Young stars are showing Major League talent
Home Run Derby champ Judge among those impact players
MIAMI -- We are seeing a sport transformed right in front of our eyes. These kids rule, don't they? They captivate us. They amaze us.
That's the larger story of this All-Star break. To watch this generation of young guys perform is to be dazzled by their joy and energy.
It was on full display in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday night when Yankees rookie Aaron Judge won with one jaw-dropping moonshot after another.
He's 25 years old, and has been in the Major Leagues less than a year. He batted .179 last season. The Yankees guessed that eventually his talent would overcome whatever weaknesses were in his game.
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Judge has done that. He leads the American League in home runs (30), on-base percentage (.448) and OPS (1.139), and he is the frontrunner to be both the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player.
One of his Derby swings on Monday produced a baseball that traveled 513 feet. You can watch the replay a dozen times and not get your mind around the speed and strength that produced such a thing.
As Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon said, "You can't really appreciate it until you see the velocity and the carry he gets."
Youth was the backstory of the Home Run Derby, just as it has been the entire backstory of this season. Of the eight entrants, four were 25 or younger, including 21-year-old Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger.
Bellinger made his debut in the 20th game of the season, and he still has 25 home runs in 70 games, becoming the second-fastest to 25 homers in MLB history. He said he benefited by seeing other young players do well.
"It's unbelievable, man," he said. "It just goes to show, at least for me, coming up I'd see a bunch of young guys succeeding, and it kind of makes you feel you can actually do it."
The AL All-Star team has 13 players 25 or under, including four starters: Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (22), Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez (24), Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts (24) and Judge.
The National League team has seven players 25 or under and one starter -- 24-year-old Bryce Harper of the Nationals. In all, 46 of this summer's All-Stars are making either their first or second appearance in the contest.
"It's incredible to me, knowing how long it took me to hone my skills, for those guys to be 21, 22, 23, and be as good as they are," Reds shortstop Zack Cozart said.
How did we get here? Once upon a time, Major League teams had a strict developmental blueprint in which players had to succeed at every level of the Minor Leagues.
Jose Pujols turned heads when he made the Cardinals out of Spring Training in 2001 after playing just three games above Class A Advanced ball. The Cardinals were determined to send him back down for more experience, but he hit the ball so hard so consistently that spring that it seemed, well, silly.
Bryce Harper was 19 when he made his debut for the Nats in 2012. He wasn't a dominant player in those first two seasons, but there was never a moment when he looked overmatched. He's about to play in his fifth All-Star Game presented by Mastercard tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
Michael Trout was 20 when he arrived in the big leagues to stay and was 23 when he won the first of two AL MVP Awards.
He'll make his first All-Star appearance tonight, starting at shortstop for the AL. He made his Major League debut at 20 in 2015 and looked like a polished veteran from the first moment.
This is the season he has become a full blown star, but Correa had greatness written all over him all along.
"I remember [former Astros manager] Bo Porter telling me about him," Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. "He said talent was just part of it. He just had that something you see in special players."
In the end, it's about talent. If a player has talent, he can survive whatever challenges are thrown at him.
"I think what you're seeing is player development people doing a good job of recognizing when guys are ready for the big leagues," Blackmon said. "Especially pitchers. If you're throwing 98 mph and getting people out, there's no reason to waste your bullets. Get him up and let me make adjustments at higher levels."
Seven pitchers 25 or younger were selected for this All-Star Game. They're wasting no bullets.
Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.