Pujols an early favorite for HR Derby

All eyes on Pujols for HR Derby

First, a quick reminder for all you fans of the State Farm Home Run Derby.

Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers hit 28 balls out -- and we're talking waaaaaaaay out -- of Yankee Stadium in the first round of the 2008 Derby. Twenty-eight!

OK.

Now that we've got that astonishing fact out of the way, we can concentrate on 2009.

And since the full American and National League rosters for the 80th All-Star Game were announced Sunday and the teams are set for the Midsummer Classic, which will be played a week from Tuesday in St. Louis, we can begin speculating on who will be the ones blasting the balls out of Busch Stadium in the Derby on Monday night, All-Star Eve.

Hamilton unfortunately, but understandably, will not participate as he continues to recover from June 9 surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle.

"I had planned on doing the Home Run Derby if I got back before I went on the disabled list twice," Hamilton said.

Hamilton's absence figures to leave all eyes on St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols.

Not only did Pujols have a Major League-leading 31 long balls through Sunday, but Busch is his home turf, so he'd be a natural choice for potential Derby domination.

When asked Sunday about possible participation, the man they call "The Machine" offered a non-committal, "I don't know yet."

Here are two reasons why that's a good sign that he'll sign up: First of all, he didn't say, "No," and second of all, Pujols was announced Sunday as the NL winner in the inaugural State Farm Home Run Derby fan poll, beating Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers. In other words, the people have spoken.

American League fan poll winner Evan Longoria, meanwhile, might have other plans during the mashing marathon, which he participated in last year.

"They haven't asked me anything yet," Longoria said Sunday. "Last year I remember they asked me the day of the vote, that's when I got the call [to be in the contest]. I kind of don't want to hit in it this year. If they need somebody, I'll do it again. I'd rather just relax. It's kind of a nerve-racking ordeal."

It wasn't for Twins slugger Justin Morneau, who actually won the whole thing last year when he beat a gassed Hamilton in the final, but Morneau said he'd probably skip the event this time around.

"I've thought about it a lot," Morneau said. "Any time I can get a day off, I might need to take advantage of it. We'll see once it gets closer to it. Right now, I'm leaning towards not doing it. I've done it a couple times. If there are guys that would rather do it, that's fine with me. I'll go out on top, I guess [laughs]."

Morneau's teammate on the Twins and on the AL All-Star team, catcher Joe Mauer, said he'd like to give it a shot if asked. Mauer already has hit a career-high 14 home runs in 58 games this season, including 11 in May alone. He missed all of April because of lower back inflammation.

"If they ask me, I'd have a tough time saying no," Mauer said. "Something might be hurting or something like that, but I don't know if they want to see me go the other way [to left field] or anything like that. So we'll see what happens."

Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who made the event's semifinals last year but suffered from back pain later in the year, said he'd have to think about it, too.

"I would want to see where I'm at, physically, before I committed," Braun said. "Having that extra day of rest would obviously be nice. But it was a lot of fun last year. I really enjoyed it. If I'm fortunate enough to be invited, I'll cross that bridge then."

One man -- and a big one at that -- we're likely to see in the Derby is Phillies slugger and St. Louis native Howard, the 2006 Derby champ, who expressed no reservations Sunday when asked about participating.

"I think it would be fun to do it in my hometown," he said. "It would be nice."

Other All-Stars who said they're pumped to potentially give the Derby a try include Astros outfielder Hunter Pence and his teammate, Miguel Tejada, who won the 2004 Derby at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

"Any player would love to be in the Home Run Derby," Tejada said. "I bet they're going to ask some other guys before they ask me. If they ask me, I'm definitely going to go, but they will ask some other players first."

Could be, and there's a long line of players willing to be Derby-bound if they get the call.

NL All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder said Sunday that he'd do it, and so did Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge, a Final Vote candidate.

"Heck yeah," Inge said. "I don't care if I hit none. It would be fun to just try."

The same goes for another AL Final Vote candidate, Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena.

"It's just a cool thing," Pena aid. "That's the best way to describe it. It would be so cool."

Pena's teammate, first-time All-Star infielder Ben Zobrist, agreed.

"I'd give it a shot," he said. "It would be fun and it would be something that I've tried to do in BP before, so maybe it will work out."

Russell Branyan of the Mariners, who had 20 long balls through Sunday, didn't make the All-Star team but said he would be receptive to competing in the Derby, too.

"If they invited me I would go in a heartbeat," he said. "I would go to St. Louis and hit a few if they want me to."

The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

On Monday night, the Derby will traditionally serve as the big lead-up to the Midsummer Classic, even though for as many "Yes" men uncovered when asked about the Derby on Sunday, a few more high-profile naysayers emerged.

Cleveland Indians slugger Victor Martinez said he's not interested, Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez said he'd decline an invitation, and Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira was adamant about not participating.

"I did it in 2005 and I was terrible and embarrassed myself, so I'm not going to do that again," Teixeira said.

"I'm just not a Home Run Derby guy. It doesn't fit well for me. If I go out there and just hit two or three home runs, I'd rather let someone else go out and do it."

Baltimore Orioles All-Star outfielder Adam Jones will gladly be that someone if he's extended the offer.

He said Sunday that he wants to be a part of the Derby and that it won't mess up his swing.

"I do Home Run Derby every day," Jones said.

"In the last two rounds of BP."

Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.