Abreu, Chapman, Stanton headline players to watch at All-Star Game
All eyes will be on Derek Jeter at the start of Tuesday night's All-Star Game, the final one of his illustrious 20-year career. Particularly given that he's batting leadoff for the American League, you can expect a tribute accompanied by a huge ovation — perhaps not as dramatic as Mariano Rivera's solo entry last year, or as organic as Alex Rodriguez yielding shortstop to Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001, but something a bit out of the ordinary. Beyond that must-see moment, here are my picks for five players on each side to keep eyes upon.
Jose Abreu, reserve first baseman
The White Sox' slugger has made a strong impression with his first half-season stateside, clocking an MLB-leading 29 homers while batting .292/.342/.630. Alas, he bypassed the Home Run Derby, claiming the exhibition wasn't his cup of tea, so his appearance in the game — particularly one that will have such a strong Cuban presence — will be the subject of that much more focus. Who wouldn’t want to see him rise to the occasion with a dinger?
Jose Altuve, reserve second baseman
The smallest All-Star at 5-foot-6, the pint-sized Altuve has rebounded from a subpar year to bat a sizzling .335/.373/.436 while leading the league in both hits (130) and stolen bases (41 in 44 attempts). The latter gives him great tactical value as a late-inning pinch-runner, should AL manager John Farrell find himself in need of one, but there's also reason to hope — as colleague Cliff Corcoran suggested — that we could get a giggle from seeing him in a mound conference alongside a towering hurler such as 6-8 Dellin Betances or 6-5 Yu Darvish.
Yoenis Cespedes, reserve outfielder
Quick, who was the last Home Run Derby winner to go yard in an All-Star Game? You have to go back to 2003, when the Angels' Garret Anderson joined Ripken (1991) and Frank Thomas (1995) as the only ones to do so; Derby winners have produced just three of the 55 All-Star homers in that span. Cespedes' 2014 numbers are nothing to write home about — .246/.299/.442, a dead ringer for last year's injury-plagued season — but in becoming just the second player to win back-to-back Derbies (Ken Griffey Jr. being the first, in 1998-1999), he's shown his flair for dramatic fireworks at the plate. He’s no less capable of wowing the crowd with his arm either.
Mike Trout, starting leftfielder
The 22-year-old is already making his third All-Star appearance and his second straight start (he's 2-for-4 with a walk, a double and a steal so far, in case you’re wondering). He's having a phenomenal season as well, batting .310/.400/.606 with 22 homers and 10 steals without being caught en route to a career-best (and league-leading) 182 OPS+ as well as a league-leading 5.5 Wins Above Replacement. Batting second for the AL, his first plate appearance will follow whatever transpires for the Big Jeter Moment; bet on him to take his time stepping into the box to prolong the ovation, and on getting at least a couple of chances to put his own stamp on the game.
Koji Uehara, relief pitcher
While he hasn’t been as sensational as last year due to trouble keeping the ball in the park — his rate of 1.2 homers per nine is double last year’s — Uehara’s 1.65 ERA and 9.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio still speak to his dominance. But what’s particularly special here is that at 39 years old, after 10 seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball and six in the majors, he’s this year’s oldest first-time All-Star. Watching him take it all in once he enters the game (assuming he does) should make for a very cool moment.
Aroldis Chapman, relief pitcher
Since returning from the terror and trauma of his line-drive induced facial injuries, Chapman has been even more dominant than usual, striking out a mind-boggling 18.2 per nine en route to a 0.54 FIP in his 29 2/3 innings. Watching him throw triple-digit heat against the game’s top stars should be a treat — but please, nowhere near their heads.
Hunter Pence, reserve outfielder
Pence is all elbows and kneecaps, to use the inimitable Vin Scully’s description, but somehow he makes his awkward-looking swing work; the 31-year-old Giants star is batting .297/.355/.465 for an impressive 135 OPS+. Likely to enter the game in the late innings, chances are he’ll do something highlight-worthy, even if it’s merely giving off his wide-eyed I-must-return-to-my-home-planet stare.
Yaisel Puig, starting rightfielder
He was a total dud in his first Home Run Derby, failing to homer even once, but that hardly seemed to bother Puig, who was having plenty of fun taking in the festivities while showing off his All-Star haircut:
At the plate, on the bases or in the field, Puig is a human highlight film, capable of both brilliance and bone-headedness. Bet on him to do something — whether it’s a bat-flip homer, an extra base taken, or a monster throw from rightfield that rekindles memories of Dave Parker in the 1979 Midsummer Classic — that will have everyone buzzing.
Giancarlo Stanton, starting designated hitter
In the first round of Monday night’s Home Run Derby, Stanton put on a show, with an NL-high six homers that averaged 412 feet, the longest average distance of any competitors. Alas, the wonky setup with its second-round bye led to him not getting another chance to take his hacks for nearly two hours, and when he did, the magic was gone; he didn’t produce a single homer in the third round. Expect him to atone for that in the first All-Star start of his career.
Adam Wainwright, starting pitcher
Chosen for starting honors over Clayton Kershaw by his own manager, Wainwright is Johnny On The Spot, not only for holding his own when his performance is inevitably compared to that of the reigning NL Cy Young winner but also for providing the complement to Jeter’s tribute by getting back to business. It remains to be seen whether Mike Matheny will call upon Wainwright for two innings, but it’s a possibility so long as he avoids an embarrassment on the level of Roger Clemens in 2004 or Justin Verlander in 2012.