05/04/10 10:00 AM ET
Votebook: Plenty of power at first base
Big-time sluggers abound on the ballot in both leagues
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Throughout Major League history, it has been a premier power spot, where some of the game's greatest sluggers have resided. Today, it's no different.
Consider that since 2005, five of the 10 Most Valuable Player awards have been handed out to first basemen. And last year, the top three finishers in home runs -- Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, respectively -- all played first base.
Pujols is the class of the position, but there are so many others who, year in and year out, deserve All-Star Game consideration. And through the early part of this season, many already look primed for the July 13 Midsummer Classic at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
First and foremost, though, it starts with Pujols, the Cardinals' three-time National League MVP who has been an offensive terror every year since coming to the big leagues in 2001.
That hasn't changed in the first month of the 2010 season. Pujols entered Tuesday tied for 11th in the NL in batting average (.333), tied for fifth in homers (seven), tied for third in RBIs (24), eighth in on-base percentage (.423) and fourth in slugging (.626).
When Howard signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension with the Phillies last week, a lot of the focus immediately turned to the Cardinals' slugger -- a potential free agent after the 2011 season, presuming that St. Louis exercises its option for next season -- and many asked, "If Howard is worth $25 million a year, what about Pujols?"
"He's the best hitter in the game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said recently. "You're not going to find anybody who plays first base much better than him or have better instincts for playing the game of baseball. It's a pretty good package."
There are others looking pretty good, too, and few have looked better so far this season than Paul Konerko. The White Sox first baseman and three-time All-Star is batting .286 while leading the Majors with 12 homers -- the next closest is nine -- and ranking second in the American League with 24 RBIs.
While Pujols and Konerko have been pacing their respective leagues at first base, Howard, the Dodgers' James Loney, the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, the Twins' Justin Morneau and the Angels' Kendry Morales have been making their marks, too.
Howard is batting .280 with five homers, and his 18 RBIs have him tied for second among NL first basemen. The lefty slugger is batting .323 (10-for-31) since April 25.
In the NL, check out the numbers for Gonzalez (.281 batting average, six homers, 17 RBIs), Loney (.333 batting average), Cincinnati's Joey Votto (.420 on-base percentage) and Arizona's Adam LaRoche (18 RBIs).
Among AL first basemen, Cabrera has shown he's put last year's late-season, on-field and off-field troubles behind him and has gotten off to a scorching start for Tigers. He ranks fourth in the league in batting average (.349) and first in RBIs (27).
His division rival, Morneau, also shook off negatives to have a good first month of the season. For Morneau, though, it was a difficult Spring Training. The below-the-radar lefty power hitter batted just .160 in Grapefruit League play but is now third in the AL in batting average (.356) while adding six home runs, 18 RBIs and a league-leading .482 on-base percentage.
"I wasn't worried about Spring Training at all," Morneau said recently.
"As you get further along in your career, you kind of need something to play for. And in Spring Training, you're not really playing for anything -- all you are trying to do is get ready. You don't have that intensity or that extra adrenaline you need as a baseball player."
Konerko, Cabrera and Morneau figure to have strong competition in the balloting from Boston's Kevin Youkilis (.289 batting average, five homers, 15 RBIs), the Royals' Billy Butler (.317 batting average) and Morales (.323 batting average, six homers and 17 RBIs).
But don't forget about the proven guys who have had slow starts but figure to come on strong before long.
In the NL, Houston's Lance Berkman recently returned from knee surgery, while the Nationals' Adam Dunn (.233 batting average, four homers), the Brewers' Fielder (.234, two homers), the Braves' Troy Glaus (.238, two homers), the Rockies' Todd Helton (.269, zero homers) and the Cubs' Derrek Lee (.221, four homers) all figure to heat up as the weather does.
But, in the AL, the most intriguing of all is the Yankees' Mark Teixeira.
The two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner hit a horrid .136 in April. But a 6-for-9, three-RBI performance in Teixeira's first two games of May showed signs he could be back on track -- with plenty of time remaining to capture votes to start in the All-Star Game.
"He's hit some balls hard," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi recently about Teixeira. "He's definitely starting to impact the baseball better. He's not where he's going to end up, I can tell you that. He's going to get better and better as time goes on here."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.