Pudge leads Tigers' reps on ballot

Pudge leads Tigers' reps on ballot

DETROIT -- Placido Polanco has long been regarded as one of baseball's underrated players. This appears to be the year when he's finally being noticed.

The first update of All-Star Game balloting is out, and while catcher Ivan Rodriguez is again the only Tigers player at the top of his position, at least two others are in potentially close races. One of them is the usually underpublicized Polanco, who finds himself a close second among American League second basemen behind the Yankees' Robinson Cano.

The voting update includes only online balloting. It does not include in-stadium balloting, which historically gives an edge to major-market players such as those on the Yankees. Yet the fact that Polanco is attracting so many votes online is a sign of attention not only for the workmanlike Polanco, but for the Tigers in general.

While many spots in the AL All-Star lineup have been anchored by superstar players for the past several years, second base has been the least predictable position of them all since Alfonso Soriano was voted to three straight teams from 2002-04. Then-Red Sox infielder Mark Loretta beat out Cano for the honor last year. The year before, Brian Roberts won the balloting to make his first All-Star squad on his way to a career season with a .314 average, 18 home runs and 73 RBIs.

Polanco does not have eye-opening statistics, but his contributions to the Tigers' success have gone beyond numbers, from his ability to advance baserunners and make contact to his steady defense and quick double-play throws. He has never made an All-Star team in his 10-year Major League career, but that's expected to change this year. The question now is whether his All-Star debut could be as a starter when the AL club takes the field at San Francisco's AT&T Park in July.

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

Rodriguez, meanwhile, holds a slim lead in online balloting in what could end up being a four-player race for the starting assignment at catcher. If that lead holds once balloting concludes, it would be Rodriguez's 12th start behind the plate, extending his record for catchers, and his 14th All-Star appearance.

The Tigers haven't had multiple positional players in the starting lineup of an All-Star Game since 1986, when Lance Parrish and Lou Whitaker did it. They haven't had three starters since 1984, but even that might be possible.

All-Star Game Coverage

While the AL outfield balloting is led by usual suspects Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Ichiro Suzuki, Magglio Ordonez's hot start this season has put him in a position to potentially challenge the trio if a surge in voting corresponds with his hitting. The league's RBI leader is seventh among AL outfielders behind those three, Torii Hunter, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu.

Three other Tigers rank among the top five at their position. Shortstop Carlos Guillen and third baseman Brandon Inge are running third at their respective positions behind the Yankees' Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Sean Casey, meanwhile, stands fifth among first baseman behind a quartet of sluggers topped by David Ortiz.

Those who don't make it into the starting lineup still have hope as a reserve through player balloting or through the manager's selections, handled this time by Jim Leyland thanks to the Tigers' AL championship last year.

Fans will again be given the opportunity to cast an All-Star vote immediately following the 2007 MLB "All-Star Game Selection Show" presented by Chevrolet, which will be televised by Turner Sports on Sunday, July 1. Baseball fans around the world will be able select the final player on each All-Star team via the Monster.com 2007 All-Star Final Vote.

Concluding the All-Star balloting process, 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.com 2007 All-Star Game MVP Vote at MLB.com.

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

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