Balloting continues for Major League Baseball's 85th All-Star Game on July 15 at Target Field in Minnesota, and fans can cast their votes using the 2014 All-Star Game Ballot Sponsored by Experian. Deciding who should get voted into the starting lineup can be challenging. Today, Anthony Castrovince and Doug Miller discuss American League first basemen.
Castrovince: The decline in offense that we've seen in recent seasons might best be illustrated by the decline in production from our so-called slugging first basemen. Last year's Major League-wide .436 slugging percentage among first basemen was the lowest from that position since 1991, and it was a far, far cry from the .503 mark of 2000, the height of the offensive explosion.
All of which leads me to stand in applause for and appreciation of Jose Abreu. The White Sox's Cuban import -- with his .595 slugging percentage, 15 homers and 42 RBIs in his rookie season -- is, as far as I'm concerned, the easy early choice for starting first baseman in the All-Star Game.
The fact that Abreu is on the 15-day disabled list with a lingering ankle tendinitis problem is a concern, but his numbers should still be among the best at the position when he returns. Hopefully the time off won't take him out of rhythm at the plate, because he's been a lot of fun to watch.
Nobody knew what to expect out of Abreu coming into this year. We knew he had batting-practice power, but there was no telling how that would apply to the games, and what kind of discipline he'd have with pitches out of the zone.
Abreu has shown a propensity to chase (and miss) breaking balls, but he's absolutely crushed mistakes in the zone, he's driven the ball to all fields and his homer distance (not just his total) is the highest in MLB.
Abreu is a throwback -- the prototypical slugging first baseman. If early results are any indication, he ought to be an All-Star.
Miller: It's tough to argue with that choice, Anthony. Abreu has been one of the best stories in all of baseball in the early season. He leads the AL in homers and RBIs. Not a lot more needs to be said. But let's not forget a guy named Miguel Cabrera.
The stat set might not have agreed with it, but Cabrera won the last two American League Most Valuable Player Awards, including the Triple Crown in 2012. And after a very slow start to this season, take a look at his numbers now: seven homers, 40 RBIs, a .316 batting average, a .357 on-base percentage (all stats through Sunday). Now take a look at Cabrera's May numbers: a .350 average with five homers and 22 RBIs.
In other words, Miggy is starting to pick it up, and we know what can happen when a healthy Miggy starts to pick it up. We are talking about a man who's still regarded by most as the best hitter in all of baseball, and he has the MVPs and five Silver Sluggers and eight career All-Star Game appearances to help build his case for him despite a rough April.
I do agree that All-Star Games should be way more about performance on the field this season than reputation, but Cabrera's closing the gap quickly, and his reputation is better than just about anyone.
Castrovince: Well, yes, Cabrera has the ability to take over this conversation quite quickly. And given how well the Tigers have played so far this season, the Cabrera-Abreu All-Star battle might be the most legit competition to come out of the AL Central this season.
The good news is that the AL roster will have plenty of room for both of them. But it's going to need even more room to accommodate Brandon Moss, who is just one of the many amazing success stories on that A's roster.
Moss bounced around with the Red Sox, Pirates and Phillies before finally getting his first earnest opportunity in Oakland, and boy, has he taken advantage of it.
Manager Bob Melvin loves his platoons, but Moss is doing his part to play himself out of one at first base. He's come a long, long way in his performance against left-handed pitching, and he's now a more complete player. Moss entered the week with the highest OPS (.973) at the position in the AL, to go with nine homers and 39 RBIs.
So … Abreu, Cabrera, Moss. That's a pretty strong field. But I still feel like we're missing somebody. Like maybe, say, the newest member of the 500-homer club? Will this be the first year Albert Pujols represents the AL on the All-Star stage?
Miller: It very well could be, and why not? Pujols hit two more homers on Sunday and now has 12 for the season along with 29 RBIs. He'd been slumping a bit going into the weekend after a great start with nine homers, 23 RBIs and a .927 OPS in the first month of the season. And while this might not be the vintage St. Louis version of Albert, the key is that he's healthy.
Last year was pretty much a toss-out because an agonizing case of plantar fasciitis kept Pujols far from being his best. This year, he's moving around a lot better on the bases and at the first-base bag. Pujols has been streaky at the plate, but he's heating up a bit right now and is worth watching in the weeks to come. Like Cabrera, we know that this guy can turn it on quickly.
Other guys deserve mentioning, too. You can't really knock Tampa Bay's James Loney and his .306 batting average and 25 RBIs through Sunday, nor is Boston's Mike Napoli out of the picture with 22 RBIs of his own and a .393 on-base percentage that ranks above every other AL first baseman.
But for now, we both seem to agree that the AL starter spot is Abreu's to lose, with Cabrera and Moss noses apart for second and gaining momentum every day Abreu sits on the DL.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.