Second to none: Revival at keystone
Kinsler, Cano share stage in showcase of 2B talent
NEW YORK -- Yankee Stadium has seen more than its share of talented second basemen in the past month. Given the rise in talent at the position, so have a lot of ballparks.
Texas' Ian Kinsler put his name on the list during the Rangers' three-game series with the Yankees, following in the footsteps of the Yankees' Robinson Cano, the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia and the Phillies' Chase Utley, whose club took two of three from the Yankees in an Interleague series from May 22-24.
"It seems like every team has a very, very good second baseman," Kinsler said before Wednesday's game. "I think it's just fun to be part of. It's fun to be in that company and to have the challenge to try to be the best, because I think every single one of us that plays the position wants to be the best."
Cano, enjoying a bounce-back year at the age of 26 after a disappointing 2008 season, is simply trying to keep up with the 25-year-old Pedroia -- the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player -- and the 26-year-old Kinsler, owner of 13 home runs and 11 steals entering Wednesday.
A position on the diamond not known for producing top-notch offensive talent, second base is enjoying a makeover in the second half of this decade.
"Every series you go, there's a guy on the other side who can do just as much or more than you on any given day," Kinsler said. "I think it elevates your game. It makes you better."
All three AL standouts have arrived on the scene within the past four years, and it appears none of them has hit his ceiling. Cano, a career .303 hitter, broke in with the Yankees in May 2005, hitting .297 with 14 home runs en route to a second-place finish behind Oakland reliever Huston Street in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. The Dominican native hit .342 in 2006 and .306 in 2007 before taking a step back with a .271 average -- and a .305 on-base percentage -- in 2008. Cano entered Wednesday batting .310 with nine home runs this season.
"I'm really satisfied with what I've been able to do this year," Cano said. "I'm proud of myself because I went home and worked hard the whole season, and I've really been working and everything has been great so far."
Kinsler, who played with Pedroia at Arizona State University, entered the scene in 2006, winning the Rangers' second-base job out of Spring Training. He dislocated his thumb in April and missed more than a month, but the injury didn't prevent him from hitting .286 with 14 homers.
In 2007, despite missing a month with a stress fracture in his right foot, Kinsler joined the 20-20 club with 20 homers and 23 steals. In 2008, Kinsler earned a spot as an AL All-Star reserve and finished with a .319 average and a .375 on-base percentage. The '08 season, Kinsler's most productive one to date, was cut short by a sports hernia. He played his final game of the season last Aug. 17.
Pedroia's rise has been the quickest. After appearing in 31 games in 2006, Pedroia overcame a slow start in 2007 to finish with a .317 average and a .380 on-base percentage en route to winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award. His MVP performance in 2008 included 17 home runs, 20 stolen bases, a .326 average and a .376 on-base percentage. He also won the Gold Glove Award.
"I think there's a friendly rivalry among all of us," Kinsler said. "Every time I see another second baseman, you're always, 'What's up -- how's it going?' You definitely relate more to those guys."
"Every time I see each of them, I wave and say hello," Cano said. "I see how they are doing. This is a game, so I don't really hate anybody."
Last year's All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium saw Pedroia, the elected starter, and Kinsler share time at the keystone. Cano, who was selected in 2006 but sat out the game with a hamstring injury, found himself on the outside looking in.
With the three young talents and two-time All-Star Brian Roberts of Baltimore also lurking, the AL's second-base spots for this year's game in St. Louis may be among the hardest to earn. Toronto's Aaron Hill has also impressed in 2009, hitting .328 with 12 home runs through Tuesday.
Pedroia and Kinsler were the only two players at the position on the AL's 2008 team.
"That's good because you feel like you have competition," Cano said. "Like with Pedroia -- if you want to be one of the best second basemen, you've got to work hard."
The second 2009 AL fan balloting update was released Tuesday, with Kinsler's 787,619 votes leading Pedroia's 641,281. Cano sat in third with 413,605.
In the National League, Utley (1,111,963) has a sizable lead over Orlando Hudson of the Dodgers (486,359), who is followed by the injured Rickie Weeks of Milwaukee (465,812), St. Louis' Skip Schumaker (308,867) and reigning Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips of Cincinnati (210,938).
"It's something I think about every year," Kinsler said. "You always find out where the All-Star Game is, and you always want to be a part of it."
Thomas Boorstein is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.