All-Star ballot stacked at first base
Plethora of power hitters anchors the right side of infield
Good luck to you, All-Star Game voters. When you cast your vote, you will be forced to leave off at least two of the preeminent sluggers in the American League. And that's before you even get to the second position on the ballot.
When you check off your choice for American League first baseman, what do you do?
Do you select the reigning MVP, Minnesota's Justin Morneau? Do you go with David Ortiz, a perennial MVP candidate and the man widely considered the most dangerous clutch hitter in the league? Or maybe you like the guy who some feel outranks them both as the best hitter in the Junior Circuit -- Travis Hafner.
It's a tough, tough choice, and those are just the three most obvious candidates. There's rejuvenated Yankees slugger Jason Giambi. There are fan favorites such as Detroit's Sean Casey and Paul Konerko of the White Sox, and up-and-comers such as the Angels' Casey Kotchman and the Royals' Ryan Shealy.
First base is almost never an easy call, because it's where so many of the most potent hitters play. But the current crop in the American League is simply ridiculous, and it doesn't even include a couple of potential write-in candidates.
Perhaps you've heard of them, since they may both be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., one day -- Jim Thome of the White Sox and Frank Thomas of the Blue Jays. They can both hit a little, though Thomas is off to a slow start in his new home.
Over on the NL side, there's an interesting choice to be had, as well. Albert Pujols of the Cardinals has, in recent years, been one of the most automatic choices on the ballot. If you're a body-of-work voter, then Pujols remains the choice, because over the past several years nobody has been better than Pujols.
But the 2005 MVP is struggling in the early going, as are several of the Senior Circuit's other biggest stars. Phillies first sacker Ryan Howard, Houston's Lance Berkman and the Mets' Carlos Delgado are all off to slow starts. If you believe the All-Star Game is for the best players, regardless of how they look over a month or two, you'll probably still vote for one of those guys, and it will be a fine choice.
On the opposite side of those players is the Cubs' Derrek Lee. An All-Star in 2005, Lee missed nearly all of '06 with injury. Now he's off to another excellent start, and you can bet Cubs fans will be flocking to vote for him again.
But what if you are the sort who likes to reward the players who start hot? Or you like the rising stars? Then one natural place to look is the Padres' slick-fielding, sweet-swinging Adrian Gonzalez, who's been raking in the season's first month.
For a feel-good story, you've got a couple of fine choices. Colorado's Todd Helton is racking up base hits again, and hometown hero Rich Aurilia -- back with the Giants -- is hitting very well in the early going.
The NL features plenty of intriguing youngsters who will likely see time at first in future All-Star Games, if not this year -- Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, Arizona's Conor Jackson, Pittsburgh's Adam LaRoche and the Braves' Scott Thorman are all likely on the upswings of their careers.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.