Votebook: Jeter leads shortstop class
Yankees captain looks like a lock in AL; trio of stars in NL
This year's All-Star Game isn't just shaping up to be a memorable matchup between the American League and National League in one of the country's premier baseball towns.
There will be a few milestones here and there when the Midsummer Classic reaches the ripe old age of 80 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and one of them involves one of the game's most legendary players.
When it comes to the position of shortstop in the American League, it's shaping up to be No. 10 for No. 2.
Derek Jeter, the veteran Yankees captain who's marching toward 3,000 hits in what looks very much like a Hall of Fame career, has made nine AL All-Star teams, including his starting turn last year in the final Midsummer Classic at The House That Ruth Built.
In fact, it gets even better when it comes to Mr. November, who could also be called "Mr. Second Tuesday in July."
Jeter has started three straight and four of the past five All-Star Games for the AL, joining Yankees closer Mariano Rivera as the only players to be named to All-Star teams with their current clubs at least nine times.
"Anytime the fans vote for you and appreciate how you play the game, it means a lot," Jeter said. "I don't poll the people who are voting and ask them why they voted for me, but when people appreciate how you play the game, you just try to go out and play hard and be as consistent as possible. If they appreciate that, it means a lot."
Jeter, who has a .474 (9-for-19) career average in the Midsummer Classic and picked up 3,737,437 votes last year for the Yankee Stadium celebration, second in the AL to his teammate, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shouldn't have much to worry about this year either.
Jeter's statistics aren't where they normally are -- he was hitting .273 with four home runs and 13 RBIs through Sunday's games -- but several of the contending AL shortstops, such as Chicago's Alexei Ramirez, Oakland's Orlando Cabrera and Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta, have gotten off to even slower starts.
The shortstop having the best season in the AL so far is the one from the league's champion in 2008. Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays was batting .351 with four homers and 13 RBIs and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .899 while continuing to play Gold Glove-caliber defense.
"I'm not trying to do as much. I'm not trying to hit that three-run home run with nobody on [base] this year," Bartlett said. "It's just a matter of feeling more comfortable and just knowing what guys are going to try and do to me, and going with that approach."
That same approach seems to be working for Toronto's Marco Scutaro, another dark-horse shortstop contender. Scutaro already had five homers and 18 RBIs for the high-octane Toronto offense.
And don't forget rookie sensation Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers, better known as the guy who forced Michael Young to third base, and Mike Aviles of Kansas City, who's off to a slow start but turned heads last year with a .325 batting average, 10 homers and 51 RBIs.
In the National League, things aren't quite as clear-cut. In fact, it's a three-way popularity contest, and nobody -- especially the fans -- can possibly end up a loser.
It's all about the NL East when it comes to this year's shortstop headliners, with the terrific trio of Jose Reyes (New York Mets), Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia Phillies) and Hanley Ramirez (Florida Marlins) all set to knock heads for the starting position and a few backup slots come July 14 in St. Louis.
Rollins, the veteran of the bunch in his 10th big-league season, hasn't hit his stride offensively this year and hasn't made an All-Star team since 2005, but he does have a shiny new World Series ring and is considered a major spark plug for a great team.
Reyes, the do-everything leadoff man for the surging Mets, is a two-time All-Star who's a notoriously slow starter, but he was hitting .276 through Sunday with 10 stolen bases and a .354 on-base percentage.
Ramirez, meanwhile, is really starting to sizzle. Through Sunday, he was batting .348 with six homers, 18 RBIs, a .598 slugging percentage, a .421 on-base percentage and six stolen bases.
After his first All-Star season in 2008, in which the 25-year-old hit 33 homers and stole 35 bases, Ramirez seems primed for another trip to the Midsummer Classic.
"I've said it since his rookie year," Marlins outfielder Cody Ross said. "He hits the ball harder than anyone I've ever seen on a consistent basis. He brings everything that you want in a leader onto the field. He can do everything. It's a joy being able to play with him and watching him day in and day out."
While Ramirez might get the nod over Rollins and Reyes in the top-billing category of NL shortstops, a few other qualified candidates might have what it takes to sneak onto the roster.
The Dodgers' Rafael Furcal, while not exactly setting the league on fire, brings a reputation as one of the better shortstops in the league. He played in the All-Star Game in 2003.
One-time AL MVP Miguel Tejada of the Houston Astros is a five-time All-Star who made the NL team last year, and he was among the league leaders in hitting with a .313 average through Sunday.
The Cubs' Ryan Theriot is putting together a nice year, with a .299 average through Sunday plus three homers and 15 RBIs.
And keep an eye on Atlanta's Yunel Escobar, who was batting .286 with three homers and 16 RBIs.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.