The Minnesota Twins will have at least two players representing them as they host the 2014 All-Star Game.
Kurt Suzuki is getting his first shot at an appearance in the Midsummer Classic. Glen Perkins can now call himself a two-time All-Star.
Suzuki broke into the big leagues with Oakland in 2007. A career .257 hitter, he's never been known as an offensive juggernaut. But as a reliable backstop, he's carved out a solid career by handling pitching staffs and answering the bell daily despite his fair share of bumps and bruises.
After deciding to move Joe Mauer to first base, the Twins needed a veteran presence at catcher. Josmil Pinto showed some signs last season, but certainly wasn't ready to be behind the plate day-in and day-out.
So Minnesota signed Suzuki in the off-season to a 1-year, $2.75 million deal. Not rich by Major League standards, but reasonable considering he hit .232/.290/.337 in 2013 while splitting time between Washington and Oakland.
To say Suzuki has exceeded expectations is putting it mildly.
Coming into Sunday's game with the Yankees, he'd put together a slash-line of .308/.366/.400.
Among American League catchers, Suzuki ranked 1st in Batting Average (.308) and OBP (.366), T1st in Doubles (17), 2nd in Hits (77) and T3rd in RBI (34).
Manager Ron Gardenhire cited those numbers as making Suzuki deserving of an All-Star nod.
“He has the numbers. He's done a great job for us and we're very proud for him,” Gardenhire said, “and very happy for him and his family. It's a big thing for him and he's very excited.”
Baseball reference puts his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 2.1 games. Fangraphs has him slightly lower at 1.2 WAR.
Whichever version you prefer, there's no question that the number is higher than would've been predicted before the year began.
He was asked if he came into this season thinking he'd have a shot at making the AL All-Star squad.
“I always try to be positive. I always envision it. After the last two years there was definitely a little bit of doubt in there,” Suzuki said, “but you try and stay positive and put in a lot of hard work and time. I believed in myself, it's just a matter of going out there and performing.”
And his contributions haven't just been on the offensive side of the ball.
Suzuki has taken multiple foul balls off thinly-protected areas over the course of the season, and even managed to clothesline himself on a railing chasing after a foul ball in a game this past week. But even with the wear and tear that's unique to the catching position, Suzuki has caught 72 of the Twins 87 games this season.
Asked if he was going to have to cancel previous plans, Suzuki said he had planned to stay in town anyway.
“This is definitely a much better plan for the [All-Star] break than what I had,” Suzuki said.
It's an honor to be selected to an All-Star Game - an honor that most players don't receive over the course of their career. But a player really starts to enter rarefied air when he's selected to multiple All-Star Games.
And you can now add Twins closer Glen Perkins to that list.
Perkins had his first All-Star experience last year at Citi Field as the Mets hosted the Midsummer Classic.
This season, he not only gets to make an appearance in his home ballpark, but also in the town he's called home most of his life.
“I did everything I could do to be here,” Perkins said, “I don't think it's really sunk in yet. But I'm excited to represent the Twins and the state. It's a dream come true.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire could tell how badly Perkins wanted to make the All-Star roster.
“When I talked to him [Perkins] after I talked to the manager [Boston skipper John Farrell], he took a deep breath and sighed,” Gardenhire said, “he was really excited. It was something that was weighing on his mind heavily. This was something that he wanted very badly and rightfully so.”
Perkins was drafted by the Twins in the first round of the 2004 draft and made his Major League debut with the club in 2006.
Beginning his career as a starter, Perkins eventually transitioned to the bullpen and after collecting a pair of saves in 2011 and a handful more in 2012, he became the Twins closer full time and turned himself in to a two-time All-Star.
Perkins ERA is up a touch from last season – 3.22 as opposed to 2.30 last year – but that may be slightly misleading since his FIP (1.84) would indicate he hasn't exactly had rock-solid defense working behind him.
His peripherals would support his inclusion in the All-Star Game as well. His Home Run Rate (0.5) and Walk Rate (1.7) are down from his career averages (1.0 & 2.3) and his Strikeout Rate (11.9) is up (7.2).
Each of those statistics are also improved over his numbers last season – when he joined Joe Mauer as All-Star representatives from the Twins.
Asked about having Kurt Suzuki alongside him, Perkins had a joke at the ready.
“I have a knack for bringing catchers,” Perkins said, “I'm excited for him. He's had a heck of year. He's been our best player. Hopefully I'll get to throw the ball to him.”
After not getting into the game in 2013, Twins manager – and All-Star coach - Ron Gardenhire is determined to make sure he gets in this year.
“I'll be on the bench,” Gardenhire said, “I'll just sneak him out there.”