05/15/09 10:00 AM ET
Votebook: Hot bats in hot corner
Longoria, Zimmerman strong contenders after torrid starts
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
But how do you look past Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals (who haven't had an elected All-Star starter since the franchise was in Montreal), who just put a 30-game hitting streak into the books and is batting a loud .357 with eight homers, 26 RBIs?If Zimmerman wants a campaign manager, teammate John Lannan is available. "He is unbelievable. I think he is going to be in the All-Star Game this year," the Washington pitcher said a few days ago. "In my eyes, he is the starting third baseman, so far. He is playing great ball right now -- on offense and defense." The American League paradox is even more intriguing. Alex Rodriguez has been voted the starter in each of his first five seasons with the Yankees. But this time, not only has he just recently made his season debut, but his opening numbers are weak. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria is blowing away fans and peers alike, among many other credentials leading all of the Majors in RBIs. So, indeed, the annual All-Star voting debate -- popularity or performance -- will really heat up around the hot corner. In the NL, at least, a wrong choice seems impossible. In fact, the two veterans whom Wright unseated are both back in the picture. Atlanta's Chipper Jones -- whose All-Star starts cover an impressive range, 1996 to 2008 -- is putting up another .300-plus season. Injuries, most recently a dislocated shoulder that has landed him on the disabled list, have buckled the platform of the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez, whose .364 average still leads at the position. Then there is the Giants' hefty and underrated Pablo Sandoval (.301), a professional hitter whose reputation among peers is far stronger than it is among fans. In truth, the AL battle seems to shape up as a match race between Rodriguez's bright star and Longoria's rising star. Not that Mike Lowell doesn't rate. The respected Boston veteran has already accomplished what A-Rod has just begun and Kansas City's promising Alex Gordon will try to do -- come back successfully from hip surgery. But Lowell (.301, 6, 28) always seems to get lost in the crowd. Scott Rolen, the 2002-04 NL starter, has become a challenger in the AL. In the process of authoring an impressive comeback season in Toronto after various injuries caused him to miss 323 games the past four seasons, Rolen is having a career year in average (.325) while waiting to regenerate his power. And fans of underdogs everywhere are howling for Brandon Inge, whom the Tigers tried to shed a year ago, then relegated to a backup catcher role. He is back at his third base home, and leading resurgent Detroit with nine homers. For the AL third-base vote-down to have a narrow focus seems only natural. The league's recent All-Star history at the position is remarkably unvarying. In the past 34 years, through the 2008 game, the AL has had only eight different starting All-Star third basemen, and that includes the one-time interlopers early this decade -- Troy Glaus, Shea Hillenbrand and Travis Fryman. The quintet hogging the honors in that stretch have been Graig Nettles (two starts), George Brett (nine), Wade Boggs (11), Cal Ripken Jr. (three) and Rodriguez (six, including the 2001 game in which, out of respect for the retiring great, he nudged Ripken over to short and replaced him at third for the first inning). Longoria's All-Star campaign could pick up where his "Final Vote" campaign left off last year. He earned the last spot on the 2008 All-Star team with a record 9 million online votes. He's been earning admirers ever since -- even from the New York camp. "You can't get no better. If you get better than that, you're going to be a Hall of Famer at age 30," LeBron James, the NBA great and noted New York honk, recently said. "He's an unbelievable player. And he's fun to watch -- I mean that." And A-Rod's own teammate, Johnny Damon, said of Longoria, "We're looking at a guy who might be one of the best third basemen of all time before it's over." Still, one can't dismiss other AL candidates, including a couple of "team-first" guys who are new to the position, but already have had major impacts. Texas' Michael Young relinquished his shortstop hole to rookie Elvis Andrus, but hasn't missed a beat at third, ranking among league leaders with a .348 average that includes seven homers. In Kansas City, Mark Teahen, who had already begun the season at a new position (second base) made another move to third after Gordon went down with his hip injury. Teahen is second on the surprising Royals with a .290 average.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.