Votebook: Many options at third base
Prominent names at the hot corner off to blazing starts
Chipper Jones last appeared in an All-Star Game in 2001. The way he's going this year, the hot-hitting Atlanta third baseman may not have to wait much longer for a return engagement.
Any discussion about who's going to start at third for the National League in the 79th Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium has to begin with Jones, who has been tearing up NL pitching in 2008 with a batting average of .410 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs entering Monday. Good health and a golden swing have propelled Jones to the kind of start most players can only dream about.
After Jones had torched his pitching staff in early May, Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker heaped lavish praise on Jones.
"Right now, he looks like the best hitter on earth," Baker said. "It's a sweet stroke that he has got going. I'll have to tell my son to switch from watching [Chase] Utley to watching him."
Jones, who made five All-Star appearances between 1996 and 2001, has remained low-key about his robust offense through the opening seven weeks.
"I'm just doing my job and trying to do it the way that I always have," Jones said.
With a long way to go in the balloting, there are other third basemen around the NL who could step up and challenge Jones for the starting spot. Colorado's Garrett Atkins was hitting .339 through Sunday and the Mets' David Wright was at .283 with eight homers and 34 RBIs.
Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs has been solid with 27 RBIs and Florida's Jorge Cantu (.272) is another in position to make a run, as the hitters hope to turn hot along with the weather.
In the American League, voters will want to pay close attention to two players returning from injury. Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees jumps out as the marquee attraction of the two, but he hasn't played since April 28 because of a quad injury. Rodriguez is expected to return to the lineup on Tuesday to begin building on his .286 batting average with four homers.
Versatile Chone Figgins of the Angels was enjoying a productive start (.306 batting average and 11 steals) when he was forced to go on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Figgins doesn't anticipate that he'll miss much more time and a solid performance in late May and June could put him prominently in the mix.
The 5-foot-8 Figgins credits a lot of his success this season to Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher.
"I don't have one of those swings like Ichiro [Suzuki]," Figgins said. "Mickey told me when I came here that I could hit the ball hard. He said, 'You can drive the ball. You're not going to chop balls.' Mickey told me I was going to go through periods when I hit a lot of line-drive outs -- that's what happened in 2006. But he said I should stick with my approach, not get frustrated. And that's what I've been doing."
Scott Rolen of Toronto got a late start because of a finger injury, but has been making up for lost time. Joe Crede of the White Sox, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers (he's playing first but is on the ballot as a third baseman), Mike Lowell of Boston and Alex Gordon of Kansas City could also be in position to draw the attention of All-Star voters if they build on what they've accomplished thus far.
The 79th Midsummer Classic will be the fourth held at Yankee Stadium and the eighth in New York City. The Yankees previously hosted the All-Star Game in 1939, 1960 and 1977.
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the Monster 2008 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until Wednesday, July 2, at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Starting rosters will be announced during the 2008 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet on TBS on Sunday, July 6. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote at MLB.com.
And the voting doesn't end there. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game via the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP Vote at MLB.com.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.