Starlin Castro: There are plenty of reasons to criticize the kid — he can't always count to three, for instance. But every now and then you have to stop to praise him. Derek Jeter is the only regular shortstop outhitting him this year, and he's right there with Dee Gordon and Jose Reyes in stolen bases. He's 22 and on pace to get his 500th career hit in August, as he has collected them at a pace of 1.2 per game.
Alexei Ramirez, who hit 21 home runs as a rookie and won a Silver Slugger in his third season, somehow has regressed into being a good-glove, no-hit guy. A very weird development.
Robin Ventura: Seriously, will the man just put down his Sharpie and pick up a bat? At 44, he has to have more to offer than his trio of Orlando Hudson, Brent Morel and Eduardo Escobar, who entering the weekend had combined to hit .171 with one home run in 216 at-bats.
The Cubs' Ian Stewart has been very good defensively but has hovered too close to the Mendoza Line for All-City recognition.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski
Following Konerko's example, he's getting better in his mid-30s. He never has driven in more than 77 runs in a season but currently projects to reach 100, and he hasn't sacrificed any average in going up a gear in driving the ball. He also has given himself a chance to throw out 30 percent of base-stealers for only the second time in his career. He should be the AL starter in the All-Star Game, although you will hear arguments for Matt Wieters.
The Cubs can only hope Geovany Soto's disappearing act is attributable to the knee injury that has put him on the disabled list. He will play a lot when he's activated, but only to build a trade market. Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo make him a luxury item.
Alejandro de Aza: Like the Cubs' LaHair, De Aza is a late bloomer taking full advantage of his opportunity. The 28-year-old entered Saturday with .375 on-base percentage, fourth-best among baseball's regular leadoff hitters, and is scoring as many runs as any of them. He's solid in the field, steals bases and can pound a pitcher's mistake for extra bases. Will he hold up in September? Hard to imagine he will feel more pressure than when he was handed a big league job after years of shuttling between Triple A and the major league bench.
The Cubs have used five center fielders, with no one starting half the games.
Alex Rios: Like Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy, Rios is back from the near-dead as a player. He has continued his every-other-year pattern by raising his batting average 70 points if not quite hitting for the power that general manager Ken Williams hoped when he claimed him on waivers. He's a solid part of a good team.
David DeJesus has been excellent for the Cubs, with a lack of power the missing piece in his game. His .378 on-base percentage batting leadoff ranked third in the big leagues through Friday.
Adam Dunn, Tony Campana and Reed Johnson: Dunn is on pace to break Albert Belle's White Sox record of 49 home runs. His startling turnaround provided a huge lift out of the gate for his teammates, who were relieved to see him hit five homers in April and ecstatic when he added 11 in May. He hasn't cut down on his strikeouts — in fact, he's on pace to shatter Mark Reynolds' record of 223 in a season, with 250 within reach — but his performance pretty much illustrates how the Sox have improved to 4.8 runs per game from 4.0 a year ago.
Campana and Johnson largely have shared center field since Marlon Byrd was traded, and both have done well enough to make you wonder if they would get overexposed with more playing time. No one's more fun to watch than Campana, who made the Cubs' play of the year when he flew over the glove of Astros third baseman Matt Downs last month.
Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Samardzija: Dempster is the only usual suspect to crack the team this time around, and both the White Sox and Cubs have improved their rotations from a year ago. Sale's move from the bullpen has gone much better than anyone had forecast, and he survived a temporary return to the bullpen to pitch his way into consideration to start the All-Star Game. He has been Big Unitesque, dominating hitters the same way Randy Johnson did in his prime, and could be on his way to becoming one of baseball's 10 true No. 1 starters.
Peavy was great out of the gate and continues to have a renaissance season, one that could prompt the Sox to try to extend his contract, not deal him. Dempster quietly has been among the NL's ERA leaders, bouncing back from a poor 2011 to show he has shelf life remaining.
Samardzija's the biggest surprise in town, moving from the Cubs' bullpen to flash promise of being a true front-of-the-rotation piece. Like Sale, his durability and consistency will be tested as the season goes along. Somehow, Philip Humber threw a perfect game and didn't make All-City.
Addison Reed: He was the reason Williams felt he could trade Sergio Santos, and he didn't need long to show why. He got a chance to ease into the role with Hector Santiago opening the season as Santos' replacement, but he looks plenty solid with the quintessential closer combination of a mid-90s fastball and hard slider.
Nate Jones and Matt Thornton: If Jesse Crain had not spent time on the disabled list, he would be here. But Ventura has been blessed with a deep bullpen, and it revolves around Thornton. He still may be a candidate to be traded, even with the Sox at the top of the AL Central, but his steadying presence and durability remain huge assets. Thornton does seem overly dependent on a fastball at times, but it's still a good fastball — not as good as Jones', however.
Jones has hit 100 mph this season and complements that with a plus curve thrown from an unusual delivery. Like Reed, he has yet to deal with true adversity, which will provide the biggest test.
Shawn Camp, signed after the Mariners released him in spring training, and James Russell have been stalwarts for the Cubs' bullpen, which got thinner when Kerry Wood retired.
Robin Ventura: Dale Sveum grinds every night to get the most out of his overmatched Cubs team, and Ventura seems to do little more than fill out the lineup card. But Ventura and his coaching staff worked hard in spring training to set a positive tone and to correct some past deficiencies, such as the pitching staff's lack of interest in runners on base, and the results have shown in a major way.
Both Ventura and Sveum are smart baseball men who have dispositions that should help their players survive the dog days. They look like solid choices to take over for Ozzie Guillen and Mike Quade, respectively.