A bumper crop of talented young outfielders have played their way into consideration for what would be their first All-Star Game selection. Outfielders like Josh Hamilton of Texas, Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth, Ryan Ludwick of St. Louis, Florida's Josh Willingham, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, Ryan Church of the Mets, Kosuke Fukudome of the Cubs and 20-year-old Justin Upton of Arizona, the youngest player in the Major Leagues.
Others with more experience also looking to make their All-Star debuts include Milton Bradley of the Rangers, Pat Burrell of the Phillies, Xavier Nady of the Pirates and Raul Ibanez of the Mariners.
Of course, All-Star selection is about many factors, not just current season statistics, and there are other veteran outfielders with All-Star Game experience bidding for another invitation with their bats this season, such as Boston's Manny Ramirez, San Francisco's Aaron Rowand, Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford, Colorado's Matt Holliday and Detroit's Magglio Ordonez.
None are having a better year than Hamilton, who leads the Major Leagues with 53 RBIs coming into Friday. Hamilton, who turned 27 on Wednesday, is batting .335, and leads the American League in slugging, total bases, extra-base hits and triples. Hamilton's 12 home runs are tied for first in the AL with the Chicago's Carlos Quentin.
Quentin, who has emerged this year as the White Sox starting left fielder, is second in the AL with 40 RBIs, and is batting .299, with a .410 OBP and .586 slugging. Fans have a chance to vote Quentin in to his first All-Star Game as a write-in candidate.
"Pretty impressive," Houston first baseman Lance Berkman said after watching Hamilton during the Lone Star Series at Arlington over the weekend. "That guy is hitting some pitches I probably wouldn't even swing at, and if I did, I'd be out. He's hitting them off the second deck for three-run homers and stuff. Tremendous bat speed, great-looking athlete. We saw some of that last year when he was with Cincinnati."
Hamilton, the first overall selection of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft by Tampa Bay, is in only his second season in the big leagues.
"He's incredible, obviously," teammate David Murphy said. "He's just ... I don't think it's a stretch to say he's one of the best players in the game. His tools, his talent, are incredible. The scary thing is he seems to be getting better every day."
McLouth, 26, is hitting .314 after his 4-for-4 performance against Milwaukee on Wednesday night -- he also has 12 homers and 36 RBIs. The Pirates' leadoff hitter ranks among the top 10 in the National League in no fewer than nine statistical categories.
"This guy is a true baseball player," Pittsburgh manager John Russell said. "He wraps himself up in the game, he pays attention, he learns, he retains. He's just a solid baseball player. If you have a head like that on your shoulders, and have the talent, you have a solid player. I've known Nate for a while and I've seen him play, and what he's doing now is not a huge surprise to me."
Ludwick, 29, emerged as the Cardinals' cleanup hitter during the first six weeks of the season by hitting .336 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs. He is among the top seven in the NL in hitting, on-base percentage, slugging, RBIs, extra-base hits and home runs. Ludwick's 1.151 OPS ranks third in the league behind Houston's Lance Berkman and Atlanta's Chipper Jones.
"I don't know if I'm a .330 hitter," Ludwick said following Monday's win at San Diego. "But I definitely feel like I have a better approach and a better game plan at the plate now. I feel like I have better strike-zone judgment, and I feel like I've matured a little bit as a hitter. It all goes back to trying to get a good pitch to hit and hitting it hard. Right now, things are going good."
Things are also going good for Church (.315, 9, 32), Braun (.296, 13 HR, 37 RBIs), Fukudome (.305, 17 RBIs, .409 OBP) and Upton (.296, 6 HR, 21 RBIs). Good enough to perhaps carry one or more of them to Yankee Stadium in two months.
Willingham (.341, 6 HR, 16 RBIs) was rolling until he went on the disabled list on April 28 with a herniated disk. But the Marlins outfielder could return in one to three weeks, and of course remains on the ballot for the first-place Fish.
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 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.
Braun, who led the NL in slugging last season en route to the Rookie of the Year Award, has hit more home runs than any outfielder in either league (13).
While the Giants have struggled, Rowand has excelled, hitting .318 with five homers and 22 RBIs, and playing excellent defense. Ditto for Colorado's Holliday (.324, 6, 23).
Two-time All-Star Crawford (.276, 4 homers, 28 RBIs and 12 stolen bases) helped the surprising Rays climb to eight games above .500 for the first time in franchise history.
Ordonez (.315, 7, 29) is making the best case for a return appearance of any of the six elected outfield starters at last year's Midsummer Classic in San Francisco -- Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Vladimir Guerrero and Ichiro Suzuki.
Bradley (.322, 8, 27) is second in the AL in on-base percentage and OPS, and first in intentional walks, with seven. Burrell's recent 3-for-27 slump dropped the Philadelphia outfielder's batting average to .271 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs, but he was one of baseball's best performers during the first five weeks of the season. Even with his recent slide, Burrell is still among the top 10 in the NL in on-base percentage.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.