MLB All-Star Game 2012: A Very Early American League All-Star Ballot
Major League Baseball has started its annual All-Star voting campaign for the July 10 event in Kansas City. Over the years, I have been strongly opposed to having the voting start so early.
However, the voting for the starters is more of a popularity contest where Yankees fans would probably vote for Derek Jeter 25 times if he were hitting .200.
All of this puts several players at a disadvantage when trying to get an accurate lineup of All-Stars for the Midsummer Classic. Regardless, we're going to try, as I will show you my current ballot for the 2012 American League All-Star team so far.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
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With Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer back in the fold, it's going to be difficult for a worthy catcher to overtake him in the All-Star lineup (barring bilateral leg weakness).
While Mauer would be a legitimate pick to start the All-Star game (leading AL catchers with .325 batting average entering Wednesday), there is a more complete catcher playing well for the Twins' biggest rival.
A.J. Pierzynski continues to impress even though I keep predicting his demise. Last season, Pierzynski hit .287 but only powered eight home runs out of U.S. Cellular Field. In April, Pierzynski cranked four home runs while driving in 17 for the White Sox.
Pierzynski is also second among catchers in batting average (.309) and plays solid defensively, calling a perfect game for Philip Humber.
While there are other solid candidates such as Mauer, Baltimore's Matt Wieters and possibly Texas' Mike Napoli, Pierzynski gets the nod after the first month of the season.
First Base: Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
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Like Pierzynski, Paul Konerko has gotten better with age for the Chicago White Sox. The older Konerko gets, the more he hits.
Currently, Konerko has been hitting a lot, posting a .383 average (which leads AL first basemen) and bashing five home runs en route to an OPS of 1.123.
If it weren't for an outfielder in Texas (we'll get to him later), Konerko could very well be the AL's Most Valuable Player in April.
Regardless, Konerko's performance has been good enough to outlast Kansas City's Billy Butler, Baltimore's Chris Davis and Tampa Bay's reborn Carlos Pena as the starting first baseman for the AL.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Second base has been primarily occupied by Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees when it comes to the All-Star game, but he struggled in the month of April (.267, one home run, four runs batted in).
With that, there needs to be new blood at second base, so why not take the catalyst for the best team in baseball?
The Texas Rangers have soared out to a 17-6 start entering Wednesday, and Ian Kinsler has been a big part of that. Kinsler has hit five home runs and driven in 12 for the Rangers, but he's also being an effective leadoff man, walking 15 times entering Wednesday.
The second base race could come down to Kinsler and Cano come July, but for now Kinsler has a massive advantage.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
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Perhaps Derek Jeter was onto something when he said that the chase leading up to 3,000 hits last summer was emotionally draining.
Jeter skipped the 2011 All-Star festivities in Arizona to clear his head after getting hit No. 3,000 in the week leading up to the game, but he didn't really deserve to be the starting shortstop anyway.
This year, Jeter has proven he still has gas in the tank and could wind up reclaiming his throne. Jeter leads all AL shortstops in OPS (1.012) and has jumped back in the time machine to hit .389 with four home runs and 13 runs batted in for the Evil Empire.
As for now, it looks like a lock that Jeter will be the starting shortstop in Kansas City. The question is can any AL shortstop put up a fight?
Third Baseman: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
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For me, it came down to Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera for the third base slot.
Cabrera has lit the world on fire with the protection of fellow slugger Prince Fielder. Cabrera has clearly not taken his defensive adventures to the plate, as he crushed seven home runs in April.
Longoria has been doing the same thing for the Rays with much less help around him. While the Rays have a good team, they're not offering the protection that Cabrera is getting from Fielder. Longoria has hit four home runs and driven in 19 for the second-best team in the AL.
Unfortunately, Longoria injured his hamstring on an awkward slide earlier this week and will miss four to six weeks.
It's a big blow for Longoria's All-Star hopes, and it can be assumed that if Cabrera keeps hitting (Do fish swim?) he will represent the AL at third base.
Outfielder: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
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The National League has Matt Kemp. The American League has Josh Hamilton. Both players share several similarities after their big first months of the season.
The first similarity is that they've been able to launch balls out of the ballpark repeatedly. Both Kemp and Hamilton lead their respective leagues in home runs during the month of April, as Hamilton hit nine, while Kemp hit 12.
They've also been hitting the ball everywhere inside the park as well. Hamilton leads several hot hitters in April with a .395 batting average. That's good for tops in the AL.
Like Kemp, Hamilton also plays on the team that's the story of its league, as the Rangers hold the best record in baseball entering Wednesday.
Hamilton suffered back spasms Sunday night in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays, but if he can stay healthy throughout the rest of the first half, he will be in Kansas City July 10.
Outfielder: Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
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When the Minnesota Twins were trying to re-sign Michael Cuddyer during the offseason, the Twins viewed Josh Willingham as a player who could give the Twins equal production if Cuddyer chose to leave.
Cuddyer signed a three-year deal with the Colorado Rockies, which opened the door for the Twins to sign Willingham to a three-year deal of their own.
As it turns out, "The Willinghammer" was much more than "Michael Cuddyer Light."
Willingham hit like a machine for the Twins in April, as he hit .347 with five home runs and 15 runs batted in for the offensively-challenged Twins.
There are several theories to why Willingham is having the success he's having, but the one theory that should be adopted is that he would start for the AL in the outfield if the All-Star game was tomorrow.
Outfielder: Nick Swisher, New York Yankees
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Nick Swisher is in the same case as Josh Willingham in that he would represent some new blood coming into the All-Star lineup.
Swisher made the All-Star game thanks to the Final Vote contest in 2010, but he's playing like he won't need to lobby for votes to make the team this time around.
Swisher is hitting .283 for the Yankees, but he also hit six home runs and drove in 23 for the Yankees in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.
You can say what you want about having a second Yankee in the All-Star lineup, but the cold reality is there will be many more than two come July. It may sound asinine, but if Swisher continues to hit like he did in April, some fans might actually feel good about putting a Yankee in the starting lineup.
Starting Pitcher: Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
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Jake Peavy is starting to pitch like the guy the Chicago White Sox thought they were getting when they traded for him three years ago.
It can be said that Peavy has been a massive disappointment since being traded to the South Side from the San Diego Padres, but now Peavy is starting to redeem himself after a stupendous April.
Peavy went 3-1 with a 1.67 earned run average in 37.2 innings for the White Sox in April. The biggest eye-popping stat for Peavy was that his WHIP was a microscopic 0.69 in April as well. Not only are teams struggling to score runs off Peavy, they're struggling to get on base.
Peavy has battled injuries throughout his stint with the White Sox, and it's possible that another one could pop up between now and July. If Peavy can stay healthy, it would be a good story to see him make his first All-Star appearance as a member of the AL.
Closing Pitcher: Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
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Prior to Jose Valverde becoming the closer for the Detroit Tigers, Fernando Rodney was the guy attempting to slam the door for the team.
As a Twins fan, I would repeatedly see Rodney come out and throw the ball all over the place before finding a way to get all three outs. When Rodney got a save, it was like watching Harry Houdini in his prime. (Actually, I don't think there's a way to do that, but you get the idea.)
The Rays scooped Rodney off the scrap heap and threw him into the closer position after Kyle Farnsworth went down with an injury. Since then, Rodney has done a fantastic job shutting games down for the Rays, going seven-for-seven in save opportunities.
The biggest difference for Rodney has been that he's posted a 0.77 WHIP for the Rays and has not made things interesting for the AL East leaders.
I'm assuming the Rays will keep Rodney in the closer role even when Farnsworth comes back, and if Rodney can keep doing what he's doing, he will at least be in the bullpen for the Midsummer Classic
(Because let's face it, there's no way that Ron Washington would not use Mariano Rivera if he had a lead late in the game.)