Jorge Polanco earns starting nod for All-Star Game

Jorge Polanco found out at pretty much the same time as everybody else Thursday, Minnesota Twins' fans and teammates alike, that he was headed to the Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.

Thursday's marathon 18-inning 5-2 Twins' loss to the Tampa Bay Rays was more than five hours old when the public address announcer dropped the news. More than 31,000 fans were at Target Field Thursday, but a fraction of them were left before the top of the 18th. That's when Polanco found out that not only was he an All-Star, he's the starter at shortstop for the American League.

That's less than a year removed from starting the 2018 season serving an 80-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Now, Polanco is one of the best hitters in the American League and will take his talents to Cleveland on July 9.

He's the first Twins' starter in the All-Star Game since 2013, a guy who just had his No. 7 jersey retired at Target Field: Joe Mauer.

"I feel great. I feel great that I'm going to be the starting shortstop in the All-Star Game. That's a dream come true. I was waiting for this moment and I feel really happy," Polanco said after Thursday's loss.

Polanco leads the Twins with a .321 average and is fourth on the team in slugging at .530. The on base-plus slugging percentage at .909 is second only to catcher Mitch Garver. His batting average ranks second in the American League and seventh in baseball. His 11 homers are also seventh on the Twins, who lead MLB collectively with 149 homers.

He's played 75 of Minnesota's 80 games at shortstop and been a mainstay after the organization experience plenty of change in the offseason.

"It's great for Polo, for the organization, for everybody involved. He's a class act, he's a tremendous player. To say he's earned this I think would be an understatement," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Has the respect of everybody and is one of the better hitters in all of baseball that you're going to see. Couldn't be happier for him. Today is a great day to celebrate Polo."

The Twins added plenty of pieces in the offseason in the hopes of making a playoff run. C.J. Cron replaced Joe Mauer at first, Jonathon Schoop replaced Brian Dozier at second, Nelson Cruz took over as designated hitter and Marwin Gonzalez plays wherever Baldelli tells him to.

Amongst all that, Polanco has been one of the most consistent players in the game at one of the most demanding positions in baseball. In 75 games, Polanco has committed just nine errors in 241 total chances. He's also turned 23 double plays.

Baldelli doesn't have to think very hard on a daily basis when it comes to who's in charge at short. His teammates agree.

"It's unbelievable. He's been kind of that key there in the middle. Him and Nelly (Nelson Cruz) and Kep (Max Kepler) have been really good at the top of the order for us and I'm super happy for him," Cron said. "It's going to be fun for him I'm sure and he's a starter too, so that will be exciting."

It took a fan vote to get Polanco there, but he won't be alone. Cron, Cruz and Eddie Rosario were also up for starting spots on the American League squad. They'll have a great shot to get there as reserves, and the Twins could also be sending pitchers Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Taylor Rogers to Cleveland for the July 9 Mid-Summer Classic.

Polanco is a big reason why the Twins have gotten off to a 52-28 start through 80 games, and lead the AL Central by eight games over the Cleveland Indians. He signed a 5-year, $25 million contract in Spring Training to be the steadying force in the middle of the Twins infield.

He's been worth every penny of his $3.58 million base salary this season.

Polanco said Thursday he hopes to be joined by a few of his teammates in Cleveland in a few weeks. He says several of them are playing like All-Stars. He's also thankful for his own opportunity.

"It means a lot to me to represent the Minnesota Twins and my teammates, everybody that is part of this team. It feels good for me to represent," Polanco said.