Votebook: Providing pop second to none
Johnson, Cano among second basemen posting big numbers
You certainly can't call them Punch and Judy hitters anymore.
Second basemen generally used to be the weak-hitting, bottom-of-the-lineup guys -- those who were known more for their range and consistency in turning double plays, rather than for their ability to post big offensive numbers.
But times have changed. Now, second base is a productive offensive position, pretty much like any other spot on the field, thanks to guys like Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Dan Uggla and many others.
This year, the names of second basemen on the ballot for the July 13 All-Star Game carry plenty of pop.
But the most pop has come from a rather surprising candidate: Kelly Johnson.
The D-dbacks' new second baseman averaged 12 homers a year over his previous three seasons, but, heading into Friday's games, he was tied for the National League lead with 10 home runs while adding a .294 batting average and 19 RBIs.
Thanks to a .313 batting average and nine homers in April, Johnson -- who's never made an All-Star team in his five-year career -- is fresh off being named Player of the Month in the NL.
"It was well-deserved," D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said recently. "He had a great month, and it's good recognition. To be new on our team, and also how important it is to have a bounce-back year -- I'm glad he got recognized and won, and I hope for a better May."
While Johnson has been pacing second basemen in the NL, Robinson Cano has been leading the American League at his position.
Going into the season, many wondered whether Cano could be a reliable No. 5 hitter and give Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez proper protection.
Cano has answered that question by outslugging the Yankees' two biggest boppers, as he ranks third in the AL in batting average (.362), is tied for third in homers (nine) and has added 21 RBIs while sporting a .993 fielding percentage that ranks fourth in the league at his position.
"We talked about his ability to hit in the No. 5 slot, and for me, he's done extremely well," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said recently. "He's been patient, he's had big hits. He's hit right-handers, he's hit left-handers, he's hit more homers off of left-handers [six]. So I think he's done a very, very good job."
But Johnson and Cano will have competition in their respective leagues.
In the NL, that's usually Utley, an All-Star for four consecutive seasons who continues to produce as one of the best all-around players in baseball. The 31-year-old, all-business, lefty-hitting, home-run-bashing second baseman is batting .288 while easily leading NL second basemen in on-base percentage (.426), ranking second at his position in homers (eight) and tying for second in RBIs (18).
"He's the best I have ever been around," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
In the AL, there's Pedroia, the two-time All-Star who continues to post big numbers despite his 5-foot-9 frame. He's hitting .303 -- making him one of just two second basemen in the AL with a .300-plus batting average -- while adding seven homers and 21 RBIs.
He's also one of two AL second basemen -- along with the Athletics' Adam Rosales -- who has yet to commit an error.
"I'm not the biggest guy in the world," Pedroia said. "I don't have that many tools. If you look at me, and I'm walking down the street, you obviously wouldn't think I'm a baseball player.
"I think that's the biggest thing that drives me to be a good player. I've had to deal with that my whole life."
Don't forget about the Angels' Howie Kendrick (.284 batting average, 15 RBIs) and the Twins' Orlando Hudson (.280 batting average, .366 on-base percentage), who have also been off to good starts.
In the NL, the Braves' Martin Prado ranks among the top in batting average at .327. And Uggla, a career .248 hitter for the Marlins in the season's first month, is off to an unusually hot start, as he's batting .292 with six homers and 18 RBIs.
"Who knows? A little bit of luck, putting the ball in play a little more, finding some holes," said Uggla, an All-Star in 2008. "Some of those things you can't really explain."
Then there are those '09 AL All-Stars who have yet to find the holes. Like the Blue Jays' Aaron Hill, who's hitting .210 in his first 16 games. Or new Mariners second baseman Chone Figgins -- a third baseman last year with the Angels -- who is batting .204 while hitting .343 as a right-handed hitter but just .127 from the left side of the plate.
"That's the thing about switch-hitting," Figgins said. "There's always a different view from different sides. You just have to battle through it."
Proven guys like Oakland's Mark Ellis (left hamstring) and Baltimore's Brian Roberts (abdomen) are battling injuries, and Kinsler -- coming off 31 homers last year -- has registered just seven games since rejoining Texas after a sprained right ankle.
In the NL, it's three-time All-Star Freddy Sanchez who still hasn't played a game this season for the Giants because of a right shoulder injury that isn't expected to allow him back until mid-May.
And then there's the Reds' Brandon Phillips, a former Gold Glove Award winner batting .257 with four homers in 28 games. The talented Phillips was called out by manager Dusty Baker recently for not hustling on plays -- a part of his game that needs work just as much as any other area right now.
"We talk to Brandon quite often," Baker said earlier this week.
"We're still trying to get him to the point where he can be a big difference-maker every day because he certainly has the skill and the ability."
So do many at this position.
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Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.