We are living in the era of the home run. They are being launched at a record pace this season – June’s production was the highest in Major League history. And Monday is the night the sport celebrates the long ball with its annual “Home Run Derby” featuring eight of the game’s young sluggers.
The winner gets to join Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge among those in the fraternity of winners. And for the first time ever, he will collect a tidy $1 million if he does.
Here’s a look at the quarterfinal match-ups:
Matt Chapman (Oakland) vs. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (Toronto)
Chapman was named as a last-minute replacement for Christian Yelich, the National League’s reigning MVP who leads the Majors with 31 homers this season.
Chapman has 21 homers in 89 games this season, three in his last 10 games. In only his third MLB season, he has hit 59 homers.
“I’m excited,” Chapman told San Francisco Chronicle. “I knew I was on a list of people they could call if someone dropped out. It will be a fun time; it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.
“When I was a little kid, we’d watch the Home Run Derby and I don’t think we thought in a million years I’d be in a Home Run Derby, but at the time, my dad was like, ‘If you ever got to do that, I would want to throw to you.'”
Guerrero, the son of Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero, was only recalled from Triple A on April 24. His selection is certainly an effort to inject some additional interest in the event. He’s not even on the AL’s All-Star team.
It’s too early to tell if he will be as prolific a homerun hitter as his father was. Vlad, Jr., has only eight homers in 225 at-bats and has hit only one in his last 10 games. But he regularly puts on major power displays during batting practice, so the punch is definitely there.
Guerrero’s eight home runs are the fewest career homers by any Home Run Derby participant since the event began in 1985. But his father won the event in 2007. At 20 years and 114 days, he breaks the 1990 record by Ken Griffey Jr. (20 years, 230 days) for youngest participant in the Derby.
“It feels great to be a part of it,” Guerrero Jr. told MLB.com. “I’m just going to go out there and compete. I’m going to do my best and hopefully I’ll win it.”
Alex Bregman (Houston) vs. Joc Pederson (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Bregman has quickly established himself as one the game’s premier power hitters at third base. He already has 23 homers this season, 54 over the last two seasons, 81 in his career. He was fifth in MVP voting last season.
He returns from last year’s event when he hit 15 homers, but lost to Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. Bregman hit a 10th-inning, go-ahead solo homer for the American League and won the All-Star Game MVP Award last year in Washington.
No Astro has ever won the Derby, not even Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, who was in four of them.
Pederson is in his second event. He participated in 2015 at beat both Albert Pujols and Manny Machado in the quarters and semifinals before losing to Todd Frazier in the finals by just one. He hit a combined 39 homers, the same overall total as Frazier.
He has hit 20 homers this season as a platoon player and has 107 in his career. No Dodger – most recently Corey Seager in 2016, Cody Bellinger in 2017 and Max Muncy in 2018 – has won the event and his second-place finish was the best by any player in the club’s history.
Bellinger has four of the Dodgers’ six hardest-hit homers this season, according to Statcast, including the second and third hardest-hit. He hit one 113.7 mph on May 10 against the Nationals.
Pete Alonso (New York Mets) vs. Carlos Santana (Cleveland)
Alonso has broken Darryl Strawberry’s team rookie home run record (26 in 1983) by blasting 30 in the first half of the season. It took Alonso only 77 games to break Straw’s mark. Unlike many of the other participants, he has tremendous power to all fields; many of his homers this season has been to right-center. Plus, he already has six homers this season which have traveled at least 440 feet. Strawberry is the only Mets player to win the Derby, but he had to share it with Wally Joyner of the Angels in 1986.
His 118.3 mph home run on April 11 is the hardest by a Met since Statcast started tracking them in 2015. He has 11 home runs 110 mph or harder, second behind the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez. Alonso is also in position to chase Judge’s rookie MLB record of 52 in 2017. Bellinger also set the NL rookie mark in 2017, finishing with 39.
If he wins, Alonso has announced he will donate 5% of the $1 million grand prize to the Wounded Warrior Project and another 5% to Tunnel for Towers, a Staten Island-based nonprofit that aids first responders and their families.
Santana, who has 19 homers this season and will start at first base for the AL All-Stars on Tuesday, will no doubt be boosted by the home crowd, which will might be very important in his battle against the brute strength of Alonso. He’s played nine of his 10 MLB seasons in Cleveland.
If he wins he’ll join Harper, Frazier and Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs (1990) as the only players to do so on their home field. Since Cleveland’s home park opened in 1994, Santana has hit 97 homers there, behind only Jim Thome (190), Manny Ramirez (132), and Travis Hafner (97).
Its been a very long time since an Indians player was even in the Home Run Derby. Grady Sizemore was last (2008) and no representative of the Tribe has ever won it. In fact, Sizemore’s appearance at Yankee Stadium was the first by any Cleveland player since 1998. The Indians are one of 11 teams never to field a Derby winner.
Josh Bell (Pittsburgh) vs. Ronald Acuna, Jr. (Atlanta)
There has been no more surprising player in MLB this year than Bell, the Pirates first baseman, who has 26 homers this season. He has seemingly found his groove and is belting homers at a remarkable place for a guy who hit only 41 before the season. He has planted a few homers into the Allegheny River that abuts PNC Park – one flew 472 feet, the other 454.
He will be the sixth Pirate to participate in the Home Run Derby, joining franchise legends like Barry Bonds and Andrew McCutchen. None of have won the thing. Willie Stargell (30 twice) is the only other Pirate to hit at least 25 homers by the All-Star break.
Among the eight participants, his 474-foot homer against the Reds on April 7 is the farthest this season and one against the Rockies (116.2) is the second quickest.
Acuna, Jr., is one of he game’s rising young talents. He already has hit 20 homers this season and 46 in his career. Just 21 years old, 12 of his homers this season have been to either center or right-center.
None of the 11 Braves players previously in the Derby have ever advanced past the first round. He and Guerrero will attempt to become the youngest player to ever win the Derby. Juan Gonzalez was 23 in 1993, when he defeated Ken Griffey Jr. (also 23).
According to MLB.com. Acuña, Jr., is just one of 10 players to hit at least 20 homers in each of his first two seasons, with both coming at age 21 or younger. The others are Carlos Correa, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Bob Horner, Tony Conigliaro and Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews and Ted Williams