- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
We're four weeks away from the All-Star Game in Kansas City, and if you've been to a ballpark recently, you know that you can and should do your part by voting. You can also vote online. I've voted recently and will continue to do so until the balloting ends on June 28. I'm often asked about whether I vote for my favorite players, the best or most accomplished players or, as many of you probably do, all the players from my favorite team, even if they've having poor seasons. I vote for the players I think combine the best and most deserving. Hey, whether we like it or not, the game counts! The Los Angeles teams, New York teams, Ohio teams, the Washington Nationals, who knows, someone's getting home-field advantage from this game.
As plenty can still change between now and when the final voting is due, this is merely how things look on the ides of June, but I thought I'd go position by position to separate/combine fantasy and reality, and see if they match. In some or many cases it will not, but that's OK. We're just having some fun and crediting performances you might not have realized, and we'll rely heavily on the unbiased Player Rater for guidance.
Catcher: The current battle at the Rater top is between Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina. Each should be an All-Star. Buster Posey is a distant third on the Rater, but also deserving, especially considering his situation returning from last year's gruesome injury. In the AL, and you might not believe this, the top catcher has been A.J. Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox. Pierzynski isn't even 100 percent-owned in ESPN standard leagues, but he's hitting .292 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs, stats on pace to crush his best season. No Matt Wieters or Mike Napoli? Batting average counts! And based on draft-day value, in which Pierzynski had none ... he's the AL pick. Told you this would be surprising!
Leading vote-getters on June 15: Posey, Napoli.
Top fantasy options: Ruiz/Molina, Pierzynski.
First base: Cincinnati Reds hitting machine Joey Votto is baseball's OPS leader, and by a lot. He's in for the vote and fantasy. Miguel Cabrera is second on the Player Rater and eligible at first base, but for this discussion goes to third base. Toronto Blue Jays surprise Edwin Encarnacion is next. He's a shade better -- on the Rater -- than Mark Trumbo and Paul Konerko. This is a deep position. Kudos to the voters for not blindly choosing Albert Pujols when he's not having a great season (though I think he will). I've been picking Konerko, personally. No, I don't always go with the Rater, but Encarnacion is deserving.
Leading vote-getters on June 15: Votto, Prince Fielder.
Top fantasy options: Votto, Encarnacion.
Second base: I've blogged about wonderful Cleveland Indians breakout Jason Kipnis, and he's simply dominating this position on the Rater. The NL leader is Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, which I admit makes me smile. Perhaps he'll end up Houston's rep in Kansas City, because each team needs one, or his double play partner could go. I don't expect the voters to be aware of Kipnis or Altuve, but it's not like the current leaders or even Robinson Cano make for poor choices, either. Kipnis and Altuve are simply having better seasons. It depends how much you value past achievements, too.
Top fantasy options: Kipnis, Altuve.
Shortstop: And here's the Chicago Cubs representative, Mr. Starlin Castro. Say what you will about his focus -- and his manager certainly has -- but he hits for average and has 16 stolen bases, though only one in June. Hanley Ramirez is the No. 2 shortstop, but fifth at third base. The only AL player in the Rater top five at this position is a familiar All-Star. Kudos to Derek Jeter. No, he's clearly not done. I admit to being surprised that Altuve's teammate Jed Lowrie is only ninth on the Rater, despite having more home runs than the eight guys ahead of him. By the way, I have no problem with the current NL vote leader and repeat All-Star starting, assuming he's healthy, but the deserving Rafael Furcal is right there in the voting.
Leading vote-getters on June 15: Troy Tulowitzki/Furcal, Jeter.
Top fantasy options: Castro, Jeter.
Third base: Detroit's Cabrera and Toronto's Encarnacion are also eligible here for fantasy, though Encarnacion isn't playing third base. I think Jose Bautista, another Blue Jay not playing third base (it's Brett Lawrie!) will end up the top option on the Rater by October, and he's a deserving All-Star. There's little argument about the NL choice and fantasy owners that believed David Wright was still a great player (he was in my top 20) have been rewarded.
Leading vote-getters on June 15: Wright, Adrian Beltre.
Top fantasy options: Wright, Cabrera/Encarnacion.
Outfield: We dig a bit deeper at this position since three options in each league are voted in. Everyone loves Josh Hamilton. So do I. Curtis Granderson is also headed to Kansas City as a starter, based on the voting. He's 14th on the Rater among outfielders. Matt Kemp, if healthy, is going, but injury has pushed him out of the Rater top 20. He's deserving. I don't see many surprises on the Rater among outfielders (Melky Cabrera is sixth, and should be an All-Star), but note that awesome rookie Mike Trout is ninth for the season, even though his season started late. Trout is not on the ballot, but you can write him in. Would you believe he's the No. 3 AL outfielder on the Rater? That is awesome. How about Alejandro De Aza being 10th at outfield, fourth in the AL, for the season? I don't think he's headed to K.C., though. Josh Reddick is 15th. Is Andre Ethier an All-Star? He's knocking in many runs, which is awesome if you're into the RBI category, but he's 18th on the Rater among outfielders, pretty much even with Michael Cuddyer, Angel Pagan and Martin Prado. I'm just offering perspective. By the way, Bryce Harper is 44th among outfielders on the Rater. Perhaps we all want to see him on this big stage, but statistically he's not quite there.
Designated hitter: It's an AL park and the talented, deserving David Ortiz will be voted in. Among DH-eligible players in fantasy, Encarnacion is better on the Rater, but Ortiz is thriving as well, on pace for 39 home runs. There is no voting in the NL for the DH, but that seems like a fine role for Beltran should he get voted into the starting lineup. Encarnacion is on the ballot at DH, but getting fewer votes than Raul Ibanez, by the way. Just put E-5 on the team!
Leading vote-getters on June 15: Ortiz, then Michael Young.
Top fantasy options: Encarnacion/Ortiz.
Get out there and vote! Enjoy your weekend, next week and the great game of baseball.
Eric Karabell compares the current vote totals for the All-Star game with the results of the Player Rater to determine his current ballot choices.