Home Run Derby has sluggers seeking the sweet spot

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2014 - 10:01 AM
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Oakland Athletics' Yoenis Cespedes

Someone tell the light rail operators behind Target Field to watch for flying objects. And here’s hoping Minnie and Paul can take a punch up there on the sign above center field. The All-Star Home Run Derby starts Monday night, and some of baseball’s most powerful sluggers are ready to hit the living sweet spot out of batting practice fastballs. ¶ Justin Morneau is back, Yoenis Cespedes could defend last year’s title, Brian Dozier will represent the Twins, and those who haven’t seen Giancarlo Stanton swing are in for a treat. ¶ “I saw him when he was playing in Cleveland, Asdrubal Cabrera was playing shortstop, and [Stanton] almost put him in Erie Lake,” former Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “[Cabrera] tried to catch it, and he couldn’t even jump. That ball was hitting the wall before he was landing down on his feet.” ¶ Get ready for more hyperbole. Here’s a closer look at the 10-contestant field:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

JOSE BAUTISTA

Blue Jays, RF

Bats: Right

HRs, 2014/career: 17/228

His story: Bautista is a late bloomer who didn’t become an All-Star until age 29. He led the majors in homers for two years, smashing 54 and 43, but injuries limited him to 27 and 28 the previous two seasons. This year, he’s fully healthy again and has re-established himself as one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters.

Why he’ll win: Target Field has been a home away from home for the Dominican slugger. He has 11 home runs in 14 games at the ballpark, including three in one game on May 15, 2011.

Why he’ll stumble: He didn’t make it past the first round in the 2011 Derby but advanced to the finals in 2012, losing 12-7 to Prince Fielder. He’s 33 now and doesn’t need a Derby crown to prove himself. He might hold back, rather than push himself if he starts to fatigue.

YOENIS CESPEDES

Athletics, LF

Bats: Right

HRs, 2014/career: 14/63

His story: After he defected from Cuba in 2011, his agents promoted him with a workout video that became the stuff of legend. The tight-fisted Athletics landed him with a four-year, $36 million contract.

Why he’ll win: The Derby was invented for performances like the one Cespedes gave in winning last year’s event at New York’s Citi Field. He wasn’t an All-Star and was a late addition to the Derby, but he smashed 17 first-round homers and edged Bryce Harper 9-8 in the finals. Cespedes, 28, has batted .447 with eight extra base hits (five doubles, one triple and two homers) in nine career games at Target Field.

Why he’ll stumble: The question now is his health. He hasn’t hit a home run since June 19. He injured a hamstring July 1 and missed a game before returning to the lineup. Only one hitter has won back-to-back Home Run Derbys — Ken Griffey Jr. in 1998 and 1999.

JOSH DONALDSON

Athletics, 3B

Bats: Right

HRs, 2014/career: 20/54

His story: Raised by his mother while his father was imprisoned for drug and domestic abuse charges, Donaldson went to Auburn and got drafted No. 47 overall by Oakland in 2007. He converted from catcher to third base in 2012 and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting last year. This year, he ranks second in the AL to Mike Trout in WAR (wins above replacement).

Why he’ll win: Donaldson, 28, was the final AL hitter selected for the Derby, but he’s riding a nice wave and seems to be in peak condition for this event. The Oakland Coliseum isn’t a great home run park, but he’s done plenty of damage there.

Why he’ll stumble: Donaldson’s longest two home runs this year were both 448-foot shots — one in Toronto and one in Houston. But he’s had his share of wall-scrapers, too, with 10 homers categorized as “just enough” by ESPN’s Home Run Tracker.

BRIAN DOZIER

Twins, 2B

Bats: Right

HRs, 2014/career: 18/42

His story: An eighth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi in 2009, the 27-year-old Dozier has blossomed into one of the Twins’ most valuable players, with a salary this year of $540,000.

– left of left-center field. Few expect him to win, so he can have fun taking swings off his brother, Clay, a former lefthanded pitcher from Delta State in their home state of Mississippi.

Why he’ll stumble: Dozier is far from a quintessential power hitter. He hit 16 home runs in 1,613 minor league plate appearances. The Twins were surprised he hit 18 home runs last year, and he has already matched that. According to ESPN’S Home Run Tracker, Dozier’s average home run distance this year is 379.6 feet, compared to 423.8 for Giancarlo Stanton.

ADAM JONES

Orioles, CF

Bats: Right

HRs, 2014/career: 16/156

His story: Jones, 28, is a five-tool center fielder who might remind you of Torii Hunter in his prime. Drafted 37th overall by the Mariners out of San Diego Morse High School in 2003, he was traded by Seattle to Baltimore in the lopsided 2008 Erik Bedard trade.

Why he’ll win: After hitting 32 and 33 home runs the previous two years, Jones has a good chance to reach 30 again this year. Camden Yards is a home run hitter’s paradise, but the Baltimore ballpark hasn’t padded Jones’ totals. Since 2012, Jones has hit 40 home runs at home and 41 on the road.

Why he’ll stumble: Jones has power to all fields, especially center field, which makes him a good hitter. But he’ll need to pull the ball to win this event. In 17 career games at Target Field, Jones has batted .265 with three home runs

NATIONAL LEAGUE

TODD FRAZIER

Reds, 3B

Bats: Right

HRs, 2014/career: 19/63

His story: He led Toms River, N.J., to the Little League World Series title in 1998, and led Rutgers to a Big East title before the Reds took him with the 37th overall pick in the 2007 draft. In 2012, he saved the life of a choking man in a restaurant using the Heimlich maneuver. Earlier that day, Frazier had hit a home run off Jamie Moyer.

Why he’ll win: Frazier, 28, has little to lose and is easy to root for, making just $600,000 per year. He uses Frank Sinatra songs for his walk-up music. By night’s end, he could have the whole crowd singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Why he’ll stumble: Fifteen of Frazier’s home runs have come inside the launching pad at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. It’s questionable how many of those would clear the wall at Target Field, especially since so many have gone to center field.

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Cleveland 86 FINAL
Indiana 93
Washington 81 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Golden State 113 FINAL
Toronto 89
New York 121 FINAL
Detroit 115
Orlando 88 FINAL
Atlanta 95
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Boston 106
LA Clippers 97 FINAL
Memphis 79
Brooklyn 98 FINAL
Houston 102
Miami 102 FINAL
New Orleans 104
Minnesota 89 FINAL
Chicago 96
Utah 104 FINAL
Denver 82
San Antonio 107 FINAL
Sacramento 96
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 101
Oklahoma City 112 FINAL
Portland 115
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 2
Calgary 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Washington 0 FINAL
Carolina 3
Chicago 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Colorado 5 FINAL(SO)
Dallas 4
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Siena 63 FINAL
Quinnipiac 73
Harvard 49 FINAL
Cornell 57
Penn 69 FINAL
Brown 75
Fairfield 65 FINAL
Canisius 72
Manhattan 75 FINAL
Iona 79
Saint Peters 67 FINAL
Marist 69
Princeton 60 FINAL
Yale 81
Ohio 58 FINAL
Akron 70
Dartmouth 84 FINAL
Columbia 71
Valparaiso 56 FINAL
Cleveland State 53
Louisiana Tech 75 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 88
Seton Hall 77 FINAL
Xavier 60
Cornell 54 FINAL
Harvard 60
Yale 49 FINAL
(14) Princeton 67
Elon 51 FINAL
Drexel 54
Northeastern 47 FINAL
James Madison 82
St Johns 60 FINAL
Butler 49
Creighton 71 FINAL
Georgetown 62
Brown 58 FINAL
Penn 75
Columbia 50 FINAL
Dartmouth 60
Canisius 54 FINAL
Siena 58
St Josephs Brooklyn 35 FINAL
NJIT 78
Western Carolina 86 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 80
Colorado 66 FINAL
Arizona 51
Southern Ill 72 FINAL
Bradley 66
Drake 59 FINAL
Wichita State 80
Indiana State 71 FINAL
Evansville 53
Illinois State 53 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 67
Northern Iowa 70 FINAL
Missouri State 72
Utah 42 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 46
Providence 62 FINAL
Villanova 71
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