In 20 days, the game’s best players will grace Target Field’s very green — and hopefully very dry — outfield grass. Some of what will sparkle on July 15 we have been able to see coming for months. Mike Trout will be showing off his five-tool skills. Derek Jeter will be tipping his cap for a few thousand cellphone cameras. Jose Bautista again will be taking aim at Target Field’s second deck. But, as with everything in baseball, we know nothing for certain until it happens before our eyes. Here are some players to watch across the big leagues over the next three weeks:
Who’s a VIRTUAL lock to be here?
Three players have surpassed three million fan votes: Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Bautista and Trout. And we can’t imagine Jeter, who has a slim lead in AL shortstop voting, not being here. Other leading vote-getters to get excited about: Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (NL, 1B), Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (AL, 1B) and thrilling NL youngsters Yasiel Puig and Andrew McCutchen.
Representing the home team …
Let’s confront the elephant in the clubhouse first: Is Joe Mauer in or out? Out, as of today, even with the strong tail winds of being the hometown guy and the All-Star ambassador. A .261 average and two homers isn’t enough. Mauer can get as hot as anyone, however, and his prospects could change if the six-time All-Star is hitting .275 in the middle of next week. Either way, let’s not totally count out a local pick. More deserving than Mauer: Second baseman Brian Dozier (15 HRs, 15 stolen bases), catcher Kurt Suzuki (.321), Phil Hughes (8-3, 82 strikeouts) and Glen Perkins (19 saves, third in AL).
Ex-TWINS? More than one, fewer than eight
A repeat of last year’s eight (eight!) former Twins honored won’t happen, but there will be a familiar face or three along the baselines. Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez can book a plane ticket. Boston’s David Ortiz, about 800,000 votes behind Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz in voting, and Colorado’s Justin Morneau could get manager nods. Don’t expect a return from: J.J. Hardy, Torii Hunter, Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain or Michael Cuddyer. Don’t count out Kyle Lohse (9-2. 3.20 ERA with Milwaukee), however.
Get to know ’em
Oakland’s Josh Donaldson (first in AL 3B voting) and Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton (fourth in NL OF voting) might be the best players you know too little about. They are second and third, respectively, in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) behind Tulowitzki, and they are on pace to 20-plus homers and 60-plus RBI by the break. Beat the July 15 buzz and study up on these two young stars now.