It hasn’t gotten much attention since the announcement last January, but the payouts for the Home Run Derby have skyrocketed this year. The 2019 winner, in fact, will receive … oh, just a second. “I know what the prize is,” Eddie Rosario interrupted. “I love it. I love it.”
Yes, a $1 million first prize will focus the mind and invigorate the competitive spirit. Rosario doesn’t try to hide his thirst for an invitation, nor his confidence that he could cash that huge check. “Eddie loves the big moment,” Twins hitting coach James Rowson said. “He’s a guy who rises to the occasion, so I would guess he would be definitely be a real contender.”
Rosario once appeared a strong bet to make the eight-man field; as April ended, he led the AL with 11 home runs. But Rosario has hit only nine homers since then, and only three in June. He has slipped to sixth in the AL, and his 20 home runs don’t rank him among the top 10 sluggers in MLB anymore. Which is why, beyond an informal inquiry a few weeks ago, he has not been offered a spot among the eight participants in the July 8 derby in Cleveland. The field will be announced by MLB early next week.
“I think I’d be pretty good at it,” said Rosario, who will learn Thursday whether he’s been elected to the AL starting lineup in the July 9 All-Star Game. “It’s a good opportunity for me. I want to try to win [the derby] and the [All-Star] game, too.”
Rosario’s chances are likely in even more doubt after he sprained his left ankle rounding first base after a third-inning single Wednesday against the Rays. He is considered day to day.
Could the Twins, who lead the majors in home runs and are on pace to shatter the single-season record, really be shut out of a home-run-hitting contest?
“No, they shouldn’t do that. We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of homers,” said Miguel Sano, whose runner-up finish to Aaron Judge in 2017 makes him the most recent Twin to take part. (Sano, by the way, earned $100,000 for finishing second in 2017, and Judge took home $150,000 for beating him.) “We definitely deserve to have someone there.”
It won’t be Nelson Cruz, who finished second to Prince Fielder in the 2009 derby in St. Louis. Despite a habit of hitting tape-measure blasts, Cruz said his sore wrist, which sidelined him for more than two weeks in May, makes the contest too risky. “It’s a lot of hitting, a lot of swings. If [taking part] made my wrist flare up, or if I felt tired for a few days, I would feel guilty,” Cruz said. “It’s more important to think about winning, to think about what we’ve got going here and keeping that going.”
Similarly, Max Kepler’s swollen right elbow makes him an unlikely participant, despite his 19 homers this year and pair of three-homer games in Progressive Field. C.J. Cron has 17 homers, and is open to the idea. “I’ve always wanted to do the Home Run Derby and also be an All-Star at the same time. That’s kind of my dream,” Cron said. “I haven’t been asked, but if it presents itself, it’s a decision I’d like to make.”
Kepler, Buxton healing
How’s the elbow? Kepler was asked. Do you have a full range of motion?
Rather than answer, Kepler flexed his elbow, raised his arms, twirled them in the air. Media members aren’t doctors, but they unanimously pronounced him healed.
The Twins, being more cautious, gave Kepler the day off after he was hit by a pitch Tuesday until the eighth inning, when Rosario's injury and a two-run lead caused manager Rocco Baldelli to put him in center field as a defensive replacement.
“It’d definitely not going to be a comfortable spot for him for a few days. He has some fluid in his elbow,” Baldelli said. “It got big on him, but he’s moving it well.”
Fellow outfielder Byron Buxton took batting practice again Wednesday and will do so again Thursday, weather permitting, before the Twins make a decision: activate him for this weekend in Chicago, or send him on a rehab assignment. “I see it as being another day of him testing it out to make sure that he’s OK before we take the next step,” Baldelli said.