Major League Baseball opened the All-Star balloting on Tuesday, absurdly early as usual, but it gave me an excuse to put together a major league All-Star team for April over at SI.com, and, lo and behold, two Yankees have been the best at their position in the game in April, one of them a significant surprise. Dig:
3B: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Season Stats: .313/.432/.656, 5 HRs, 18 RBIs
Adrian Beltre leads major league third basemen in homers and RBIs (the latter tied with Chipper Jones), but he's still struggling to get his on-base percentage over .300. Rodriguez leads only in slugging, but his production has been so well rounded that it clearly trumps his competition. The Phillies' Pladico Polanco (.389/.448/.516) is our NL pick.
C: Russell Martin, Yankees
Season Stats: .290/.364/.594, 6 HRs, 17 RBIs
Martin, who was non-tendered by the Dodgers in December, has been a revelation for the Yankees in April. Martin was one of the best catchers in baseball as recently as 2008, but fatigue (he was the only player to appear in 300 or more games between 2007 and 2008 whose primary position was catcher), injuries (his 2010 season was ended in early August by a fractured hip), and, to use his word, "distractions," combined to limit him to a .249/.350/.330 line over the last two seasons. Thus far this season, the 28-year-old Martin has looked like the 24-year-old version of himself, who hit .293/.374/.469 and started the All-Star Game. In that way, Martin's hot start is for real, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up over a full season. Our NL pick is the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero (.295/.368/.538), who is doing a nice job of replicating his breakout 2009 season.
Two other Yankees who popped up on my radar as I put together my starting nine (plus AL DH) were Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Teixeira, who hopes to play tonight after missing last night's game with a sore shoulder, has been the second-best first baseman in the AL thus far, though the gap between his .253/.387/.560 and Miguel Cabrera's .318/.435/.568 is pretty large, even though their key counting stats are similar. Meanwhile, one could make an argument for including Granderson (.273/.329/.649) among the three starting outfielders in the junior circuit, though in compiling my list based on 2011 stats alone, I went with the shocking production of Jeff Francoeur, in part because of his advantage in, get this, on-base percentage (.330/.369/.596). Frenchy's OBP is mostly batting average, but he has a better K/BB ratio than Granderson thus far. I don't expect that to last, but the fun of an April All-Star team is getting those flukey players in there.
Also of possible interest to Yankee fans is the dramatic rejuvenation of Lance Berkman, who made my starting outfield. I foresaw disaster in the Cardinals' gamble on Berkman coming out of spring training and thus far couldn't have been more wrong (at least about his bat, the early returns on his defense in right field via UZR aren't pretty). Big Puma stumbled out of the gate, going just 6-for-28 (.214) with a pair of doubles and three walks in his first eight games, but since then he has hit (you might want to sit down): .509/.557/1.055 with eight home runs, 21 RBIs, and just six strikeouts in his last 14 contests. That's an absurdly small sample size, but also an absurd amount of production in so few games.
I'm not saying I think the Yankees should have retained the 35-year-old Berkman, I never did and still don't, but he's hitting lefties again (.316/.409/.632 from the right side), and is a .297/.409/.549 career hitter, after all, so even if this is something of a dead-cat bounce (in 92 plate appearances, Berkman already has more than half as many home runs as he had in 481 PA last year), it's coming from muscle memory, not magic. The obvious response to Berkman's big April is "small sample, talk to me in July," but Dodgers fans are likely saying the same about Martin.
Don't worry. I will. In the meantime, there's good news for Martin in that Francisco Cervelli has been activated and Gustavo Molina sent down, increasing the likelihood of Martin being properly rested going forward. The Gustavo Molina era lasted all of two starts, one of which was a game the Yankees won, and six plate appearances, the last of which ended in a bloop double in a blowout.