Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is on the precipice of being selected to his first ever MLB All-Star Game after he was named one of five American League “Final Vote’’ candidates for the 2018 midsummer classic. The practice began in 2002, allowing fans to select the final all-star honoree on each roster. The 2018 MLB All-Star Game will take place on July 17 at Nationals Park.
Benintendi’s credentials are well-known around these parts. His sparkling slash line – .293/.379/.515 – has been compiled with a mix of power and finesse, the youngster mashing 14 homers and stealing 16 bases in 87 games. But how does Boston’s precocious 24-year old stack up to his competition?
Here’s everything you need to know about the four players standing between Benintendi and a flight to the nation’s capital next week.
Numbers – A common visual at Yankee Stadium in April featured Stanton puttering back to the dugout with a blank stare afixed to his mug, brow furrowed, boos showering down. But the righty masher subtly turned things around and now sports a .267/.341/.510 slash line bolstered by 21 home runs and 52 RBI. Stanton is a regular atop the StatCast leaderboards. On Sunday he registered the sixth hardest ball ever tracked by MLB’s advanced analytics partner, a scalded 120.3 mile per hour single off Toronto starter Ryan Borucki. Stanton’s whiffing woes of the spring haven’t fully abated, his 31.5 strikeout percentage a career high. Curiously, the righty is on pace to notch a career-low fly ball rate (34.4 percent) despite playing in New York’s home run friendly confines.
Chatter – The former Marlin turned heads by christening his transition to pinstripes with a new batting stance. Stanton now closes off his front shoulder in near exaggerated fashion, coiling his bat behind him to minimize wasted movement on the path toward the ball. Though the tweak isn’t resulting in diminished strikeout totals, Stanton is barreling up more balls as of late. He has appeared in four All-Star Games and will enjoy the splendors of New York’s robust social media following, projecting as Benintendi’s stiffest competition. New York boasts 3.4 million Twitter followers, over one million more than any of the other clubs with a Final Vote candidate.
Numbers – In a year of flux for former Minnesota top prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, the less-heralded Rosario is blazing his own path as a crucial element of the Twins future. Rosario’s value rests in his ability to provide a bit of everything. The 26-year old outfielder is hitting over .300, has provided plus-power (18 homers, 53 RBIs), stolen six bases, and struck out in a career-low 17.7 percent of at-bats. Rosario isn’t just making contact more frequently; he’s trafficking in a better brand of batted ball. Rosario’s 38.1 hard hit percentage represents a significant spike over his previous career high of 31.7 percent in 2017.
Chatter – Minnesota may have over five times fewer Twitter followers than the Yankees, but at least those in charge of the Twins’ social media are hip. Rosario’s campaign is drawing upon imagery popularized by ABC’s hit reality show The Bachelor, in which a rose is presented to preferred contestants at the conclusion of the show. “Will you accept this Rosie?’’ reads the header to Minnesota’s Twitter account. The team has also partnered with neighboring Milwaukee to form the “Border Ballot,’’ which encourages fans to support both Rosario and the Brewers’ Jesus Aguilar.
Numbers — Simmons has long electrified crowds with his dazzling exploits flaunting the leather at shortstop. The 28-year old added tools to his arsenal and is now a more complete player. Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement metric, Simmons has been one of the 10 most valuable players in baseball this season, trailing only a handful of names that include Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Aaron Judge. The former Atlanta Brave is striking out less than once every 22 at bats, and is enjoying career highs in on base percentage (.369) and slugging (.436). Simmons’ ability to hone his batting eye has paid dividends. He is swinging at a career-low number of pitches outside the strike zone and sports a hard-hit percentage nearly 10 points above his career average.
Chatter — The Angels’ social media squad would be smart to share Simmons’s defensive highlight reel as frequently as possible in the coming days. Even with puffier offensive totals in 2018, Simmons’ mastery with the glove is what sets him apart. In addition to the circulation of jaw-dropping plays, Los Angeles is drawing upon a cult classic, The Lion King, to garner support for the man they call “Simba,’’ a popular character in the film turned moniker for the Angel shortstop. Simmons’s teammates are even using bribery as means of galvanizing the masses. On Twitter, Trout offered a signed, game-used cleat to a follower who had typed the magic hashtag: #VoteSimba.
Numbers — The Seattle shortstop is batting .330, has swiped 14 bases, and is on pace to set a career-high in runs scored (he has 61 entering Monday). Shifts aren’t seeming to bother the 28-year old; Segura is going the opposite way a career-low percentage of the time and is pulling balls more than ever before. Additionally, Segura is identifying the right pitches to hit. He’s making contact with over 95 percent of balls thrown in the strike zone, a clear career-best. For the first time, his line-drive percentage is north of 20 percent. Defense, a longtime staple of Segura’s game, remains a plus.
Chatter — Mariners fans feared their lineup would suffer decreased production when second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for PED use in May. Instead, Segura and his new double-play mate, Dee Gordon, picked up the slack, Seattle surging into contention alongside Houston for the AL West crown. The Mariners coined a clever play-on-words that draws on Segura’s speed to front the shortstop’s campaign: #SendSegura.