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Votebook: All-Star talents behind plate

Votebook: All-Star talents behind plate

Joe Mauer proved one thing in 2006 -- yes, catchers can hit.

After becoming the first American League catcher to win a batting title last season, Mauer went from being largely unrecognizable outside of Minnesota to a player now tabbed as one of the best up-and-coming stars in the game.

"I think everybody knows he's probably one of the best catchers in the game," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "With what he was able to accomplish last year, I think his name is going to pretty much be up there routinely now."

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Mauer may now be ranking near the top of the elite catchers in the league, but the question remains if he will be the fans' choice at backstop for the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco. And battling through an injury hasn't exactly aided Mauer's campaign.

A strained quad has kept Mauer off the field for two weeks, but it may not be enough to keep him from a second straight All-Star appearance. The 24-year-old catcher was hitting .353 with 10 doubles, 14 RBIs and a .446 on-base percentage when he went on the disabled list on May 5.

But even with an injury keeping Mauer out of the daily highlight shows, Gardenhire believes that it won't be a large factor in whether or not fans take notice of the Twins catcher.

"I sure don't think it would hurt him," Gardenhire said of Mauer's layoff. "He's going to get through this injury and be back to show people just what he can do. And that's pretty much that. He's a very special talent in this game."

Last season, Mauer finished second in fan voting, but he earned a nod to the Midsummer Classic by being selected by his peers. Mauer had to settle for being the backup catcher in the game, as it was Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez who earned the starting nod from the fans.

Rodriguez has made his name almost synonymous with the Midsummer Classic when he earned his 13th All-Star selection in '06 -- the most of any active player in baseball. Even though Rodriguez isn't quite producing his usual numbers, hitting just .253 with four home runs and 21 RBIs, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him again at AT&T Park in mid-July.

The Yankees' Jorge Posada also has stormed out of the gate to a strong start this season, and he's the only catcher hitting better than Mauer this season. Heading into Monday, Posada led all Major League catchers in hitting with a .382 average. A four-time All-Star, Posada has not been to the Midsummer Classic since 2003.

All-Star Game Coverage

Other American League catchers likely to receive consideration are the Indians' Victor Martinez (.326, 5 HR, 31 RBIs), the Mariners' Kenji Johjima (.304, 5 HR, 14 RBIs) and the Royals' John Buck (.287, 7 HR, 15 RBIs).

In the National league, it's likely to be a race between the Mets' Paul Lo Duca and the Braves' Brian McCann. Lo Duca earned the fans' nomination last season, and McCann was elected via the players' ballot.

The two catchers have both been putting up solid numbers again in '07. Lo Duca is hitting .292 with two home runs and 14 RBIs, while McCann is hitting .292 with three home runs and 21 RBIs.

But Lo Duca and McCann aren't the only contenders vying for a spot. The Giants' Bengie Molina has had a solid start to the year, hitting .299 with four homers and 22 RBIs and could get some extra votes from the hometown fans who want to see him start in his home stadium.

Also a factor in the race is the Dodgers' Russell Martin (.318, 2 HR, 26 RBIs) and the Cardinals' Yadier Molina (.294, 1 HR, 10 RBIs).

Fans can cast their votes up to 25 times with the Monster.com 2007 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites. Online balloting ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 28.

Rosters for the 78th All-Star Game will be unveiled at 7 p.m. ET on July 1. The announcement will reveal the 16 elected starters -- eight in each league -- as determined by fan balloting, and the 45 pitchers and reserves, as determined by the player ballot, the two All-Star team managers -- Tony La Russa of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and Jimmy Leyland of the AL champion Detroit Tigers -- and Major League Baseball.

Fans will again have the chance to choose the final position player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The "Final Vote" will allow fans the ability to cast votes from a list of five players from each league over a three-day period. Fans added Los Angeles' Nomar Garciaparra (NL) and Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski (AL) to the rosters last summer.

For the fifth straight year, the league that wins the All-Star Game earns home-field advantage for the World Series. The AL has won nine straight Midsummer Classics.

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

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