As Twins manager Rocco Baldelli sat on the pregame Zoom call Saturday afternoon, he was asked which of his players he felt deserved consideration for an All-Star Game nod.
“He's certainly given another tremendous half of work on the mound,” Baldelli said of José Berríos, who owns a 7-2 record, a 3.52 ERA and a 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. “You start comparing him to other guys throughout the league, and he stacks up very well with pretty much everybody you could bring up.
“There's the interesting conversation of Byron Buxton, who's been the best player in baseball for the time he's been on the field,” Baldelli said of the injured center fielder, who’s slashing .369/.409/.767 but has been limited to just 27 games in 2021. “I think that you start looking at some of the other guys who were voted in that only played maybe a few more games than him, and I don't know how you don't consider him as well.”
When the All-Star Game reserves were announced on Sunday, only one of the players Baldelli discussed -- and arguably the one most-deserving -- was given the All-Star nod: Nelson Cruz.
“He works so hard,” Baldelli said Sunday. “[Nelson] doesn’t do it for the personal accolades. He does it for many, many reasons involving many, many people -- his teammates most importantly. So he takes a lot of pride in what he does. He works very hard. He puts himself in these spots where he has to get acknowledged because he’s such a great player.”
Cruz was picked to take one of the three designated hitter spots in the American League as a choice of Major League Baseball, the seventh time he’s been named an All-Star and his first time with Minnesota.
In his 17th year in the Majors, Cruz is putting together one of the finest seasons of his career. Despite being scratched from Sunday’s lineup with a stiff neck, Cruz already has 18 home runs and 45 RBIs in just 72 games. He’s hitting .306 with a .952 OPS, both of which would be the fourth-best marks of his career. And he’s been even better recently, with a .369 average, six home runs and 15 RBIs in his last 17 games.
The advanced numbers like Cruz, too. According to Baseball Savant, Cruz ranks in the top 10 percent of Major League hitters in average exit velocity (93.5 mph, 97th percentile), hard-hit percentage (54.7, 97th), barrel percentage (15.4, 93rd), expected slugging (.580, 95th) and expected average (.290, 91st).
“He’s performed this year. He’s been a rock in the middle of the lineup,” Baldelli said. “He’s one of the oldest players in the game, but he posts up and wants to play every day. He’s been phenomenal since his first day in a Twins uniform. He’s been phenomenal, and we’ve gotten more of it this year. He’s a well-deserving All-Star.”
Assuming he gets an at-bat on July 13 at Coors Field, Cruz would become the 20th player to appear in an All-Star Game after turning 41, and the first since 41-year-old Trevor Hoffman appeared out of the National League bullpen in 2009.
It was always going to be tough for Cruz to earn the fan vote with the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani making history seemingly every game, but in earning a spot on the AL roster, it confirmed Cruz is still taking care of business against Father Time.
“With the way he’s playing, he stays healthy or takes care of himself and looks better than a lot of guys 10 years younger than him,” Baldelli said. “He’ll laugh and have a good time with the best of them as well. He knows how old he is, and I don’t think any of that ever really comes into his mind, though, when he’s at the ballpark, because he gets to just play baseball.”