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Votebook: First base is anyone's guess

Votebook: First base anyone's guess

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Two-for-30 from the batter's box is a .067 batting average, the kind of number that can get you benched or sent back to the Minor Leagues.

From the All-Star Game ballot box, however, picking two first basemen out of 30 is pretty much a can't-miss proposition. There are so many good ones it will be hard for any fan not to hit a home run.

The tough part is choosing only two first base starters for the July 15 All-Star Game to be played at Yankee Stadium.

In the National League, do you go with Derrek Lee of the Cubs, who leads all Major League first basemen in total bases, or perennial Most Valuable Player Award candidate Albert Pujols of St. Louis, who leads in batting average and on-base percentage?

What about reigning NL home run champion Prince Fielder of Milwaukee, or Arizona's Conor Jackson, whose sensational start is one of the reasons the Diamondbacks have the best record in baseball? How about Houston's Lance Berkman, who had one of the best Aprils of his career, or Cincinnati rookie Joey Votto, who finished April with a .308 batting average?

The choices don't get any easier on the American League side of the ballot.

There's record-setting Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox or sizzling Casey Kotchman of the high-flying Angels. Detroit's Carlos Guillen took his .321 batting average to the hot corner but he's still on the ballot as a first baseman.

All are worthy candidates right now, but the campaign is just getting started. There's plenty of time for others to enhance their candidaciwa.

The 79th Midsummer Classic will be the fourth held at Yankee Stadium and the eighth in New York City. The Yankees previously hosted the All-Star Game in 1939, 1960 and 1977; the Polo Grounds held the game in 1934 and 1942; Ebbets Field was the site in 1949; and Shea Stadium hosted the 1964 Midsummer Classic.

Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times with the Monster 2008 All-Star Online Ballot at MLB.com and all 30 club sites until Wednesday, July 2 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Starting rosters will be announced during the 2008 All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet on TBS on Sunday, July 6. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote at MLB.com.

And the voting doesn't end there. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet at the All-Star Game via the Monster 2008 All-Star Game MVP vote at MLB.com.

The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.

Lee's April production included a .364 batting average, eight homers, 23 RBIs and 15 walks for the NL Central-leading Cubs. Lee missed most of the 2006 season because of a fractured wrist. Last year he hit six home runs in the first half of the season and didn't hit his seventh until July 15.

"He's a monster of a man, and he knows how to hit," teammate Ryan Theriot said.

"He's really been in a nice groove," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Lee. "He's zoned in. The ball's jumping off his bat."

Berkman, who won NL Player of the Week honors on April 28, finished the month with eight homers, 25 RBIs and 18 extra-base hits to go with a .297 batting average. Last year, the Astros switch-hitting slugger didn't hit his eighth homer until June 7 and didn't record his 18th extra-base hit until June 27.

"I thought in Spring Training, Lance was going to get off to a good start and have a great year," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "Not that he had a bad year last year, it just wasn't quite up to his usual standards. He's been locked in."

Jackson batted .348 with five homers and 25 RBIs during April and played errorless defense. His .430 on-base percentage trailed only Lee and Pujols among all Major League first basemen.

Youkilis, on the ballot for the first time, set a Major League record with 1,701 chances without a miscue at first base on April 26. His last error at that position was on July 4, 2006.

Not only can he flash the leather, Youkilis brings a potent bat (.304 with 15 RBIs in April) as well as versatility. He has filled in at third base for Boston.

"He wins a Gold Glove at first, he goes to third and he plays a Major League-caliber third base," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "You can hit him anywhere in the lineup. He works the count. He really has turned into a very good Major League player. It is appreciated. And you don't have to run and check with him every day. You just kind of throw his name in and he handles it. The one thing he really doesn't like doing is leading off. So he doesn't do that. Other than that, he just goes about his business."

Kotchman (.344, 6 HR, 19 RBIs) is right there with the statistical leaders at the position and has been huge for the Angels thus far.

In this talented field a hot start doesn't guarantee an All-Star berth, just as a disappointing April doesn't mean a first baseman's All-Star chances are doomed.

There's still plenty of time left to convince the voters and besides, not everyone bases their votes on the current season.

So don't rule out Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena, Minnesota's Justin Morneau, Cleveland's Ryan Garko, Paul Konerko of the White Sox or Jason Giambi of the Yankees just because their April numbers weren't typical. Any one of them could get hot and get going at any time.

Among first basemen, only Lee and Berkman hit more April home runs than Florida's Mike Jacobs (7). Others who could poll well include Atlanta's Mark Teixeira, Colorado's Todd Helton, San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez, Toronto's Lyle Overbay or James Loney of the Dodgers.

Jim Molony 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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