Heyward surges toward lead in NL outfield
Braves rookie leaps to second place, close to Brewers' Braun
The hype that surrounded Jason Heyward as he approached his first year in the big leagues was massive, stunning, and at times unfair. But the Braves' slugging right fielder is having a solid rookie season.
Now it appears he may be having an All-Star season, too.
A little more than three weeks remain for fans to vote for starting position players for the 81st All-Star Game in Anaheim. Based on the National League voting update released on Tuesday, Heyward looks poised to be in the NL's starting lineup July 13 at Angel Stadium.
Heyward, who was fifth among NL outfielders a week ago, jumped into second place and suddenly is challenging for the lead at the position. Behind a surge of more than 450,000 votes in one week, which gives him a total of 1,008,451, Heyward trails the Brewers' Ryan Braun by only 8,815 votes.
And for the first time in three batches of voting updates, Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez has moved ahead of the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins. Every other starting spot remained the same, as catcher Yadier Molina, first baseman Albert Pujols, second baseman Chase Utley -- the NL's leading vote-getter -- and third baseman Placido Polanco would be in the NL's starting lineup if the voting process ended today.
Many wondered if Heyward would ever be able to live up to the unbelievable hype that followed him through Spring Training and into the 2010 season. But the 20-year-old certainly has met the challenge, leading NL rookies with 10 homers and 39 RBIs.
"He's amazing," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Nothing surprises you. He's playing like an All-Star."
Heyward might be just that this season.
Braun, with 1,017,266 votes, now has the smallest first-place lead in the Majors. The 26-year-old outfielder is batting .314 with eight homers and 34 RBIs and has been the leading NL outfielder throughout the balloting period.
The Dodgers' Andre Ethier remained in third place, but Phillies outfielders Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino both slipped. Werth fell from second to fourth and Victorino from fourth to fifth.
The margin between Rollins -- the previous leading shortstop -- and Ramirez was the smallest in the Majors through each of the first two voting updates. But after trailing by fewer than 22,000 votes last week, Ramirez (now with 835,275 votes) sports a lead of more than 42,000 over Rollins (792,987).
The 26-year-old Ramirez is batting .284 with eight homers and 29 RBIs and is seeking his third consecutive All-Star Game start. In Rollins' case, two trips to the disabled list because of a bad calf have limited him to 12 games this season, and there's still no timetable for his return.
Inactivity hadn't stopped J-Roll from leading before. But the Marlins recently held a voting initiative by which fans who filled out 200 in-stadium ballots in support of their team got free tickets to a future game. Perhaps that worked.
Utley, meanwhile, hasn't needed any outside help.
The Phillies' second baseman has led the NL in votes all year and continued to do that thanks to the 1,573,248 next to his name on Tuesday. That puts Utley close to one million votes ahead of the second-place Martin Prado (595,250) and gives him the largest lead in the league.
Despite an uncharacteristic .260 batting average, a fifth straight trip to the All-Star Game is looking good right now for Utley.
Pujols, with 1,549,941 votes, looks poised for his ninth All-Star Game in 10 years and seventh start, thanks to a lead of nearly 800,000 over Phillies slugger Ryan Howard (761,852). The man known by many as "The Machine" is doing what you'd expect this season: terrorizing the Senior Circuit. Pujols leads the NL in on-base percentage (.433) while ranking tied for first in homers (14), tied for first in RBIs (44) and ninth in batting average (.311).
But while the right side of the NL infield features wide margins, the catchers continue to be bunched up. Molina, with 762,875 votes, still leads, but he holds only about an 86,000-vote advantage over Brian McCann, who jumped from fourth to second and now has 676,400 votes. The Phillies' Carlos Ruiz (604,192) and the Nats' Ivan Rodriguez, who each slipped a spot, (577,022) closely follow.
At the hot corner, Polanco -- batting .320 and seeking his first All-Star Game appearance since 2007 -- remains at the top with 726,324 votes. After leading by about 123,00 votes last week, Polanco's advantage increased to more than 175,000 over the Mets' David Wright (550,935).
There was plenty of movement in the races. Joining the leaderboards this week were first basemen Joey Votto of the Reds and Troy Glaus of the Braves; second baseman Brandon Phillips of the Reds; third baseman Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals; shortstop Jose Reyes of the Mets; and outfielder Ryan Ludwick of the Cardinals.
And there's more time, and chances to vote, remaining.
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at MLB.com and all 30 club sites using the 2010 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint until July 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Sprint subscribers can now vote on the go with select Sprint devices. They can learn more about how to vote on their smart phones at MLB.com/Sprint.
Starting rosters will be announced during the 2010 All-Star Game Selection Show on TBS on July 4. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
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 Award presented by Chevrolet at the Midsummer Classic via the 2010 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX 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.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.