Stuffing the Ballots - Triple-A Voting

The International League announced its All-Star team on Wednesday. Call it one of the perks of the job, but I had a say. I was called in to duty last week and asked to submit my picks for this year's Triple-A All-Star game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As usual, I got it right and everyone else got it wrong. Let's throw out the fan vote and managerial input and give this job solely to me. I promise I can do a better job.

Let me take you through my thought process. For one, I tried to shy away from veteran players with major league experience who I don't feel have much to gain by playing in this game. If a young kid had similar numbers, he got the nod. You'll notice there are some players on my squad who are currently on major league rosters. My feelings are if a player isn't a lock to spend the rest of the season on the big league club, I included him on the team. Let's acknowledge a player's work and if he's unavailable to play because he's up on the big league roster, replace him. It's really not that hard. Can we please just give credit to those who are due.

And in my humble opinion, here are those that I feel are worthy.

Catcher: Curtis Thigpen, Syracuse Chiefs, Toronto Blue Jays: 17 R, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB, .299 AVG

This is the thinnest position by far in the International League. I'm going with a home pick here not because I want to, but because I have to.

Thigpen's defense isn't winning him this job. He's been one of the worst catchers in the league at throwing base-runners out. Thigpen's greatest strength is his patience at the plate. His on-base percentage is over .370, a number indicative of a solid lead-off man, not a catcher. You don't find many .300 hitting catchers any more either.

The only other option was J.R. House, but I'm passing on him for two reasons. One, I don't truly consider him a catcher. Thigpen might not project as a backstop in the majors, but that's where he's been for the most part down here at Triple-A. I'm also giving Thigpen a slight edge because of the age factor. Thigpen is just 24 and he's done an admirable job handling a pitching staff that has had a ton of injuries and turnover. When I'm dealing with this kind of talent pool, I have to take those intangible qualities into consideration.

First Base: Joey Votto, Louisville Bats, Cincinnati Reds: 38 R, 9 HR, 41 RBI, 7 SB, .310 AVG

There's a reason why the Reds have allowed Scott Hatteberg to hold down the fort at first base, and it's Votto. He's the complete package. I mean just look at those numbers. Votto was a Double-A All-Star last year, and I see no reason why that trend won't continue this year. The Canadian native has a great eye. In 69 games he has 44 walks. He is a left-handed bat that can hit with power and can hit it to all fields. Votto passes my smell test too. I saw him play back in April, and he was easily the best player in the park.

Second Base: Martin Prado, Richmond Braves, Atlanta Braves: 30 R, 0 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB, .307 AVG

I wanted to go with Russ Adams, but he's putrid numbers in April kept me away. After watching Richmond play this week, I now know why they've been the best team in the International League. They play fundamental baseball, mistake free defense, grind out runs by hitting and running and sacrificing.

Prado epitomizes this winning style of play. He does all the little things you like in a second baseman. He is your ideal second hitter in that he puts the ball in play and can bunt his way on for hit. A first place team needs at least one representative on the team, and this is Richmond's guy.

Third Base: Josh Fields, Charlotte Knights, Chicago White Sox: 28 R, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 8 SB, .283 AVG

Last year's International League Rookie of the Year is back for one more go round. Fields still looks like your classic five-tool player. Even though he's up filling in for Joe Crede, I still feel he garners inclusion on this team. Toledo's Mike Hessman has the power numbers, but after watching him play this past weekend, he's an all or nothing player, either hitting a bomb or grabbing some pine. Like last season, Fields is the best all-around player at the hot corner.

Shortstop: Brian Bixler, Indianapolis Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates: 48 R, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 16 SB, .308

Bixler is a throwback. He plays the game hard. He runs out everything. You can bet he's definitely not afraid to get the uniform dirty. When you watch Bixler you just think to yourself, boy can that kid play. Not only does Bixler look the part, but he's got the numbers to back them up to. He's an impressionable player.

Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury, Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Red Sox: 32 R, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 19 SB, .279 AVG

The numbers aren't all that overwhelming, but Ellsbury has had an instant impact on the PawSox since being called up from Double-A just 17 games into the season. The Red Sox top prospect is the best table setter in baseball. He plays a flawless center field. I'm telling you Triple-A catchers can't throw this kid out. He's been unreal.

Brandon Moss, Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Red Sox: 36 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 0 SB, .300 AVG

Now here's some pop. Moss is one of the few power hitters in this league who has also managed to hit for average. He's been the only consistency in the Paw Sox lineup. Pawtucket's been brutal all year, and the connection of Ellsbury and Moss are keeping this team's playoff chances afloat.

Ben Francisco, Buffalo Bisons, Cleveland Indians: 39 R, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 15 SB, .329 AVG

Francisco is the complete package. He's not going to 'wow' you with anyone thing. He just quietly goes about his business. He's one of those guys who at the end of the game you look at the box score and say 'he went 3-4 today?, I don't even remember watching him play." Flashy or not, Francisco is a threat to win the league batting title.

Designated Hitter: Timo Perez, Toledo Mud Hens, Detroit Tigers: 52 runs, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 5 SB, .315 AVG

Every team needs a veteran, and here's mine. The DH position isn't exactly the fountain of youth. Perez is a retread, but he should be on a major league roster. All he does is hit. I've always liked Timo. He's played in a World Series.

Picking Perez to start is like when you're the captain of a pick-up game and you're picking the last guy on your team, and no one good is left. Then, out of no where the best player shows up late, right before you make your last pick, saving you from selecting a worthless player. You kind of feel like you've cheated the system or dodged a bullet. Look at the numbers, that's Timo Perez ladies and gentlemen.

Starting Pitchers: Kevin Slowey, Rochester Red Wings, Minnesota Twins, 6-2, 57 K, 1.54 ERA, .81 WHIP

I'll be honest, I haven't seen Slowey pitch yet this year, but the the numbers are just too impressive to pass up. There's not a blemish on this resume. The scouts rave about Matt Garza, but Slowey's been better. So this is strictly a numbers pick by me. I did the research and Slowey stood head and shoulders above the rest. I wish I had more insight here, but I'm not gonna penalize a tremendous start to the season just because I haven't seen a guy.


Phil Dumatrait, Louisville Bats, Cincinnati Reds, 7-5, 50 K, 3.87 ERA, 1.46 WHIP

For the first two months of the season, Dumatrait was the best pitcher in this league. Maybe he misses his buddy Homer Bailey, who knows, but Dumatrait has been very ordinary lately. Still, I like his seven wins. To be frank, with all of Cincinnati's woes, I'm shocked we haven't seen Dumatrait at the big league level. He's getting a little old for this Triple-A bologna.

From what I saw of Dumatrait, he's a soft tosser who puts himself in a strait jacket, and then find his way out of it. He's excellent at pitching at out jams, usually self-created because he gives up a lot of walks. You'd have to figure that maybe his luck will run out sooner or later, and it's already kind of has, but I'm rewarding him for the first half of the season as a whole, not just his last couple of bad starts.


Relief Pitchers: Brian Wolfe, Syracuse Chiefs, Toronto Blue Jays, 0 saves, 23 K, 1.04 ERA, .92 WHIP

I got to give some love to the Wolfe-Man. I've watched him almost every time out, and he's been lights out. His velocity has skyrocketed, he's up in the mid-90s. He kills hitters with his slider. Wolfe has revolutionized himself. He's the most dominant reliever in this league, and he doesn't even pitch the ninth inning.

Seth McClung, Durham Bulls, Tampa Bay Devil Rays : 5 saves, 46 K, 1.69 ERA, 1.48 WHIP

McClung certainly has the stuff, but does he have the makeup? Well, he hasn't had a major blow up yet. McClung fastball is electric. High 90s and his slider can be every bit as deadly. He's still way too animated out there and it can cause him to lose his composure and the game. His strikeout total is incredible. Even if the mental side of the game is still an issue, McClung's natural ability has been enough for him to preserver.

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