Votebook: Resurgent sluggers lead outfielders

Votebook: Resurgent sluggers lead outfielders

Votebook: Resurgent sluggers lead outfielders

In the time it took you to read this sentence, it's altogether possible that Jose Bautista hit another home run.

So when studying your options in the outfield on the 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint -- available online until 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30 -- you might as well start with Bautista, whose performance at the plate has been, to this point, far and away the best in the big leagues.

Bautista is giving every indication not just that his extraordinary 2010 season was not a fluke but that he is worthy of a place in the starting lineup at the 2011 Midsummer Classic, which takes place July 12 at Phoenix's Chase Field.

With a .353 average, .503 on-base percentage, .827 slugging percentage, 19 homers and 32 RBIs for the Blue Jays, Bautista has earned the right to be the starting point for the All-Star outfield conversation.

"Given what happened last year, and knowing what I feel like I'm capable of doing, I expected to perform at a high level," Bautista said of his season. "I know I'm doing probably a little bit better than I expected."

Speaking of "better than expected," the rebirth of the Cardinals' Lance Berkman and the breakout of the Rays' Matt Joyce can't be overlooked, either.

The 35-year-old Berkman's career appeared to be on the decline before he signed with the Cards over the winter, with an eye on returning to the outfield for the first time since 2007. But he's been a big spark for the Cards at the plate, batting .338 with 11 homers, 35 RBIs and a 1.112 OPS.

"He is a really tough out," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's good from both sides of the plate."

Joyce hits from the left-hand side, and manager Joe Maddon is still careful with him in regard to how often he plays against lefty pitchers. But Joyce, in his first full season in the big leagues, rakes against right-handers, and that's the big reason why he entered the week with the best batting average in the Major Leagues. He's hitting .357 with seven homers, 24 RBIs and a 1.039 OPS.

"The quality of his at-bats does not surprise me," Maddon said. "He's always had a good eye, and he's always been able to work a good at-bat and recognize the strike zone."

Bautista, Berkman and Joyce were the only three outfielders in the Majors who entered the week with an OPS better than 1.000, but they nonetheless have plenty of worthy competition on the ballot.

Berkman's teammate, Matt Holliday, has hit .349 with six homers, 31 RBIs and a .996 OPS, so St. Louis fans might not be the only ones clicking on multiple Cards in the outfield on their online ballot.

Curtis Granderson has provided a surprising amount of pop for the Yankees, belting out homers at a near-Bautista-like pace. He's made some changes in his swing to account for his past troubles against lefties, and that's helped him smack 16 homers already.

"I think to this point, they've just happened to be getting out a little bit earlier than they have in the past," Granderson said. "There's really no rhyme or reason to what's going on."

Milwaukee's Ryan Braun had one of the more scorching starts to the season and has a .302 average, 12 homers, 37 RBIs and a .962 OPS.

Sticking with the power guys, the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano (11 homers), the Reds' Jay Bruce (12), the Dodgers' Matt Kemp (11) and the Marlins' Mike Stanton (10) have all provided pop in the early going.

Among those players, Kemp has been the most consistent, all-around threat, batting .315 with a .396 on-base percentage and .547 slugging percentage. He has 13 stolen bases.

Kemp's teammate in the Dodgers outfield, Andre Ethier, was a model of consistency until just recently. Having began the season with a 30-game hitting streak, he's batting .311 with an .813 OPS.

Grady Sizemore seemed to have returned to his All-Star status of years past when he came back from knee surgery and hit .282 with six homers and a .974 OPS in 18 games for the Indians. But another knee injury landed him on the disabled list and allowed Michael Brantley (.294 average, four homers, 23 RBIs) to return to center field and the leadoff spot.

While Carlos Gonzalez's MVP-type performance opened many eyes last year, the Rockies' most consistent outfielder thus far has been Seth Smith, who has a .301 average, four homers, 20 RBIs and an .881 OPS.

Some other names to note in the NL: Hunter Pence is batting .298 with six homers and 36 RBIs for the Astros. Shane Victorino has a .284 average, six homers and 19 RBIs for the Phillies. Andrew McCutchen has eight homers, 24 RBIs and seven steals for the Pirates.

And in the AL: Jeff Francoeur has re-emerged with the Royals, batting .282 with nine homers and 28 RBIs. His teammate Alex Gordon found the stroke that once made him a No. 2 overall Draft pick and is batting .280 with four homers and 25 RBIs. Carlos Quentin has nine homers and 26 RBIs for the White Sox. Jason Kubel has a .309 average for the Twins.

The above is admittedly incomplete, as the sheer number of options for the six starting outfield spots presents plenty of fodder for debate. And let's not forget two regulars in the AL starting outfield who have not yet been mentioned -- Ichiro Suzuki and Josh Hamilton.

Ichiro has been voted to the AL starting lineup nine of the past 10 years, and his popularity could push him to a 10th. Still, he hasn't quite been his usual self, batting .292 with a .684 OPS.

And Hamilton, who has been in the starting lineup in each of the past three All-Star Games, just returned on Monday to the Rangers' lineup after missing nearly six weeks with a non-displaced hairline fracture in his right humerus, suffered on a headfirst slide into home plate.

Now that the reigning AL Most Valuable Player is back, the outfield conversation, which begins with Bautista, could get more interesting.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.