Votebook: Changing of the guard at third?
Hot corner has no shortage of young stars stepping up
Two third basemen with some of the longest All-Star Game tenure are off to relatively slow starts in the early part of the season. But fear not, Midsummer Classic voters, there are plenty of hot-corner candidates to consider when peering through the ballot to decide on starters for the American League and National League.
Frankly, the third-base position is loaded.
Sure, the Braves' Chipper Jones and the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez have been a bit slow to get their bats going. But track records indicate they'll be fine. And if they're not, plenty are in waiting.
Guys like David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman in the NL, and Evan Longoria and Michael Young in the AL.
So far, it's been Longoria who's been pacing the position in the AL.
Last year, a slow start to the regular season hurt the Rays and cost them a chance to return to the playoffs. This year, Tampa Bay is off to a hot start, and Longoria is at the center of it. Heading into Friday's action, he leads third basemen in his league in batting average (.326), home runs (eight), RBIs (29), on-base percentage (.389) and stolen bases (five).
Among the top in the NL has been a name you might not have expected -- Casey McGehee.
The Brewers' 27-year-old third baseman leads his NL counterparts in batting average (.323) while ranking second among all positions in RBIs (32). He's also gone deep seven times. Last year, McGehee hit a solid .301 while appearing in 116 games for Milwaukee.
He credits his success to his ability to go to right field.
"That's always been my swing, going the other way," McGehee said recently.
"I feel like that's when I'm at my best -- when I'm trying to stay up the middle and hit it where it is."
While McGehee has snuck up on some in the Senior Circuit, Wright -- sporting a .408 on-base percentage with seven homers, 22 RBIs, eight stolen bases and an NL-leading 27 walks -- has produced in the middle of the Mets' lineup as expected.
But watch out for Zimmerman.
The Nationals' franchise player has started just 23 of his club's 35 games because of a right hamstring issue. But after belting two homers and driving in six in a win against the Rockies on Thursday night, Zimmerman is hitting .319 with eight homers -- second in the NL at his position -- and 22 RBIs.
In the AL, Adrian Beltre has been solid at the plate in his first season with the Red Sox, as he sports the second-highest batting average among third basemen in his league, at .313. The Royals' Alberto Callaspo, meanwhile, has knocked in 22 runs while posting a .304 batting average and six homers. And the veteran All-Star Young is hitting .282 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
Miguel Tejada, back in Baltimore but playing third base for the first time in his career, is batting .300 since April 30 and is now at .281 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 31 games. With runners on base, Tejada -- a six-time All-Star at shortstop -- is hitting .305.
"He has the ability to rise to the occasion, because he's been there so many times, and he shows tremendous poise," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said after Tejada's walk-off single against the Red Sox on April 30.
But there are more.
The D-backs' Mark Reynolds sports just a .228 batting average, but he leads NL third basemen in home runs with 10. And the Marlins' Jorge Cantu recently pulled together a record string of 10 consecutive games with at least one hit and one RBI, and has now driven in 29 runs this season, which ranks second among NL third basemen.
Meanwhile, the Padres' Chase Headley has been nearly as pleasant of a surprise as his team. He ranks third in the league at his position with a .309 batting average and 27 RBIs while adding nine stolen bases -- tops among NL third basemen.
But then there are the ones on the opposite end of the spectrum -- those many expected to thrive but have so far struggled -- like the Mariners' Jose Lopez (.216 batting average) and the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez (.159 batting average).
"What we really need to do is get Ramirez back in the four-hole -- that means he's swinging the bat the way he's accustomed to," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said last week, when he moved his third baseman down to the fifth spot. "That's really the secret of this whole thing."
Together, Jones and Rodriguez have a combined 18 All-Star Game appearances.
The 38-year-old Jones could be starting to show his age, as he went into Friday batting just .239 with two home runs in 28 games. He does, however, sport a solid .407 on-base percentage.
A-Rod, meanwhile, hasn't really struggled, per se. But his numbers haven't popped out, either. Rodriguez is a career .307 hitter in April and a .310 hitter in May. But his batting average now sits at .272 with just three homers and 22 RBIs in 33 games.
On Sunday, the 34-year-old tied Frank Robinson for seventh on the all-time home runs list with 586.
"Home runs, I never look at that as a big issue," Rodriguez said that night. "All I want to do is always think small, take my walks and keep being productive. Home runs, I think, will always be there."
So will his production.
Besides, plenty of time still remains before the July 13 All-Star Game in Anaheim.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.