Selecting the AL Central's Position Player First Quarter All-Star Team
The American League Central is one of the most interesting divisions in all of baseball this season.
The Indians, who finished 20 games back in the division last year with only 68 wins, are on pace to reach close to 100 wins this season, and are the hottest team in baseball, winning 18 of their last 22 games.
But unlike the Tigers, the Indians aren't doing it with star power.
The Tigers lead the AL in runs, average and on-base percentage, but have struggled lately, going 4-6 in their last 10 games, with two of those wins coming against the dreadful Houston Astros.
Yet, most of the players on this list are donning the Old English D.
It has been a fun first quarter to watch, and has definitely been unexplainable at times, but here is my list for the AL Central Position Player All Stars at the first quarter mark:
C: Joe Mauer--Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer is far and away the best offensive catcher in the AL and has been for a long time.
Mauer’s power numbers are down so far this season, but his average has remained impressive as he’s hitting .333 with a .411 OBP in 39 games.
After missing half of the 2011 campaign, Mauer has managed to stay relatively injury-free playing 147 games last season, and all but two for his team this year.
Mauer has also stepped up defensively as he has thrown out six of 12 potential base stealers so far this season, good for second in the AL. He’s only allowed two passed balls and committed two errors in 2013 as well.
Mauer has been an AL All Star in four of the last five seasons and has captured the Gold Glove Award at catcher in three of the last five years.
1B: Prince Fielder--Detroit Tigers
Prince Fielder is going to put up monster numbers year in and year out.
He’s been consistently among the top first basemen in baseball since his first full season in the league in 2005. Detroit’s iron man has played in all 201 games since putting on a Tigers uniform and has made everyone around him better with his leadership, performance and energy.
Fielder’s .277 average is down from his .313 mark a year ago, but after finishing last season with a disappointing—for his standards—home run total of 30, Fielder is on pace for close to 40 bombs and 140-plus RBI’s this season.
The 29-year-old is trailing Minnesota’s Justin Morneau in average among AL Central first basemen, but despite Morneau’s .304 average, Fielder’s OBP is 65 points higher than Morneau and he has seven more home runs and eight more RBI’s than the Twins’ slugger.
Perhaps Fielder’s biggest value for the Tigers is the way he protects the best hitter in the game.
Fielder has hit behind Miguel Cabrera every game since joining the Tigers and because he’s remained consistent, Fielder hasn’t allowed opposing pitchers to throw around Cabrera.
It’s no coincidence that Fielder has hit behind his league’s MVP the last two years.
2B: Omar Infante--Detroit Tigers
Omar Infante has greatly exceeded expectations this season and has given the Tigers a huge lift at the bottom of the order.
Mostly hitting out of the 9-slot, Infante is hitting. 313 with three home runs and 14 RBI’s in 38 games this season. His average is third among all AL second basemen and he’s hitting 49 points higher than anyone at second in the AL Central.
Infante has given the Tigers much-needed stability at second base, as well as in the 9-hole in the lineup.
Last year, the Tigers’ second basemen combined to hit .213 with five home runs and 42 RBI’s all year, while the No. 9 hitters combined for a .231 average with three long balls and 33 RBI’s.
The 31-year-old is hitting .343 in the 9-slot this season and has already equaled the home-run output of the Tigers’ No. 9 hitters from a year ago.
3B: Miguel Cabrera--Detroit Tigers
I realize this list is looking like the Tigers starting lineup, but you can't argue with the numbers--especially with this guy.
After winning the first Triple Crown in 46 years last season, Cabrera has stepped his game up and is hitting even better this year.
He’s hitting .387 with a ridiculous .457 on-base percentage through 42 games this season. He also boasts 11 home runs and 47 RBI’s to go along with 21 walks compared to only 23 strikeouts.
For as good of a power hitter as Cabrera is, that ratio of walks to strikeouts is uncommonly close. Cabrera has one of the best eyes in the game and doesn’t give in to the garbage that pitchers throw at him from time to time.
Cabrera’s .387 average is by far the best in baseball and is 133 points higher than any other AL Central third baseman. He leads all AL third basemen by 18 RBI’s and leads AL third basemen in home runs by two.
The 30-year-old hasn’t been a slouch on the other side of the ball either. He’s third among AL third basemen with a .953 fielding percentage, with four errors, which are both second-best among AL Central third basemen. His range and feel for the position have steadily improved since moving over to third last season, and he’s more than able to play third effectively.
Just when you thought you've seen it all from Cabrera, he finds a way to elevate his game and wow fans once again. In his last game, which saw the Tigers fall to the Texas Rangers, Cabrera blasted three home runs, going 4-for-4 with five RBI's.
SS: Johnny Peralta--Detroit Tigers
As much as it pains me to put him on this list, Jhonny Peralta has been extremely impressive so far this season for the Tigers.
Peralta leads all AL shortstops with a .320 average, and is 40 points ahead of the second-best AL Central shortstop, Alexei Ramirez.
Peralta has added four home runs and 18 RBI's, leading Ramirez by three and nine in those respective categories.
He has the best OBP and by far the best OPS among AL shortstops with .381 and .848 marks, respectively.
LF: Alex Gordon--Kansas City Royals
Kansas City’s Alex Gordon's .343 average leads all AL left fielders by 37 points, and Gordon has added six home runs, 29 RBI’s and a steal to his resume this season. His performance has helped the Royals stay within striking distance of the Indians and Tigers.
Gordon’s best season prior to this year was 2011 when he hit 23 home runs and 87 RBI’s. So far this season, he’s on pace to hit 27 home runs and 126 RBI’s.
Gordon is one of the most improved players in the AL as he recovers from a subpar first half of the 2012 campaign when he only had five home runs, 27 RBI's and a .274 average.
CF: Lorenzo Cain--Kansas City Royals
Lorenzo Cain is second among AL center fielders with a .299 average and is third in RBI's with 22.
Cain is one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, going from a player who’s never played more than 61 games in any of his first three years in the league to a potential AL All-Star starter.
Cain has proved he deserves to be an everyday player this season, appearing in all but three games for the Royals, and helping the Royals manufacture runs and take them away on the defensive side of the ball.
RF: Torii Hunter--Detroit Tigers
Torii Hunter began his career re-invigoration last season with the Los Angeles Angels and he's continued to thrive in his first year with the Tigers.
Hunter is hitting .310 with one home run and 21 RBI’s in 39 games this season.
He’s only gone hitless in eight games this year, and he’s on pace to get close to his career-high mark of .313 that he averaged last season with the Angels.
Hunter is hitting a respectable .273 off left-handed pitching and is destroying right-handers with a .319 average and .774 OPS. He’s got the best average of any right fielder in baseball, and is holding his ground on defense as well.
The 37-year-old who won nine straight AL Gold Glove Awards from 2001 to 2009 hasn’t lost much of his defensive prowess in his old age, only committing one error this season, and maintaining a good amount of range in spacious Comerica Park.