Votebook: Youngsters bumping vets
New names could be hanging their Stars in Midsummer Classic
As the All-Star balloting heats up, the battle between the young bucks and elder statesmen is one of the most interesting developments.In the American League, two second-year players -- Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton and Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia -- are currently leading their positions. This while veterans like shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez -- both of the Yankees -- are holding their own, as usual. In the National League, rookie Geovany Soto of the Cubs is leading all catchers. And another Cub, Kosuke Fukudome, a veteran in Japan but a rookie in the Majors, is among the outfield leaders. Among the leaders as well are veterans like the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr., who is a single homer away from becoming only the fifth Major Leaguer to reach the 600 plateau, and Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones, who is humming along at a stunning .418 hitting clip as of Friday and has hit his 400th home run.
"It's really crazy," said Jones, who with 708,515 votes as of earlier this week seems to be a shoo-in to start in the Midsummer Classic, to be played on July 15 at Yankee Stadium, which is in its final season. "I don't ever think about that kind of stuff until you bring it up and it makes me blush whenever it's brought up. They're pretty good names to be lumped in with. I'm very proud."The young bucks are really shining in the NL, where stalwarts like Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza are no longer on Major League rosters. In their stead is a young catcher in Brian McCann of the Braves, already a two-time All-Star in only his fourth season and currently second in the voting, and 20-year-old Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton, who is currently eighth among outfielders.
A year ago, Upton was a Double-A player in the Arizona system, as was his teammate Mark Reynolds, who is currently fourth among third basemen.It's a heady experience for a young player, said Bob Melvin, their manager. "Just to see your name on the ballot for the first time is big," Melvin said. "I remember I was on it once. You collect them and bring them home. That's good enough. But making an All-Star team for a young player, that would be something, especially this year, the last at Yankee Stadium. That would be a thrill for just about anybody. It just gives you that added little boost of confidence knowing that you're being recognized for what you're doing at a very high level." Hamilton had to overcome personal problems, and at 27, is developing later than most. Last year, his rookie season, he batted .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs in 90 games for the Reds. At this juncture he's already surpassed just about all those numbers in 61 games for the Rangers, batting .321 with 17 homers and 68 RBIs. For his effort, voters this week sent him surging into the top three among AL outfielders, nestled between a couple of veteran mainstays and perennial All-Stars -- Boston's Manny Ramirez and Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki. It's enough to make Hamilton's head spin. "Obviously it would be a great honor," Hamilton said about not only making the AL team, but being elected to it. "Obviously you want to do the best you can when you play to do well and earn something like that. It's a dream come true. When you [note] all the great players in the past who have been to an All-Star Game, it's amazing to think about." Hamilton sticks out in the AL voting where so far veterans dominate just about every position except the outfield and second base. Pedroia became a fan favorite last season as the Red Sox won the World Series and Pedroia was voted AL Rookie of the Year for his feisty play, not to mention his .317 batting average and 165 hits in 139 games. Though his average is currently 46 points lower at .271, he's still on par in just about every other statistical area. Red Sox currently lead at five positions with the other four manned by veterans: Kevin Youkilis at first; Jason Varitek behind the plate; the currently injured and disabled David Ortiz at designated hitter, and Ramirez in the outfield. Manny, just being Manny recently surpassed the 500 homer mark and has 503 in his stellar 16-year career. "That guy is a Hall of Famer," Ortiz said about Ramirez. "I can tell people now I've played with a Hall of Famer, and that Hall of Famer is my boy." The NL, though, is a different story with a group that's in transition as the old gives way to the new. Aside from Jones, Griffey, Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano and Houston first baseman Lance Berkman, the leaders are dominated by youngsters and younger veterans: Phillies second baseman Chase Utley (sixth season); Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez (third season); Soto (a rookie who's played in 86 games over four seasons) and Fukudome (rookie). Even more so than its AL counterpart, the face of the NL is certainly changing. "I wouldn't argue that," Melvin said. "The volume of younger players are more so on just about every roster. Teams just have a lot more faith in their younger players. And now you're even seeing that show up in All-Star ballots."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.