Friday, May 30, 2014

White Sox All-Star possibilities -- there actually are some for a change

If you've recently been to a White Sox game and paid attention to the left field scoreboard, you know the team always runs an advertisement encouraging fans to vote their favorite "White Sox stars" into the All-Star Game. The advertisement always includes a list of Sox players who appear on this year's ballot.

The list always elicits a bit of a chuckle, as if anyone in their right mind would ever attempt to vote Alejandro De Aza into the All-Star Game. And last year, it would have been embarrassing to say you voted for any of the Sox' position players. None deserved the honor, and none were selected. Pitchers Chris Sale and Jesse Crain represented the club at the 2013 event.

This year is different, though. There actually are three Sox position players worth All-Star consideration. I'd go as far as saying one of them deserves your vote. Here's a list of Sox players who might make the trip to Minneapolis for the July 15 midsummer classic:

1. Alexei Ramirez - He has been the best shortstop in the American League this year. Based on merit, he deserves to start. Too bad he won't. In case you've been in a coma the past few months, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is retiring at the end of the season. The 39-year-old isn't the player he used to be, but there's no doubt the fans will give the future Hall of Famer the starting nod based on sentiment.

But, Ramirez is an easy choice for the next guy in line at shortstop. Entering Friday's play, he's tied for second in the league with a .327 batting average. His OPS is a career-high .843. He's got seven home runs, 36 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. After a poor defensive season last year, he's returned to form this season with just four errors to go along with a host of spectacular plays.

If he you believe in advanced metrics, Ramirez ranks eighth in the AL in offensive WAR, seventh in defensive WAR and fifth in the league in overall WAR. And, oh yeah, he's started all 55 White Sox games at shortstop.

He's the White Sox' MVP this year. He's got my vote.

2. Jose Abreu - The slugging first baseman has been on the disabled list for nearly two weeks, yet he still ranks third in the AL in home runs (15), fourth in RBIs (42), fourth in extra base hits (27) and 10th in total bases (103). The Sox' lineup looks different this year when Abreu is in it. He's a guy that pitchers fear every time he steps in the batters box, and the Sox haven't had that element since Jim Thome left the team.

First base is a crowded position in the American League, though. Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion has had a monster month of May and probably deserves to start, although Detroit's Miguel Cabrera will get the nod based upon his past track record. Albert Pujols (14 home runs) has regained his power stroke this year, and Brandon Moss has had a fine season for Oakland.

There's no shortage of competition among first basemen, so Abreu will need to get back in the lineup soon to have a shot at being selected. Reports indicate he will come off the disabled list the first day he is eligible -- June 2. If Abreu jumps back in and continues hitting like he did the first six or seven weeks of the season, he's got a great chance.

3. Conor Gillaspie - Bet you never thought you'd see Gillaspie's name on a list like this. I'm not going to tell you to vote for Gillaspie to start, because Oakland's Josh Donaldson is the best third baseman in the American League -- both offensively and defensively. In fact, Donaldson is an MVP candidate to this point in the season because he is the best player on a first-place team.

That said, it's hard to ignore Gillaspie's .352/.394/.461 slash line, especially since third base isn't among the stronger positions in the American League. Gillaspie had a two-week stint on the disabled list earlier this year, which means he doesn't have quite enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. But, if he did, he'd be leading the league in hitting right now.

I'm not convinced Gillaspie is going to keep up the pace. Nothing about his track record suggests he will. However, if he stays hot for another couple weeks, he might find himself in Minnesota on July 15.

4. Sale -- The fans don't get to vote for pitchers, and I think Sale is a longshot to be chosen this year because he missed a whole month with an arm injury. But, he's been his usual dominant self when healthy -- 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts.

If "this one counts," as they say about the All-Star Game now, Sale is one of the pitchers who would give the American League the best opportunity to win. Left-handed hitters are batting .000 against him this season. I could see him being added to the All-Star roster just for the sake of being used as a situational left-hander in the late innings.

That said, I won't be upset if Sale doesn't get chosen this year. Coming off an arm injury, I just assume he not waste any of his bullets in the All-Star Game. As we've said in the past, he's the most important player in the Sox organization, and the team needs him healthy to compete.

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