'Kauffman Stadium' photo (c) 2010, reedracer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I’ve never been a fan of voting for the All-Star game when ballots first open in April. I get that voting is a popularity contest and geared toward casual fans, but I like my vote to count.

That’s why I always hold my ballot off until the last two or three weeks before the ballot closes. This year, I waited as late as I could. All-Star balloting closes at midnight tonight, so if you haven’t put your ballot in, I suggest you head on over and contribute your vote.

Earlier in the week, I did my research on the players up for an All-Star nomination and submitted my ballot. Let’s run through who I voted for and why…

Joe Mauer, Twins | Carlos Ruiz, Phillies

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is having a great year and is one of the best offensive catchers in the game. That said, someone else is having an even better year, and that’s Joe Mauer. Mauer’s bounced back into his old self, which has to be great news for the Twins. Interestingly, his OBP is well north of .400 (.416 as I write this) and no one else with at least 200 plate appearances as a catcher is higher than .350. Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli come close, but no cigar. In the NL, the offensive climate of backstops is far friendlier, but there continues to be an obvious winner — that would be Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies. Ruiz, like Mauer, has an OBP north of .400, but he also has power off the charts in what should easily be a career year for him.

First Base
Paul Konerko, White Sox | Joey Votto, Reds

Even as hot as Albert Pujols has come on lately, the All-Star Game counts the entire season. There hasn’t been anyone as consistently valuable at first base this year as Konerko, who continues to defy Father Time and is far and away the best offensive first baseman in the league. He leads all AL 1B in home runs and batting average, the latter of which is a career high by a significant amount as it’s north of .340. He doesn’t kill you on defense, either. In the NL, it’s Joey Votto without even bothering to look at the numbers. Votto has to be the NL MVP of the first half.

Second Base
Robinson Cano, Yankees | Jose Altuve, Astros

Unfortunately for Dustin Pedroia, he won’t be receiving my vote this year. Instead, I have to grit my teeth hard and tab Robinson Cano because there’s no other acceptable alternative. I thought long and hard about Jason Kipnis, who looks like the real deal in Cleveland, but he falls just short. Kipnis has the speed with close to 20 stolen bases, but Cano’s power closes the book on the debate. In the NL, it was actually pretty difficult to figure out who deserved the nod. I ultimately settled for Jose Altuve, a diminutive second baseman for the Astros. He’s the second best offensive second baseman in the league behind Aaron Hill, but hits for a better average and leads all NL second basemen with 12 stolen bases.

Elvis Andrus, Rangers | Starlin Castro, Cubs

Not only is Elvis Andrus picking the ball with his glove like usual, he’s stepped up his offensive game. He always had enough plate discipline to pass as a decent hitter, but he’s taken another leap this year and is the class of the AL at this point. Asdrubal Cabrera has a better bat, but his defense holds him back. Derek Jeter, meanwhile, has hit similarly to Andrus but has a horrid glove. But that’s nothing new, despite what Gold Glove voters think. Moving on over to the senior circuit, I passed up on former Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie to tab Starlin Castro. Lowrie’s displayed a much more patient eye and power, but the Cub wins out in defense and on the basepaths. If you haven’t noticed now, defense counts a lot for me at the up-the-middle spots, and especially so at short. If I didn’t care about defense, I’m going Cabrera and Lowrie here. It should be noted here that until this year, Castro was a liability on defense — he’s made major strides, according to Fangraphs, in this category.

Third Base
Mike Moustakas, Royals | David Wright, Mets

Two names stick out at me here — Adrian Beltre and Mike Moustakas. (I’ve opted not to consider Will Middlebrooks, because while he’s hitting up a storm, you only get one write-in vote and I’m saving it for later.) Beltre is a world-class defender, but Fangraphs has Moose winning that category this year. With the bat, Beltre holds the edge. It’s such a dead heat, it really is all about who you like better. I’m going to tab Moustakas here, because Kansas City deserves to have a starting player on the field given they’re hosting the game and are a team on the upswing. In the NL, Chase Headly deserves to make the team as a bench player, but it’s all about David Wright once more, as he’s reclaimed his superstardom.

Designated Hitter
David Ortiz, Red Sox

Edwin Encarnacion is a lot closer to beating out David Ortiz on offense than I think people realize, but he’s not quite there yet. Meanwhile, Adam Dunn has enjoyed a great bounceback year, but can’t hit for average. Big Papi still deserves this spot, but he has quite a bit of competition. It’s very possible that by the end of the year, Ortiz will have fallen behind the race to be considered the best DH of the year.

Mike Trout, Angels | Josh Hamilton, Angels | Adam Jones, Orioles
Ryan Braun, Brewers | Andrew McCutchen, Pirates | Carlos Beltran, Cardinals

Mike Trout is a beast. There’s no question about it, and he absolutely deserves to be elected to the All-Star Game in his first full year. He’s already the best outfielder in the AL, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole at all. Josh Hamilton gets hurt too often and doesn’t have the legs or the defense that Trout has. Meanwhile, Jose Bautista is working his way back from a slow start and isn’t the five-tooler that trout is. He’s not on the ballot, so I had to write him in. I also tabbed Hamilton for the other outfield spot — another no-brainer. The third guy was a bit tricky. I could go offense in Josh Willingham, or shoot for a more well-rounded player in Adam Jones. I like an all-around game, not a one-dimensional game, so that tilted me to Jones. (By the way, Carl Crawford on the ballot is proof that the voting has gotten too casual lately.)

Over in the NL, I’m passing on Bryce Harper. As good as he’s been, the simple fact is that there are better players eligible for voting. For one, how can you pass up on Ryan Braun? It’s just not done. The final two spots come down to Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Beltran. I’d probably had gone with Jason Heyward if he had kickstarted his season a little earlier than June, but he didn’t. There really isn’t much separating the three final candidates, I decided to vote on who I wanted to see play in the game. That awards McCutchen and Beltran the spots.

Well, there you have it: my 2012 All-Star Ballot. What’s yours?