It was announced Friday that Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer will participate in the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby.
Mauer, a two-time batting champion, would seem an unlikely choice for the Derby, but he has already set a career high in home runs this season with 15, surpassing his previous high of 13 set back in 2006.
Many of his teammates, including last year’s Derby champion Justin Morneau, believe that Mauer shouldn’t be overlooked as a potential winner in the competition.
"The last couple rounds we start hitting home runs in batting practice and he goes up in that upper deck here at the Metrodome pretty much whenever he wants," Morneau said. "Believe me, he'll surprise some people with how far he can hit the ball."
One common theory around baseball is that players who perennially hit for high averages have the ability to put the ball out of the yard whenever they want, but choose not to do so in favor hitting for average.
Ichiro Suzuki, who—much like Mauer—consistently hits for a high average, was once asked how many home runs he could hit in a season if he were to concentrate on power.
His answer was somewhat controversial:
"If I'm allowed to bat .220,” Ichiro said. “I could probably hit 40.”
Although the statement took a shot at many of the feast-or-famine sluggers in Major League Baseball, it also sent a resounding message that pure hitters should never be discounted in the power department.
For his part Mauer isn’t about to make any bold statements about his power, but is more than willing to mention how excited he is just to be involved in the popular contest.
"I just think it's a great event," Mauer said. "Home Run Derby—I always told my buddies when we were younger—we always played it in the back yard and stuff like that. I always told them, if I ever had the opportunity to do it, I would jump at it, and it happened this year."
Every year there is a lot of talk about how the Derby has a negative impact on a player’s swing.
Last season, Texas Rangers’ slugger Josh Hamilton had 21 home runs heading into the All-Star break and ripped 35 homers in the Derby, a record 28 of them in the first round. Nearly a full year later, Hamilton has only left the yard a total 17 times.
Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu set the record for most home runs in the Derby with 41 in 2005. Many believe he hasn’t been the same since. After averaging 20 or more long balls in the previous seven seasons he’s only gone deep 63 times since his big Derby win.
Despite these examples of the Derby hurting a player‘s swing, Mauer—who currently leads both leagues with a .381 average--doesn’t seem overly concerned.
"I don't think one night will affect your swing for the rest of the season," Mauer said. "It might be a little tiring, but as far as mechanically, I don't think so."
Luckily for Mauer, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire isn’t concerned about his participation in the derby either.
"Joe's got a great swing and he's going to do what he needs to do,” Gardenhire said. “I don't think it'll affect him.”
Gardenhire and Morneau aren’t the only members of the Twins with confidence in Mauer’s chances this Monday.
"There is no question in my mind he'll win," Twins starting pitcher Glen Perkins said. "I'll put my paycheck on it."
Clearly no one in the Twins organization is worried, perhaps that’s a sign that the other mashers in the Derby should be.
To find out how a pure hitter like Mauer stacks up against baseball’s elite sluggers like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, be sure to catch the State Farm Home Run Derby this Monday.