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Monday, March 28, 2011
NL West preseason All-Star team

By David Schoenfield

Finally, our NL West preseason All-Stars. Vote, debate, argue, call me names, call me a genius. But have fun while doing. Don't miss our other divisions: NL East, NL Central, AL East, AL Central and AL West.

Catcher -- Buster Posey, Giants. Had a monster July (.417, 1.195 OPS), tailed off in August and hit .233 in September but with eight home runs. I expect him to settle in as an All-Star for the next 10 seasons or so with a chance to win an MVP Award if that Pujols guy ever slows down.

First base -- Brandon Belt, Giants. Going out on a limb here, but I think Belt ends up with 500 PAs by the end of the season, with Aubrey Huff moving to the outfield. Todd Helton? Brad Hawpe? James Loney? Belt will outproduce those guys if he plays. Russell Branyan could have a nice year in the desert, but he's likely to be platooned and is a big injury risk.

Second base -- Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks. People view Johnson's 2010 as a fluke, but it wasn't that much better than his 2007 and '08 seasons in Atlanta once you adjust for park context. He won't hit 26 home runs again, but I give him the slight edge over the good-field, mediocre bat duo of Orlando Hudson and Freddy Sanchez.

Third base -- Pablo Sandoval, Giants. Sandoval, Ian Stewart and Chase Headley had similar results last year. Headley is the best defensive player of the trio, Stewart struggles against lefties, and Kung Fu was a big huge disappointment. But I feel our man will bounce back. Baseball Prospectus projects a .307/.358/.491 line.

Shortstop -- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies. A popular MVP candidate with good reason. He finished fifth in the voting a year ago despite missing 40 games, and won his first Gold Glove. Sure, the home park inflates his numbers a bit, but he still hit .291/.358/.504 on the road, Ruthian numbers for a shortstop these days.

Left field -- Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies. Anybody want Jay Gibbons here? Much was made of Gonzalez's big home/road split in 2010 (.380/.425/.737 versus .289/.322/.453), but this group is so weak that even that .289/.322/.453 line might rank No. 1.

Center field -- Chris Young, Diamondbacks. Andres Torres was the No. 1 guy here last year, with a surprising year at the plate and superb defense. This is a fun position. You can make the case the division title could rest in the hands of which center field has the best season: Torres, Matt Kemp or Dexter Fowler. (Not to completely discount the Padres or Diamondbacks, but I guess I just did.) Even if Kemp rebounds at the plate, his shaky defense means Young is the guy I'll take.

Right field -- Justin Upton, Diamondbacks. Andre Ethier is a terrific hitter (at least against righties) but not in Upton's league as a defender. It's easy to forget that Upton will spend most of the 2011 season at 23. I expect a season akin to his 2009 ... and maybe better.

Right-handed starter -- Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies. He wasn't as effective in the second half after going 10-1 with only seven runs allowed over his first 11 starts, but this is still a guy who allowed a .311 slugging percentage despite pitching half his games in Coors Field. On the road, he held hitters to a .184/.286/.278 line. And that's why I have to apologize to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Mat Latos.

Left-handed starter -- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. The gloves came off a bit last season as he topped 200 innings for the first time. His strikeout did decline a bit in the second half, but he maintained his overall effectiveness as his walk rate also improved. Nasty stuff, fun to watch, and a Cy Young contender.

Closer -- Brian Wilson, Giants. He might miss Opening Day, but he should be fine to put up another big season. The only pause is his workload: 80 games and more than 86 innings between the regular season and playoffs.