Well, there has never been a T-Mobile Home Run Derby 2017 quite like this one. This thing has been many things through the years. It began as a much-ignored team competition in the mid-1980s, became a fun showcase for Ken Griffey Jr., and turned into a star-studded show with Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder and Giancarlo Stanton and others taking fans’ breath away.
This year (watch live on ESPN tonight at 8 ET), as everyone knows, a couple of rookies have come on the scene who rocket home runs like no one in the history of baseball. Aaron Judge, of course, leads all of baseball with 30 home runs — that’s a Yankees rookie record, and we’re only at the All-Star break. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger was the fastest player in baseball history to 21 career home runs and entered the break with 25. Home Run Derby 2017 He was also the fastest player to six multihomer games.
And they come to Miami to take on the most powerful home run hitter of our time, Stanton, in his home ballpark.
Home Run Derby 2017
Then, everything about this All-Star break in Miami feels a bit bigger than life. This has been a season of big. The record for home runs in a season is 5,693 (in 2000) — teams are on pace to smash that and hit more than 6,000 this year. The record for strikeouts is 38,982, set last year. Pitchers are on pace to strike out more than 40,000 hitters this year.
Tonight, it will be distance. The longest home run ever hit at Marlins Park was Stanton’s 479-foot smash to left-center in 2015; it flew just to the right of the giant Budweiser sign that figures to be a good marker for tonight’s party. Stanton will be the fan favorite, of course — he will try to become just the third person to win the Derby in his home park.
Well, sort of. Ryne Sandberg hit three home runs in the National League’s 4-1 win in the home run contest of 1990. Yeah, the American League hit one home run as a team. Two years ago, Todd Frazier won the Home Run Derby in Cincinnati.
In any case, it will be very loud when Stanton hits.
Then, it will probably be loud for Judge, too, in part because there are plenty of New Yorkers in Miami, but in part because Judge is a baseball phenomenon. He’s probably the biggest everyday player in baseball history at 6-foot-7, 282 pounds. And Judge doesn’t just lead the league in home runs, he’s hit some of the most memorable blasts of the season, including the longest home run of 2017, a 495-foot blast that soared to the concourse in deep left field at Yankee Stadium. He has also hit the four hardest home runs of the year, including a rocket with an exit velocity of 121.1 mph, tops in the three seasons of Statcast™.
Judge also figures to have a secret weapon in 51-year-old Danilo Valiente, a onetime coach in Cuba who begged the Yankees for a job and worked his way to the big leagues as a wunderkind batting practice pitcher. Valiente will also be pitching to Judge’s New York teammate, Gary Sanchez.
“He doesn’t miss my barrel,” Judge says. “Even the days I don’t feel good in the cages with my swing, he somehow finds a way to make me feel good during BP.”
It won’t just be Stanton and Judge, though the brackets are set up for them to meet in the final. Bellinger has not hit the sort of massive home runs that Judge and Stanton hit, but he’s hit them at an even faster pace. Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas has 25 home runs and, assuming he stays healthy, should finally smash the Royals’ home run record of 36 set back in 1985, the same year as the first Home Run Derby. The left-handed-hitting Moustakas has pulled 24 of his 25 home runs to the right side of the field this season, which gives him the most pulled homers of any big league hitter — left- or right-handed. And that kind of swing just feels perfect for the Derby.
Minnesota’s Miguel Sano is just 24 but already profiles as the Twins’ most lethal right-handed power hitter since Harmon Killebrew, with an average exit velocity of 107.1 mph on his blasts. The field rounds out with the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, the Marlins’ Justin Bour and perhaps the biggest sleeper in the field, the Yankees’ Sanchez, who only had 13 homers in an injury-plagued first half but who was doing Judge-type stuff last year. And get this: His average home run distance of 427 feet is the best in baseball (minimum 10 homers).