The 2017 Home Run Derby will take place at Marlins Park in Miami on July 10. We already know reigning Home Rub Derby champion and hometown hero Giancarlo Stanton will return to defend his crown. . Thank goodness for that. That man was made for the Home Run Derby.
The other seven derby participants will be announced next week. This year will be the third year with the new format, which has players racing against the clock in a head-to-head bracket format. Stanton blew everyone out of the water and hit a derby-record 61 homers last season. Two years ago, Todd Frazier won in dramatic fashion:
The new format has livened up an event that, frankly, was getting a bit stale. Don't get me wrong, I love home runs as much as the next guy. But the old Home Run Derby format was too slow-paced. The clock and head-to-head matchups add plenty of drama.
Anyway, with the Home Run Derby announcement coming in a few days, here are the eight players I would like to see taking their hacks in Miami. The players are listed alphabetically. Average home run distances are per the excellent Statcast resource Baseball Savant.
Dodgers wunderkind Cody Bellinger did not make his major-league debut until April 25, yet he currently leads the National League with 24 home runs. Add in the five home runs he hit in Triple-A before being called up, and the 21-year-old has smashed 29 home runs in only 75 games in 2017. Beyond his raw home run total, I think it's a great thing for baseball to get rookies involved in the derby, and no NL rookie deserves it more this year than Bellinger.
Sample dinger: Bellinger's third career home run was also his longest to date, a 438-foot blast that was part of his first career multi-home run game.
Is Rangers slugger Joey Gallo a flawed hitter? Yes, he absolutely is. He's hitting .194 with an MLB-leading 101 strikeouts through 69 games. That said, Gallo has as much raw power as anyone in baseball. Put him in a batting practice situation -- and really, that's all the derby is -- and he'll put on a show.
Sample dinger: On June 14, Gallo sent a ball 466 feet and over the new batter's eye at Minute Maid Park. Whenever he connects, you can tell right away the ball is going over the fence.
It's sort of funny that at this point, including Bryce Harper on a "must-see at the Home Run Derby" list has become a bit boring. He's a grizzled MLB veteran at the ripe old age of 24. People have already moved on to the Next Big Thing. But still, Harper is capable of launching moonshots, and few players generate as much attention as he does. Harper is a guy folks will tune in to watch, even if they're rooting against him.
Sample dinger: No, this was not Harper's longest home run of the season -- he hit a 451-foot home run off Jordan Lyles of the Rockies on April 27 -- but he did hit it into the third deck at Nationals Park. That's not easy.
Aaron Judge has to be in the Home Run Derby, right? Right. The Yankees rookie leads the majors with 26 home runs -- he also leads in slugging percentage (.699) and OPS (1.139) -- and he's responsible for the four hardest-hit balls this season, per Statcast. Judge has usurped Stanton as the exit velocity king. , though he has yet to decide whether to participate. Please do, Aaron.
Sample dinger: Judge sent a ball over the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium earlier this month. At 495 feet, it is the longest home run this season.
To date, one of the most impressive batting practice displays I've ever seen was Twins slugger Miguel Sano at the 2013 Futures Game. He crushed several balls that very nearly reached the upper deck at Citi Field. He has since grown into even more power and has become one of the most devastating hitters in baseball. Sano has averaged 38 home runs per 162 games in his young career.
Sample dinger: The ball just sounds different when it comes off Sano's bat. Listen to this batter's eye-clearing blast from early May:
I know he's currently in Triple-A, but when he was with the Cubs, Kyle Schwarber hit the ball as far as anyone when he connected. His average home run distance of 422 feet is the third longest among players with at least 10 home runs. Only Gary Sanchez (427 feet) and Kendrys Morales (424 feet) hit them longer, on average. Sanchez would be a good Home Run Derby pick, though two Yankees is overkill. As for Morales, I prefer younger players in the Home Run Derby. No offense, Kendrys.
Sample dinger: A few days before he was sent down, Schwarber socked a ball over the Shea Bridge at Citi Field. Check this thing out:
Even if he hadn't already committed to the Home Run Derby, I would want Stanton there. For starters, he's the reigning Home Run Derby champion and I believe the reigning champ should get a chance to defend his title each year. Secondly, the game is in Miami and I think the host team should have a player in the derby. It adds so much more excitement. And three, Stanton is one of the game's top power hitters. Who wouldn't want to see this guy in the derby? I'm glad Stanton will be there again.
Sample dinger: I'm going to take us back to the World Baseball Classic, when Stanton hit a missile into the second deck of the Western Metal Supply building at Petco Park.
Eric Thames doesn't have as impressive an average distance as the other guys, but he's a legit masher, and he's a great story. MLB would do well to put him on the big stage. Thames struggled in his first taste of the show with the Blue Jays and Mariners, went to the Korea for three years and had tremendous success, then returned to the majors this year with the Brewers. He has been very productive and can launch the ball a long way, too.
Sample dinger: Thames' home runs tend to be majestic. Stanton hits lasers and Judge hits towering fly balls. When Thames hits them, they tend to really carry high and far, like this one:
So that is my field of eight. The leagues are unbalanced -- I've picked five NL players and three AL players -- but that's OK. The Home Run Derby is an exhibition and I want the best, most fun to watch sluggers participating regardless of league.
The eight derby contestants are seeded according to their season home run totals, then face off head-to-head. Here's how my eight players would match up:
- No. 1 Aaron Judge vs. No. 8 Kyle Schwarber
- No. 2 Cody Bellinger vs. No. 7 Miguel Sano
- No. 3 Giancarlo Stanton vs. No. 6 Bryce Harper
- No. 4 Eric Thames vs. No. 5 Joey Gallo
That Stanton vs. Harper matchup would be a blast. They're arguably the two best pure power bats in baseball and they're intra-division rivals. Judge vs. Schwarber would be a lot of fun, too.
Other players I considered for the Home Run Derby include Kris Bryant of the Cubs, J.D. Martinez of the Tigers, Mark Reynolds of the Rockies, Gary Sanchez of the Yankees and George Springer of the Astros. I want guys who can put on a show.