05/21/10 10:37 AM ET
Votebook: Outfields loaded with talent
Abundance of candidates worthy of All-Star consideration
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
There are potential Hall of Famers, perennial All-Stars, standout up-and-comers, overlooked studs, home-run hitters, basestealers, hit-for-average guys, those with deadly arms, Most Valuable Players, Gold Glovers and Silver Sluggers.
And maybe -- just maybe -- there's a Triple Crown winner in there, too.
Yes, among a group that includes stars like Manny Ramirez, Torii Hunter, Matt Holliday, Ichiro Suzuki, Jason Bay and Jason Heyward, it's the guy with no All-Star Game appearances -- and currently on the shelf -- who currently sticks out among the outfielders bidding to be in the starting lineups for the July 13 All-Star Game in Anaheim.
His name is Andre Ethier, and he's been so hot that only a trip to the disabled list could cool him off.
Ethier easily leads the National League in batting average at .392 while also pacing the league with 38 RBIs and a .457 on-base percentage, and he's tied for second in homers with 11. But on Tuesday, he was forced to go on the 15-day DL with a broken pinkie, meaning he won't be back for the Dodgers until late May, at the earliest.
"It stinks, honestly," Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw said. "[He's] the best player in the game -- the best hitter for sure. It's definitely not something we're excited about."
There's plenty to be excited about on the American League side if you're a voter.
While there is no clear-cut leader there, Ichiro continues to do his thing, as he currently ranks second overall in the AL and leads all outfielders in the league in batting average at .349 entering Friday's games. Power-wise, the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista -- who had played a lot of third base recently because Edwin Encarnacion was out -- paces AL outfielders in homers (12) and RBIs (33).
The youngsters are coming through, too.
Austin Jackson took home AL Rookie of the Month honors in April and currently sports a .329 batting average -- second among AL outfielders -- to go along with 11 RBIs and six stolen bases.
"It's hard to argue with what he's done," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Meanwhile, Brett Gardner, whom some pundits doubted could be a productive everyday player in the Yankees outfield, sports a .321 batting average and ranks second in the Majors in stolen bases with 17.
"I felt all along that Gardy was an everyday player," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I love what he brings to the table."
Heyward has brought a lot to the table, too.
It will be difficult for the 20-year-old phenom to live up to the hype that was brought into the season, but so far he's been among the NL's best at his position, with eight home runs, 30 RBIs and a .406 batting average with runners in scoring position.
"That's where you make your living as a run producer -- getting those easy-RBI opportunities, where you don't necessarily have to get a hit to get an RBI," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "And if you do [get a hit], you get two [RBIs]. He has certainly taken advantage of those opportunities."
The youngsters may be producing, but there are plenty of veteran outfielders who deserve consideration, too.
In the AL, Detroit's Magglio Ordonez is having an early resurgence with a .315 batting average and 26 RBIs. The Rays' Carl Crawford is batting .316 with 10 stolen bases and five outfield assists, which leads Major League left fielders. Chicago's Juan Pierre leads all basestealers with 18. The Orioles' Nick Markakis paces AL outfielders with a .410 on-base percentage. Hunter has been solid with a .284 batting average and seven homers. And Vernon Wells has bounced back to his former All-Star form after a down year.
The 31-year-old center fielder has 11 homers, 32 RBIs and a .301 batting average for the upstart Blue Jays.
"Right now, he's pretty much just hitting everything up there," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said earlier this season. "We just hope he continues to do that. I'm seeing the Vernon that I didn't see last year."
Meanwhile, in the NL, Ramirez's power numbers are down (two homers, 19 RBIs), but he's hit .352 in 23 games. The Phillies' Jayson Werth sports a .324 batting average and a Major League-leading 20 doubles. Alfonso Soriano is hitting .323 with seven homers for the Cubs. And Holliday sports a .300 batting average -- though his four homers and 16 RBIs caused manager Tony La Russa to flip-flop the middle of the Cardinals' order recently, putting Albert Pujols behind Holliday in hopes that the Redbirds outfielder gets better pitches to hit.
"Matt is feeling OK, but he's a major impact guy for us, and we've got to get him going to where he's more like himself," the Cardinals' skipper said recently about hitting Holliday third.
Youngsters, though, have mainly dominated the National League.
Like the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, who ranks third among NL outfielders with a .327 batting average and is tied for second with 12 stolen bases. Or the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez and his .311 batting average. Or the Brewers' Ryan Braun, who's second among the league's outfielders with a .333 batting average and .413 on-base percentage while adding seven homers, 30 RBIs and aspiring to lead the NL in hits for a second consecutive season.
That hasn't been done since 1994-95, when Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn did it, but few would doubt Braun -- especially not his skipper.
"I don't see why not, if he stays healthy," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "He's got the ability to be very, very, very special."
Keep your eyes on several who have yet to break out, too.
In the NL, two Mets outfielders jump out, as big offseason prize Jason Bay has hit .281 but has just one home run in 42 games, and five-time All-Star Carlos Beltran has yet to play because of offseason knee surgery. In the AL, two-time All-Star Bobby Abreu is hitting an uncharacteristic .269, while Mike Cameron (abdominal strain), Jacoby Ellsbury (fractured ribs), Curtis Granderson (left groin strain) and Grady Sizemore (left knee contusion) are on the disabled list but should be back on the field and producing soon.
Perhaps soon enough to round up Midsummer Classic votes at an extremely competitive position.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.