With the onset of June now upon us, the baseball season is in full swing. Now that the NHL and NBA seasons are wrapping up with the Finals taking place in both leagues, the focus will shortly shift primarily to baseball. With this comes the crescendo of MLB All Star game discussion. Every season, the Midsummer Classic gives sports fans some sort of intrigue to grasp onto, at least for a couple days. Mid July is, rather bluntly, a dull point in the sports world. However, the emergence of the All star game as a spectacle has elevated a noteworthy All Star festivities event: The Home Run Derby.
In recent years, the Home Run Derby has become a marvel of sorts. A bunch of superhuman athletes whacking slow, perfect pitches into the stratosphere at an incredible pace. Fans truly get it all; A peak behind the curtain at what these players are really capable of, the drama of the last couple seconds in a tied matchup, and, of course, a winner.
Last season, Bryce Harper brought down the house in his (now former) home stadium, Nationals Park, in front of 41, 000 cheering fans. Harper put on a heroic performance as he came back from an 18-9 deficit with 1:25 left to win with 22 seconds still left on the clock. Last year proved to be an exciting event all around, with 221 home runs launched, the most ever in the derby.
Looking towards the 2019 Home Run Derby on July 8 in Cleveland, it’s set to be an interesting list of candidates to participate. With a $1 million dollar prize on the line, the derby certainly has some incentive for players to get involved. Here are some names to keep an eye on as the All Star Break approaches.
Luke Voit, 1B, New York Yankees
Voit has been the latest Yankee to turn into a power hitter and is doing so in excptional fashion. He’s got 15 home runs already and is having himself quite the breakout season at age 28. He’s a big body at 6’2, 225 lbs and can launch balls into the stands at a meteoric pace. Voit has some experience in Home Run Derby’s as well, having won the Texas league Double-A derby in 2016. Voit is a great candidate as he’s big, can hit homers, has a flare for the dramatic and has previously stated that he wants to participate in the Home Run derby this year. He would also have a ton of fan support since he plays for a big market team in the Yankees as well.
Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
Will the 27 year old generational talent finally make his Derby debut this season? At the age of 27, it’s a possibility. Star players have turned down the Derby before due to statistics showing that participating in the Home Run Derby can lead to second half struggles. However, most star players have participated at least once. Bryce Harper did it last year. Aaron Judge participated, and won in 2017. Trout already has a Hall of Fame resume at the age of 27 – does he try to add to his trophy cabinet with a Home Run Derby trophy? This season, Trout is hitting .294 with 15 home runs and a .598 slugging percentage. Those are godly numbers, but does he put them at risk to participate in the derby? There’s plenty of questions, but without a doubt, having the best player in the world participate in the most exciting event of the regular season would make for great theatre.
Carlos Santana, 1B, Cleveland Indians
With the All Star game and Home Run Derby taking place in Cleveland this year, someone from the Indians has to step up and participate in the derby. Perhaps they’d be motivated by seeing Bryce Harper take home the trophy on home soil last year. The best candidate from Cleveland would be Carlos Santana, who has 11 home runs thus far. He’s hitting .284 with a .505 slugging percentage. At the age of 33, Santana only has so many years left. Perhaps he decides to go for it while he still has the chance. Furthermore, he’s recently returned to Cleveland from Philadelphia this off season in the Encarnacion-Santana three team deal. Maybe he decides to add to his strong returning season to Cleveland with a Home Run derby title. At 5-11, 210 and with 209 home runs in his career, the left hitting first basemen could certainly be a threat in his home stadium.
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bellinger has some experience in the Home Run Derby after participating in 2017, losing to the eventual champ Aaron Judge in the second round. He stated last August that he would give it another go, and this season is the perfect opportunity. Bellinger is hitting .370 (best in all of baseball) with 20 home runs this season, good for second in baseball behind Christian Yelich who has 22. He also has a .721 slugging percentage this year which also ranks second in the majors, once again behind Yelich who has a .731 slugging percentage. Not only is Bellinger having the best season of his young career, he’s become one of the top hitters in all of baseball. With experience in the derby as well as monstrous stats this season, Bellinger is the perfect candidate to take home the trophy. However, with the Dodgers having championship aspirations, does Bellinger risk his vital second half for a Home Run Derby title? That’s something that Bellinger will have to truly consider as mid July approaches.
Rhys Hoskins, LF/1B, Philadelphia Phillies
Last season, Hoskins hit 20 bombs in the second round of the Home Run Derby, the most homers to that point, only to lose to Kyle Schwarber. He miraculously hit 21 bombs to oust Hoskins from the derby. The Phillies’ slugger hit 34 home runs last year and wasn’t slowed in the second half of the season. This season, Hoskins has 13 home runs and a .516 slugging percentage. He’s put himself in a great position to contend for a derby title once again. He’s another guy with a big frame, standing at 6’4 and 225 pounds and epitomizes the modern day young slugger. Having experience in the derby as well as the talent and the drive to avenge last season’s loss, look for Rhys hoskins to return to the derby with a vengeance.