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Published: Sunday, 7/6/2003

International League notebook: Picking All-Star team major problem

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Any hunter will tell you the toughest quarry to bag is the moving target.

That's what makes picking a mid-season International League All-Star team so difficult. Many of the best candidates are on the move - to the major leagues - by the time the ballots are tabulated.

That was especially true this season, when many top players were promoted to the big leagues just before the voting closed on June 23. As a result, some nearly automatic picks weren't eligible for the team, including:

  • Rochester outfielder Justin Morneau, who leads the league in home runs (13) even though he played in just 37 IL games - and none since June 8;

  • Norfolk shortstop Jose Reyes, who led the IL in stolen bases (26) at the time of his promotion;

  • Buffalo outfielder Coco Crisp, whose .360 batting average is but one reason he was one of the league's best leadoff men before his call-up to Cleveland.

    With that being said, here is a look at who I and Mud Hens play-by-play voice Jim Weber voted for to play in this year's Triple-A All-Star Game, to be played July 16 in Memphis. The player who was eventually chosen is listed after each of our picks.

    FIRST BASE: After former Hen Carlos Mendez was called-up from Ottawa by Baltimore, most of the players at this position seemed interchangeable. So we cast a sentimental ballot for former Hen Ryan Jackson, who ranks among the league leaders in doubles for Durham. Selected: Ross Gload, Charlotte (.349-7-37).

    SECOND BASE: The sentiment was unanimous to pick Scranton's Chase Utley, who is among the league leaders with a .319 batting average, 11 homers and 49 RBIs. Selected: Utley.

    THIRD BASE: Might Scranton's Travis Chapman eventually become the talent the Tigers let slip away? A Rule 5 pick who was returned to Philadelphia at the end of spring training, Chapman leads the IL with 53 RBIs and is batting .294 with eight home runs. Selected: Chapman.

    SHORTSTOP: Close behind Chapman in the IL RBI chase is Durham's Jason Smith, who has 51 to go along with a .303 batting mark and 12 home runs. Selected: Smith.

    OUTFIELD: There were four options on our ballot - Emil Brown of Louisville, Lou Collier of Pawtucket, George Lombard of Durham, and Alex Escobar of Buffalo. Though Escobar ranks among the league's home run and RBI leaders, we couldn't overlook his .235 batting average and instead chose Brown (.285-10-44), Collier (.305-8-43) and Lombard (.275-8-35). Selected: Brown, Collier, Anton French, Pawtucket (.302 with 25 stolen bases).

    CATCHER: It probably looks as if we were picking on Buffalo, but we chose Richmond's Johnny Estrada over the Bisons' Victor Martinez. The tie-breaker was Estrada's consistency (.350-6-43) compared to Martinez, who hit just .263 in the first two months of the season. Selected: Estrada.

    DESIGNATED HITTER: The best numbers for a player that didn't earn a regular position - at the time we voted - belonged to Syracuse third baseman Tony Zuniga, who is hitting .292 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs. Selected: Brandon Larson, Louisville (.344-12-47).

    STARTING PITCHER: Toledo's Shane Loux and Buffalo's Jason Phillips both rank among the top four in the league in both victories and ERA, something no other IL pitcher can claim. Selected: Loux, Phillips.

    RELIEF PITCHER: When we voted, we were allowed to vote for Toledo closer Fernando Rodney, whose 16 saves led the league. His promotion to Detroit that day, though, meant he was no longer eligible. Our other choice was Durham's Lee Gardner, who leads the IL with 17 saves. Selected: Gardner, Grant Balfour, Rochester (2-0, 5 saves, 1.47 ERA).

    HAPPY TO BE HERE: If given the choice, any player would prefer playing in the majors over playing in the minors. Right?

    Judging by his comments last week, Gene Kingsale wasn't that upset to join the Mud Hens.

    “When I was in Toledo [on a rehab assignment], it was nice,” Kingsale told MLB.com on Monday. “They work as a team and they're happy. The coaches are great. It's a relief from being here [in Detroit] and losing all these games to going down there and winning.”



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