Jason Varitek, Darnell McDonald Among Best Bench Players in Baseball

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Jason Varitek, Darnell McDonald Among Best Bench Players in Baseball Charlie Manuel
’s selection of Braves utility man Omar Infante for the NL All-Star team has been widely criticized as perhaps the worst All-Star selection in baseball history.

When asked why he picked Infante, whose .302 average in just 169 at-bats doesn’t even qualify him for the batting title, Manuel replied with a clear answer to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Because we were told you had to have a utility player on your team."

News flash, skip: There don’t seem to be any bench players on Joe Girardi’s AL squad.

But as long as Infante — a perennial bench player who has only appeared in at least 100 games twice during his nine-year big league career — has made the team, it’s time to appreciate all the other utility men around the league who don’t get All-Star recognition.

That’s right. It’s the 2010 "Utility All-Star Team", recognizing the best players who specialize in riding the pine, and filling in when needed.

Here’s the starting eight:

Catcher: Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox
It was only a matter of time before the Red Sox captain’s reign as starting catcher was over. But Varitek has been magnificent as the reserve backstop for Boston. The 38-year-old had seven homers, 16 RBIs and an .871 OPS (90 points higher than his career mark) before being placed on the 15-day DL on July 1.

First Base: Eric Hinske, Atlanta Braves
There’s a reason why Hinske, who used to be a big-time third base prospect with the Toronto Blue Jays, has appeared in the World Series each of the last three years (Hinske played on the 2007 Red Sox, '08 Rays and '09 Yankees). The guy can flat-out rake. Entering play Tuesday, Hinske has five home runs, 32 RBIs, 16 doubles and an .818 OPS for the Braves, who sit atop the NL East. The 33-year-old also is versatile in the field, and can play both corner infield and outfield positions.

Second Base: Jamey Carroll, Los Angeles Dodgers
Carroll has been a pest off the bench ever since his run with the Expos in their final years of existence. With a .289 average, 28 runs and six steals, Carroll has been a valuable commodity for Dodgers manager Joe Torre. The 36-year-old has played second, short and third for L.A. this year, but has played all three outfield positions at some point during his nine-year career.

Shortstop: Felipe Lopez, St. Louis Cardinals
In 2005 with the Cincinnati Reds, Lopez had 169 hits, made the All-Star team and won the National League Silver Slugger Award at shortstop. Five years later, Lopez is playing for his fourth different team in five years, and making the best of his role as a super-utility man for the Cardinals. Lopez has filled in at second, short and third and pitched a scoreless frame in the 18th inning of the 20-inning game against the Mets on April 17. His .272 average also has been a nice option at the plate for Cards skipper Tony LaRussa.

Third Base: Omar Infante, Atlanta Braves
The only real All-Star on this squad, Infante has been everything his manager, Bobby Cox, could have hoped for from the 29-year-old. Infante has been a solid run producer off the bench, scoring 23 and driving in 22. He’s also played five different positions for Atlanta in 2010.

Left Field: Ryan Spilborghs, Colorado Rockies
With Spilborghs and Dexter Fowler riding the bench, the Rockies have five guys on their roster who could easily be starting outfielders elsewhere. Spilborghs has been great for Colorado in 2010, with eight homers and a .819 OPS in 160 at-bats. He's proven that he can play all three outfield positions effectively, but left field is his specialty. Last year, Spilborghs had seven outfield assists, five of which came while playing left.

Center Field: Darnell McDonald, Boston Red Sox

Most baseball fans, including those in Boston, had never heard of McDonald when he made his debut with the Red Sox on April 20, but by the end of the game, he was a Fenway favorite. McDonald went 2-for-2 with three RBIs in his Sox debut, including a game-tying homer in the eighth and a walk-off single in the ninth. The first-round pick of the Orioles in the 1997 draft has found a niche filling in all three outfield spots for the injury-laden Red Sox this year and is hitting .260 with five home runs and six steals.

Right Field: Andruw Jones, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox committed grand larceny when they signed Jones, a five-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, to a minimum deal this offseason. His average may be just .190, but the 33-year-old has made up for it with his power at the dish. Jones ranks fourth on the team with 10 homers in just 168 at-bats. Plus, one of the greatest center fielders of all time has played all three outfield positions very effectively.

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