baseman still has some pop left in his bat, with 14 extra base hits in the first month of the season.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler, TEX
The Texas Rangers are one of the top scoring teams in the AL. Their leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler has played a major part in their offensive output.
The 29-year-old is hitting .298 through the first month, and he has not hit over .300 since the 2008 season. What is more impressive has been his ability to get on base this season, an OBP of .400 through 23 has allowed Kinsler to score at an astounding rate.
During April, Ian scored 24 runs, which is more than the number of games he's played in and is nearly the same as the amount of hits he has this season (28). Matt Kemp, who is hitting out of this world right now, is the only other player in the majors with 24 runs scored this season.
Kinsler has also shown some power this season by leading AL second baseman in home runs with 5 and RBI with 12.
Third Base: Evan Longoria, TB
The third base April All-Star was the hardest to pick, with both the Rays' Evan Longoria and the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera hitting very well this season.
Despite hitting fewer home runs and having fewer RBI than Miggy, I still felt that Longoria deserved the nod for the best AL third baseman of April.
This is because Evan has a batting average 31 points higher than Cabrera and despite having only four home runs, he still has more extra base hits with seven doubles.
Those 11 extra base hits and 15 walks give Longoria a stellar OPS of .994. That is good enough to beat out all AL players that play the hot corner.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, NYY
The resurgence of Derek Jeter has been one of the biggest surprises in the young season.
Jeter leads all of baseball with 37 hits, and is currently sporting a .389 batting average and a 1.012 OPS through the first month.
Over his prolific career, Jeter has only hit above his current average in the first month of the season once in his career, when he hit .398 in 2006. He has also shown an unusual amount of pop this year with 10 extra base hits, which is also the second-best total in April of his career.
At age 38 it would be amazing if Mr. November can have one of the best seasons of his career in 2012.
Left Field: Josh Willingham, MIN
Despite playing on the team with the worst record in Major League Baseball, Josh Willingham has been one of the hottest hitters in the game.
Willingham's .347 batting average is the best monthly average in which he has played more than 20 games in his seven year career. That average also leads MLB left fielders.
Willingham tops American League left fielders in home runs (5), doubles (7) and RBI (15). More impressively, he has the third highest OPS among all AL batters at 1.128.
For the Twins to start winning some ball games, Willingham will need to continue to hit at this outstanding rate.
Center Field: Josh Hamilton, TEX
After the first month of April, this Texas slugger has a realistic shot at the AL triple crown.
He currently leads the AL in home runs and RBI with nine and 25, respectively, and he is second in batting average (.395) only to Boston's David Ortiz.
Luckily for Hamilton, he plays on one of the best offenses in baseball, so he will have plenty of opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position.
If he can continue to hit around the .391 batting average with runners in scoring position and his American League leading .744 slugging percentage then he will have a chance at the triple crown.
Right Field: Nick Swisher, NYY
Nick Swisher is the second New York Yankee to have a surprising breakout first month of the season.
Not many people would have predicted that Swisher and Derek Jeter would be the top two hitters for the Yankees through the first month.
Not only are they both hitting for average, but for power as well. Swisher's six home runs combined with Jeter's four gives them more home runs than Robinson Cano (1), Mark Teixeira (3), and Alex Rodriguez (4) combined.
Swisher not only leads the Yankees in RBI with 23, he also ranks second in that category among all AL players and second in extra base hits with 15.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, BOS
One of the lone highlights of another disappointing season for the Boston Red Sox is the hitting of David Ortiz.
Ortiz is the third April All-Star to make this last that is at least 36 years old. Just like Konerko and Jeter, Big Papi is having one of the best opening months of his career.
David's 34 hits this month beats his previous career high by 7 hits, and his .405 batting average shatters his previous April high of .309.
Besides his AL leading batting average, he also leads the league in OPS at 1.184. Ortiz also has five bombs to go along with 20 RBI.
Starting Pitcher: Jake Peavy, CWS
Now that Jake Peavy is finally healthy, he is returning to his 2007 Cy Young form.
Peavy owns a 3-1 record to go along with American League-leading 37.2 innings pitched, 1.67 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and .162 batting average against in his first five starts.
He also already has two complete games which tie his combined total from the last two seasons, and one shutout which equals his shutout totals from each of the past two seasons.
Peavy has battled injuries for the past four seasons. If he can manage to stay off the DL for the 2012 season, an All-Star start in July is very possible.
Closer: Jim Johnson, BAL
Jim Johnson has made the most of his first chance to be the everyday closer for the Baltimore Orioles.
Johnson has converted all of his first seven save opportunities to start the season. He is one of only three pitchers with four or more saves to convert all of their save chances.
Where Johnson has really stood out is in his 8.2 innings pitched this season, he has yet to give up a single run. Teams only have been hitting .194 against the new closer, and he has a quality WHIP of 1.15.
Not many people would expect two members of the Orioles to make a list like this at the beginning of the season, but with the third best record in the AL they have had to have a few players playing great early this season.