Votebook: Options behind the plate

Votebook: Options behind the plate

They might be "coaches on the field," as the old cliché goes.

But that doesn't mean catchers for the All-Star Game have to be chosen by the managers, as other coaches are.

No, these "coaches" are picked by the fans, and there are several deserving candidates for the job behind the plate during the 77th Midsummer Classic, which will be played in Pittsburgh's PNC Park on July 11.

Fans can cast votes up to 25 times with the Monster.com 2006 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites. Online balloting ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 29.

Both leagues have their share of men who not only know how to squat behind the plate but also how to drive their teammates across it.

In the American League, 27-year-old Victor Martinez has emerged as one of the game's more feared hitters, regardless of position. He put up a Major League-best average of .380 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs for the Indians in the second half of 2005.

Martinez backed up his strong finish to '05 with a strong start to '06. Through Sunday, he was batting .306 with five home runs and 26 RBIs.

But Martinez, an All-Star in '04, has plenty of worthy competition for the AL catcher's job.

He needs to look no further than the rival White Sox to find a rival for the position in A.J. Pierzynski, who has batted .344 with two homers and 12 RBIs this season.

Yankees catcher Jorge Posada remains a tough out, as he's put up a .307 average with six homers and 26 RBIs. Baltimore's Ramon Hernandez (.311 average, six homers, 26 RBIs), Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez (.305, two, 15) and Minnesota's Joe Mauer (.338, three, 22) have been solid, as well.

And with the Japanese ballot available online this year, it's tough to count out Mariners rookie Kenji Johjima, who has adjusted well to playing ball in the States with a .281 average, three homers and 20 RBIs. He could be a sleeper to get the starting nod.

Over in the National League, the fans always seem to gravitate toward Mike Piazza, whether he's hitting or hurt.

This year probably won't be any different, even though Piazza's team colors have changed. The perennial All-Star is batting .257 with five homers and 14 RBIs. Perhaps more importantly, he's helped the Padres turn in one of the best ERAs in baseball in the early going.

The Diamondbacks' Johnny Estrada has stats deserving of some votes, as he's compiled a .316 average with three homers and 29 RBIs.

Second-year Braves catcher Brian McCann has a .353 average that is best among NL catchers, and veteran Brad Ausmus of the Astros is right up there with a .325 mark.

The Brewers' Damian Miller is batting .300 with four homers and 21 RBIs and the Cubs' Michael Barrett is hitting .284 with five homers and 20 RBIs.

Rosters for the 77th All-Star Game will be unveiled at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 2. The announcement will reveal the 16 elected starters, as determined by fan balloting, and 45 pitchers and reserves, as determined by the player ballot, the two All-Star team managers -- Ozzie Guillen of the World Series champion Chicago White Sox and Phil Garner of the NL champion Houston Astros -- and Major League Baseball.

Fans will once again have the opportunity to select the final position player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over a three-day period. Fans added Roy Oswalt (NL) and Scott Podsednik (AL) to the rosters with that Final Vote last summer.

For the fourth consecutive year, the league that wins the All-Star Game will receive home-field advantage during the World Series. The AL has won back-to-back-to-back Midsummer Classics since that provision was added prior to the 2003 World Series, and eight straight overall.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.