An early American League all-star ballot …

Catcher – Joe Mauer
How does a guy (Victor Martinez) with a .359 average and the second-most hits (69) in the AL not make my all-star team? Well, he gets beat out by the best pure hitter in the AL, Joseph Mauer. He missed the first month of the season due to injury, but we can’t hold that against him. These numbers — .407/.496/.824 — along with 11 HR, 32 RBIs and 26 runs in 26 games are simply too good to leave off the squad. Hitting .400 may be impossible nowadays, but Mauer may be the only player in the league that could give it a run.

First Base – Justin Morneau
Lots of solid options at this position. Carlos Pena (16) and Mark Teixeira (15) have more homers than Morneau (14), and Miguel Cabrera – his main competition – has a higher average (.366). But across the board, Morneau has been no slouch. He leads all AL first basemen in runs (39), RBIs (44), slugging percentage (.658) and OPS (1.082). Plus, he’s Canadian. The M&M boys in Minnesota are doing pretty well for themselves thus far in ’09.

Second Base – Aaron Hill
Wow. There are a ton of great second basemen in the AL right now – Brian Roberts, Robinson Cano and former MVP Dustin Pedroia, to name a few. But for me, this contest comes down to Ian Kinsler and Aaron Hill. Over a full season, Kinsler is likely the best hitter among the group. He already leads second-sackers in homers (13), slugging percentage (.569) and OPS (.923). But it’s Hill who has put up the best numbers across the board through eight weeks. The Jays’ second baseman leads the league in hits (75), and is tops at his position in RBIs (37) and batting average (.344). And I think we’re all aware that the ‘homer effect’ might play a role in this pick.

Shortstop – Derek Jeter
Things have changed at the shortstop position in the AL. Gone are the days of having to choose from a list that included A-Rod, Jeter, Tejada and Michael Young. This year, things are thin at SS. So while Jeter may have earned a starting nod in the past in seasons he didn’t deserve the honour, this year he actually does. Having said that, Jason Bartlett was my pick before his recent injury. The Rays’ shortstop hit the DL with .373 average, 30 RBIs and 14 stolen bases – clearly numbers worthy of an all-star selection. But with Bartlett out for awhile, Jeter gets the nod – especially for his recent play. The 34-year-old Yankee veteran is riding an 11-game hitting streak, batting .388 (19-for-49) with a pair of homers and seven RBIs during that span. Overall, he’s at .297 with seven long balls, 22 RBIs and 10 stolen bases as the Yanks leadoff hitter.

Third Base – Evan Longoria
Michael Young leads the position with a .335 batting average, Chone Figgins leads in walks (23) and stolen bases (19), and Brandon Inge is tied for the lead in home runs (12). But it’s the man Inge is tied with who gets the all-star nod. In fact, Tampa’s Evan Longoria leads those at the position in almost every other offensive category, including runs (36), hits (61), doubles (20), RBIs (51), OBP (.395), slugging percentage (.622) and OPS (1.018). And his .324 average isn’t too shabby either.

Outfield – Adam Jones, Jason Bay, Torii Hunter
Coincidentally, my three outfield picks are the top three in terms of OPS for the position. Jones leads the way with a 1.047 mark. He’s been perhaps the nicest surprise for the Orioles this year, hitting .357 with 40 runs – both tops among AL outfielders. The 23-year-old also has 11 HR, 36 RBIs and a .410 on-base percentage.

Bay is Canadian, so he gets the nod. But seriously, the outfielder has stepped up his game to fill the void left by the struggling David Ortiz. Bay leads all AL outfielders with 14 home runs, 48 RBIs and 34 walks. His 37 runs are tied for second-most, while his .407 on-base percentage is fourth best.

Hunter, the third on that OPS list, is putting together quite a year for the Angels. He’s currently hitting .315 with a .394 on-base percentage. His 40 RBIs trail only Bay among AL outfielders. He’s also tied for fourth in homers (11), sixth in runs (34), tied for fifth in doubles (12), and has a solid 22/27 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

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