Hello again everybody...
The All Star Game is quickly approaching, so I wanted to make sure to publish my ballot while there's still time to vote!
I decided to simplify my approach this year by strictly ranking players based on their WAR (Wins Above Replacement). It's a convenient, holistic statistic that - while not perfect - is as good a single-stat number as is currently available.
As it turned out, it did a fair job of assembling my ballot. What does that look like, you ask?
Let me show you...
First Base: Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
As much as I hate voting for a player from the South side, this one's a complete no-brainer. The guy's leading the league in batting average and on-base percentage on a team that's contending for their division title.
I believe Prince Fielder is currently leading the voting, Adrian Gonzalez will get some votes by virtue of having a pulse and playing in Boston, and Albert Pujols will garner some attention by virtue of being Albert Pujols.
I'll put Konerko's track record up against any of them and feel quite confident with that pick.
Second Base: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
I know, I know, I just got done mocking "East Coast Bias", but it can't be denied that Robbie's an elite player. Speed, defense, power... the guy's as 5-tool as it gets, and he's having another excellent season.
Dustin Pedroia is a popular choice - though he plays for my least favorite team; and Ian Kinsler plays for the best team in baseball. They'll both get votes, but I like Cano in this spot.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Speaking of "the best team in baseball"... I've been waiting for a few years for this guy to finally break out and become the elite player that he should be. Andrus as been a plus-defender ever since he got to the big leagues, but his bat has struggled to catch up in terms of elite talent. Not that he's been bad offensively, but he hasn't gotten over the hump and become a consistent threat. This season he's flirting with .300, leading the league in triples and becoming an ever-increasingly important part of the Ranger line-up.
Asdrubal Cabrera has a flashy glove, Jhonny Peralta has a good bat and Alexi Ramirez is another guy threatening to become a superstar. For me, Elvis should be in the building come the All Star Game.
Third Base: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
Of all the selections that the WAR rankings came up with, this is the one in which I'm least confident. Moustakas is part of Kansas City's youthful core, but everyone seems to think that first baseman Eric Hosmer is going to be the breakout star of the two. But there's no doubt that Moustakas is on the come and since I'm going with WAR, he gets the nod.
Adrian Beltre is the guy I'd have voted for if I were strictly voting based off instinct. It won't surprise me a bit if he's your AL starter come mid-July. Miguel Cabrera will no doubt be in attendance, though I'd never vote for him because he's woefully miscast as a third baseman. Alex Rodriguez is a Yankee... 'nuff said. And don't sleep on Mark Trumbo with the Angels. Not great with the glove, but has been a critical part of that line-up.
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
First I'm in on Mauer, then I'm out on Mauer, now I'm voting for him in the All Star Game... what gives?! Don't blame me, blame the folks who calculate the WAR statistic.
Sadly, the only statistic Mauer leads the league in is grounding into double plays. But he is hitting .314 with an .842 OPS and remains one of the more solid defensive catchers in baseball.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is having a big season in Boston. And even though he's with the Red Sox, I'd be tempted to vote for him, just because I like typing "Saltalamacchia". Mike Napoli has a big bat, and will get votes based in large part on his role in last year's post-season. Matt Wieters is an interesting option on a surprisingly good Baltimore club.
But since I don't get to vote for any other Twins legitimately, I'll stick with Mauer.
Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox
Each year I'm tempted to leave this spot blank, since - were it up to me - the designated hitter would cease to exist. And yet each year I seem to find someone whom I feel is worthy of selection.
This year, that person is Adam Dunn. After a horrific season last year, Dunn is on track to become Comeback Player of the Year in 2012. He's leading the league in homers and walks - and strikeouts to boot. No small portion of Konerko's success this season is due to Dunn's resurgence.
David Ortiz and Michael Young will both get serious looks here, but I like Dunn's chances of getting the call.
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers; Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles: Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics
Hamilton's the leader in the clubhouse for AL MVP... Jones is a big part of Baltimore being in the playoff hunt... but Josh Reddick? Yep, I was surprised too. Turns out he's slugging over .500 and one of the few reasons Oakland has a pulse.
Alex Gordon is a guy I'd love to vote for since he's finally becoming a consistent producer at the big league level. And if there was another Twin I'd feel okay voting for, it'd be Josh Willingham. Sure Minnesota's pretty awful, but I can't imagine how bad they'd be without Willingham. He's been without question their most consistent offensive threat in the first half.
First Base: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
If Hamilton's the leader in the clubhouse for AL MVP, then he's getting coffee for Joey Votto. All Votto's doing is leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, doubles and walks. That enough? It is for me.
I'd discuss other names... but why? Votto's the guy, plain and simple.
Second Base: Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves
Uggla was a budding superstar with the Marlins, then suddenly got traded to Atlanta. For a while, it seemed like the folks in Miami knew something we didn't, because Uggla certainly regressed some. But in 2012 his OPS is back north of .800 and he's hit 11 home runs. Power isn't something that's regularly found at second base, so that makes Uggla stand out.
Brandon Phillips is also a likely All Star participant and deservedly so. Jose Altuve is one of the few highlights for a struggling Houston club. And Danny Espinosa is another one of those guys who's on the verge of breaking out.
Shortstop: Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros
Houston's middle infield is pretty good... the rest of the club? Not so much. Lowrie's not the likely starter, but he's having the best season of his career so far. His last two years in Boston he combined for 15 home runs. Playing every day in Houston? He's got 13 so far and we're not to the halfway mark yet. That's significant enough to get my attention.
Starlin Castro is the current leading vote-getter, even though he's leading the universe in brain-farts. Jose Reyes was one of the biggest free-agent acquisitions this past off-season so I'm sure he'll get some votes too. I like Lowrie though, and I'll stick with the WAR rankings on this one.
Third Base: David Wright, New York Mets
After five straight All Star appearances, Wright struggled mightily last season. Folks speculated that he didn't like the Mets ballpark, that he was hurt, or that he might even have some off-field issues. Whatever it was, he's figured it out. His batting average is nearly 100 points higher, his OPS is nearly 400 points higher and he's already one double away from matching his total for the entire 2011 season.
NL Comeback Player of the Year? It certainly appears that way.
This is another spot where the vote's so obvious, I really don't even know who else to look at.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Philles
Ruiz was a name first pointed out to me by a former boss and mentor. Sure he's a Philly fan and admittedly biased, but I trust his baseball acumen as much as anybody's.
But just to be sure, I looked at his line in 3 games against the Twins: 6-for-10 with four doubles and four runs scored. Throw in the fact that WAR has him ranked well ahead of the field, and he easily gets my vote.
Miguel Montero's having a year for the D-backs that's worth a mention, and Buster Posey has bounced back well from his ugly injury last season for the Giants. But Ruiz is my guy, no doubt, on this one.
Outfield: Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
Two-thirds of the Atlanta outfield and a Brewer?! Blasphemy from a Twins fan!
But, as I'm hoping you all have picked up on by now, I'm a baseball fan first, and a Twins fan second.
Besides, the Twins beat the Braves in '91, so it's sorta tough to hate a club who couldn't beat yours. Not to mention the fact that Bourn was 9 and Prado was 8 when the Braves lost to the Twins that year, so I can hardly hold them responsible for the annoying chants and tomahawk chops that drove me so nuts right?
And sure I know some obnoxious Brewers fans that have completely unrealistic views about Ryan Braun and his drug test failure, but I know a lot of well-reasoned and well-adjusted Brewers fans too. And even without PED's, Braun's an elite hitter, so I don't mind voting for him here.
Carlos Beltran leads the league in homers, and would certainly make a solid All Star. Carlos Gonzalez is having a whale of a year on an otherwise disappointing Rockies club. And Andrew McCutcheon is in the midst of reminding Twins fans why he's the best player many baseball fans have never heard of.
So there you have it. My 2012 All Star ballot. As usual, I voted for this crew the allotted 25 times, and then changed email addresses long enough to cast one ballot consisting of solely Twins and Diamondbacks (I may be a baseball fan first, but I will still admit to having a little homer in me).
Agree? Disagree? Who ya got?
Make sure to head over to MLB.com and cast your votes before the ballot boxes close on June 28!
Until next time, thanks for reading!