Memorial Day is a good point of reference for Major League Baseball followers for determining what teams are contenders and who is a candidate for the All-Star team. The season is over a quarter completed, and normally at this time you are what you are; a contender, a pretender, or an All-Star team candidate. As the campaign heads into June and the summer months loom, let’s look at who is an All-Star infielder in the American League.
At first base, the decision as to who is an All-Star comes down to a pair of veteran players, Jason Giambi of the Yankees and Paul Konerko of the World Champion Chicago White Sox. Giambi leads the American League with an on-base percentage of .462; his 43 walks, the most in baseball, have helped that number considerably. Slumping at the plate as of late, Giambi has seen his average fall to .265, but he carried the Yankees early and often. His All-Star worthy stats includes a dozen homers and 37 RBI. Nobody will mistake Giambi for a Gold Glover down at first, but the All-Star selections are mostly based on offensive numbers. Paul Konerko outstrips Giambi in every category but on-base percentage and walks, making him my choice as the American League All-Star first baseman. Konerko has 14 round trippers and 40 RBI, to go with a robust batting average of .310. His presence in the middle of the Chisox line-up is a huge reason the Pale Hose are a shoo-in to make the playoffs and defend their crown. Honorable All-Star mention must go to the Twins’ Justin Morneau, who has decent power numbers but is hitting for a low average, and Detroit’s Chris Shelton, who came storming out of the gate but has since come back to earth. Boston’s Kevin Youkalis has distinguished himself with the bat and the glove, hitting .317 and making one diving stop after another at first, but his power numbers are not in Konerko’s All-Star league.
The American League’s All-Star second baseman should come from a trio of players that are each having surprising seasons. Tampa Bay’s Ty Wigginton, who came over from the National League, has hit 11 homers and knocked in 37 runs. Batting .269, Ty also has 40 strikeouts, and his defense is not the first thing you would notice on his All-Star resume. The White Sox Tadahito Taguchi is hitting nearly .300, and he is on pace to knock in 90 runs. He has committed only 4 errors so far, and his selection would give Chicago an All-Star right side of the infield. But my All-Star second baseman vote goes to Seattle’s Jose Lopez, a 22 year old Venezuelan phenom who has had a wonderful year to date. Lopez has struck 7 home runs, as many as his first two years combined, collected 37 RBI to lead all Major League Baseball keystoners, and is hitting .286; add in he only has 5 miscues in the field and Jose Lopez should be an All-Star choice.
Over at the hot corner, there are several American League third baseman having All-Star years. Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers is batting .324 with 38 RBI, while his Oakland A’s counterpart, Eric Chavez, has a dozen round trippers and 35 runs batted in. The White Sox Joe Crede is off to his best start, with a .287 hitting mark and 30 RBI, while the Blue Jays’ Troy Glaus makes his case for an All-Star team berth by virtue of his 14 homers and 39 runs batted in. Perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez has 36 RBI and 11 home runs, but he comes up with a plethora of men on base while batting in the middle of the loaded Yankee line-up. My All-Star third baseman may come as a surprise, but Boston’s Mike Lowell is having an excellent year offensively and with the leather. He is hitting .333, leading the American League in doubles, has over 30 RBI, and has made only 4 errors thus far, anchoring an infield that has helped propel the Red Sox to a small lead over New York in the tough American League East Division. Ironically. the Red Sox had to take Lowell as a throw in when they got pitcher Josh Beckett from the Marlins; now he will be the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
A certain Hall of Famer, a likely entrant to Cooperstown, and a player who is heading in that general direction make up the list of American League All-Star shortstop candidates. My nod goes to the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, who is having one of his finest seasons in what will undoubtedly be a Hall of Fame worthy career. Jeter is batting over .350 which ranks second in the league, has 35 RBI, is playing All-Star defense, and is the heart and soul of a Yankee lineup that is depleted by injuries right now. Jeter has 9 stolen bases, and on May 26th collected his 2,000th hit, as he is on pace to become the only Yankee with 3,000 base knocks by the year 2011. Baltimore’s Miguel Tejeda must feel a little like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, as he puts up All-Star statistics despite his team’s dismal record. Tejeda has more home runs than Jeter, but is hitting 20 points less and his 6 errors are 2 more than Derek has made. Texas shortstop Michael Young has rebounded from an abysmal World Baseball Classic showing to hit well over .300, but he lacks the power numbers to be an All-Star this year.
There you have it, my early predictions for the 2006 American League All-Star infield. I realize the fans’ vote will more than likely differ from my choices, but I would take my All-Star infield of Paul Konerko, Jose Lopez, Mike Lowell, and Derek Jeter any day of the week.