The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place at Nationals Park in Washington on Monday, July 16, and at some point in the next two weeks or so the eight participants will be announced. Several big name players,, have already withdrawn from consideration. Lame!
The Home Run Derby underwent a much-needed overhaul four years ago, when the format was revamped and a race against the clock was introduced. Nowadays players compete head-to-head in a bracket style tournament. Last year Judge swatted 47 home runs total. Two years ago Giancarlo Stanton set a Home Run Derby record with 61 homers.
With the Home Run Derby announcement approaching, this is as good a time as any to compile our list of the eight players we want to see taking their hacks at Nationals Park next month. I'm going to respect the wishes of Judge and others () who have said they will pass on the Home Run Derby and leave them out.
Here are our -- and by our I mean mine, since this list was compiled with zero input from the other CBS Sports MLB scribes -- eight dream world Home Run Derby participants, listed alphabetically.
Out since May 27 with back and knee injuries, Braves wunderkind Ronald Acuna is nearing a return from the disabled list, just in time to get back into a groove prior to the Home Run Derby. The 20-year-old will begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday and he is expected to rejoin the club at some point next week, possibly as soon as Monday.
Acuna came into the season as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and did nothing but live up to the hype before the injury, hitting .265/.326/.453 with seven doubles and five home runs in 29 games. The Home Run Derby is a spectacle. I want the brightest and most exciting and most talented players in the game strutting their stuff. Acuna is a no-brainer to me.
Sample dinger: Folks, there are not many 20-year-old kids who can make Citi Field look small, but Acuna did it on May 3.
That ball settled into the second deck, 451 feet away from home plate, per Statcast.
When you think of a Home Run Derby contestant, chance are you think of a big hulking slugger who hits the ball 500 feet. And those dudes are awesome. Cubs infielder Javier Baez is not one of them. He's a 6-foot quick twitch athlete who probably does his best work on the defensive side of the ball, though he is hitting .266/.307/.531 with 14 homers in this year. Baez has truly electric bat speed. Some of the best in the game. Plus he's a lot of fun to watch and I am pro-fun.
Sample dinger: At 424 feet, this April 11 shot is not Baez's longest home run of the season -- he hit a 434-footer in the same game -- but I find it to be his most aesthetically pleasing home run of the season.
That swing, man. So ferocious.
In a way, Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is the left-handed hitting Baez at the plate. His bat speed is insane and he takes gigantic hacks that leave him susceptible to looking silly when he swings and misses. When he connects though, oh boy. The 21-year-old Devers is hitting a below-average .232/.281/.414 this season, but he has 12 homers in 73 games, and 22 homers in 131 career big-league games. It's not often a player that young does that.
Sample dinger: I'm a data driven guy and when in doubt, I tend to side with the numbers. That said, I have a hard time believing Statcast when it says this June 17 dinger had a projected distance of only 408 feet.
I like you, Statcast, but I don't like it when you lie to me.
Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo was made for the Home Run Derby. Yeah, he strikes out a lot. Yeah, he should bunt against the shift a little more often. But dang it, when the dude connects, the ball flies. Gallo is hitting .195/.296/.444 with 18 home runs this year and I feel like all 18 were Home Run Derby blasts. His batting practice sessions are fun and that's all the Home Run Derby is, right? Glorified batting practice. He's made for this event.
Sample dinger: So many good ones to choose from. I'll go with this 446-foot shot on May 5.
Ah yes, that's the good stuff.
Nationals slugger Bryce Harper has to be in the Home Run Derby, right? I mean, the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game will be played in Nationals Park. Besides, he currently leads the National League with 19 home runs. I know Harper's been mired in a big slump lately -- he's hitting .213/.352/.469 on the season -- but his raw power is among the best in baseball, and in a home run hitting contest, I want to watch him swing the bat. He'd be among my eight participants even if the game wasn't in Washington.
Sample dinger: Harp on the slump all you want. There are few players on the planet who can do this to a baseball:
That May 4 moonshot traveled 473 feet.
Underrated dinger masher alert! Since coming up for good last year, Athletics first baseman Matt Olson has swatted 35 home runs in 115 games. 35 homers in 115 games! With that home ballpark? Good gravy. Only J.D. Martinez (45), Stanton (40), and Judge (36) have hit more homers than Olson since he was called up last August 8. This year he owns a .237/.320/.451 batting line with 15 homers in 74 games.
Sample dinger: Fun fact: Olson has hit 15 homers this year but Statcast has data on only 13 of them because two were hit so high the system lost track of the ball. This May 31 shot did not get lost, thankfully:
At 475 feet, that is the fifth longest home run in baseball this season.
I am totally cool with putting two players from the same team in the Home Run Derby, especially when they're from the host team. Nationals youngster Juan Soto jumped from low Class A to high Class A to Double-A to MLB this season and he's hitting .326/.426/.598 with six homers and nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (20) in 28 games. A 19-year-old kid is not supposed to do that. The Home Run Derby is a dinger hitting contest, but it's also an opportunity to showcase the game's best young players, and few are more exciting than Soto. Get him in the Home Run Derby, MLB.
Sample dinger: There is a lot of record-keeping weirdness with this one -- Soto hit this homer on June 18, in the completion of the team's May 15 suspended game, but the stats are credited to the date of the original game, so technically Soto homered before he made his MLB debut on May 20 -- but the bottom line is this was a monster homer. Check it out:
Soto hit that ball so hard and so far that it broke Statcast. We don't have a reading for it. Estimates put it at 440 feet or so.
That's right, Ichiro Suzuki. , though Ichiro laughed it off. He was hardly a power hitter during his career, though folks who know him claim Ichiro had 30-homer pop if he decided to stop being a slash-and-dash hitter. Either way, lots of people want to see Suzuki take his hacks in the Home Run Derby, so I say let him do it. The Home Run Derby should be fun and goofy. Let the legend participate.
Sample dinger: Alas, Ichiro did not go deep before transitioning into his front office role earlier this year. We're going back to last August for his shot:
Ichiro insists he is not retired, though he may never play another MLB game, so the Home Run Derby would be a pretty incredible farewell party.
If not for injuries, both Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani and Padres outfielder Franchy Cordero would be among my eight Home Run Derby participants. Ohtani is awesome. He's so fun. It's a damn shame he'll miss the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. As for Cordero, he's out with an elbow injury, but his seven homers this year after averaging 439 feet (!), and this April 20 blast is the longest homer in baseball so far this season at 489 feet.
Ohtani and Cordero would've been included in my Home Run Derby field if not for the injuries. Stanton is normally a shoo-in for the Home Run Derby, though I decided against him this season because I think it's time for some fresh faces. Let's showcase high-end young players like Acuna and Soto and Devers. Giancarlo's been there, done that.
The eight Home Run Derby participant are seeded according to their season home run totals, so here's how my eight players would be matched up as of June 22:
- No. 1 Bryce Harper vs. No. 8 Ichiro Suzuki
- No. 2 Joey Gallo vs. No. 7 Ronald Acuna
- No. 3 Matt Olson vs. No. 6 Juan Soto
- No. 4 Javier Baez vs. No. 5 Rafael Devers
Gee, I wonder if baseball fans around the globe would tune in to the Home Run Derby to cheer on Ichiro as he tries to upset Harper?