The 2012 State Farm Home Run Derby field is as powerful as ever, even though a couple of the strongest contenders are hampered by injuries.
In the past, some players have opted against participating in the Home Run Derby, choosing rest and relaxation over competition.
With the 2012 Home Run Derby on the horizon, the biggest question remains: How will Matt Kemp's balky hamstring hold up during the heated home run contest?
In his role as National League captain, Kemp invited St. Louis' Carlos Beltran, Miami's Giancarlo Stanton and Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez to partake in Monday's contest. American League captain Robinson Cano, the reigning champion, asked Detroit's Prince Fielder, Toronto's Jose Bautista and Los Angeles' Mark Trumbo to participate.
Kemp has been sidelined since May 30 with a strained left hamstring and will sit out the All-Star Game. He has 12 home runs in 36 games, and plans to flex his muscles at the Derby at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on Monday night.
"There have been times when I've swung and swung hard and my hamstring has cramped up," ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk said Thursday in a Home Run Derby conference call. "But I don't think [Dodgers manager] Don Mattingly and the training staff and medical staff of the Dodgers are going to let him do anything if they think there's any chance of risking injury."
Kruk will team with long-time Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and play-by-play announcer Chris Berman for Monday's Home Run Derby coverage. The Home Run Derby can be seen on MLB.com and ESPN at 8 p.m. ET on Monday. The All-Star Game is on FOX at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Garciaparra said he faced a situation similar to Kemp's ordeal in 1999, when he battled an injury as the Midsummer Classic approached.
"I was scheduled to come off [the disabled list] right after the All-Star Game. It was almost like my rehab game, being in the All-Star Game," said Garciaparra, a six-time All-Star. "So I used it in that sense, so it wasn't too bad, and I also knew it was only going to be a few innings and I was careful about it. I cleared it with everybody, talked to the doctors and the organization, and they all understood going into it how I was using it.
"[Kemp] has done it before. He knows what it's all about and the toll it takes on your body."
Kruk said that though repeating the swinging motion at maximum effort can cause lower body fatigue, his hands suffered the worst fate of any part of his body.
"I had to get an injection in my middle finger," said Kruk, a three-time All-Star with Philadelphia in the early '90s. "People thought it was because I was flipping off the Phillies' fans, but it was because of hitting extra batting practice. That's what got sore to me more than anything was my hands."
Kemp isn't the only player fighting through pain. Stanton missed the Marlins' recent series against the Brewers with a sore knee. He took swings in the batting cage on Thursday, two days after an MRI revealed he has "loose bodies" in the knee and may need surgery at the end of the season.
"This is something we knew was day to day, and today is a new day," Marlins general manager Michael Hill said. "We'll see how it feels."
Stanton, the youngest of this edition's participants at 22 years old, has tallied 19 homers despite not hitting his first this season until April 29. Stanton has made a habit of denting scoreboards with his moon shots.
"I don't think there's anyone in baseball -- maybe Mark Trumbo -- who just has that raw power that he has," Kruk said. "I think the great thing if you're a Marlins fan is he hasn't figured it out yet. When he figures it out, good God, it's going to get scary.
"I hope he can participate. If he does, what are his chances? They're as good as any because he's going to hit it as far as any of them. Is he going to risk how far he can hit it over how many he can hit? That might keep him from winning it."
Garciaparra also compared the powerful strokes of Stanton and Trumbo, saying he'd put his money on the two to hit the loudest home runs. Garciaparra has been intrigued by the play of Trumbo, who has 20 dingers.
"I like seeing new faces in this Home Run Derby," Garciaparra said, "and he was one of the ones I was hoping would be in it for a new face, because I think he can put it on display."
A left-handed hitter has won the Derby in each of the last four seasons. That's why Kruk likes Gonzalez's chances. The Rockies outfielder is batting .340 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs.
"With [Troy] Tulowitzki out, he's basically the Lone Ranger in that lineup," Kruk said. "As far as guys that have a chance to win the Home Run Derby -- normally it goes to a left-handed hitter -- he has as good a chance as any. ... He has an easy, effortless swing, like Cano did last year."
Cano will try to become the first player to win in consecutive years since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1998-99. Fielder finished third last season, while Bautista -- who leads baseball with 27 blasts -- placed sixth and Kemp finished last. Fielder also took part in the 2007 Derby, finishing sixth.
Regardless of who wins, Kruk is impressed by the field of participants.
"There have been a few years past when they've had to beg people to participate in it," Kruk said. "But I think because of the captains, it's hard to tell a peer, 'Thanks for asking, but I'm not going to do it.' So I think you're getting a higher echelon of power hitters doing it."