Baseball’s Midsummer Classic kicks off Monday night with the Chevrolet Home Run Derby, and what a Derby it’s setting up to be! Mets third baseman David Wright and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano were the captains for the N.L. and A.L. respectively, and they picked some really good sluggers to be in the event. Here’s a breakdown of all the participants, their strengths and weaknesses, and who will take home the trophy. Let’s do it!
- David Wright, Mets: The hometown hero gets to play in his cozy confines of Citi Field, where he plays 81 games a year. When the Mets first left Shea Stadium and opened Citi, Wright really struggled with his power numbers. In the inaugural 2009 season, he only hit ten homers the entire year; the walls were simply too far away for it to be a hitter’s paradise. But since then, the Mets have moved the fences in and the captain has his power back, to the tune of 13 first-half homers and a .310 average. Now, only three of those homers are at home, which may not be a great sign for his chances, but no contestant knows the park better. And in a Home Run Derby, it’s not like Wright is facing guys who throw 100 miles per hour trying to get him out; he gets to pick his pitcher, who likely throws batting practice to him before every game anyways. Add the crowd support, and David Wright has a solid chance of winning it all.
- Michael Cuddyer, Rockies: Cuddyer is the wild card of the group. He has 15 homers on the season, but he’s definitely not a household name like some of his counterparts in this event. There are guys in the Home Run Derby every year who have a great first half, get the invite to the Derby, and fail to hit one out of the park, just being happy to be there. Cuddyer has a great swing, but does he have a Home Run Derby-winning swing? And does the fact that nine of those 15 home runs on the year were at Coors Field, a home run haven, mean he’ll struggle in Citi? Let’s just say I’m not advising any of you to bet the farm on Michael Cuddyer.
- Bryce Harper, Nationals. Harper is a trendy pick among baseball fans, and mostly because he’s exciting to watch and capable of putting on a show every time he hits the field. If there’s any player in this group that could hit 28 homers in a round like Josh Hamilton, it’s the left-handed Harper. The 20-year old has 13 home runs on the year; two of them were hit in Citi Field against the Mets on April 20. His bat speed makes him tailor-made for events like this, and if he paces himself, he could find himself in the final round on Monday night.
- Pedro Alvarez, Pirates. Alvarez replaces Carlos Gonzalez, who had to pull himself from the Derby due to a finger injury, but he could have easily been selected on the original roster. The stats speak for themselves: Alvarez is second only to Gonzalez in the N.L. with 24 home runs, including one at Citi Field against New York. Alvarez is a perfect pick for the Derby because, like Harper, he has the combination of a big, powerful stature and quick bat speed that makes a perfect formula to win a Home Run Derby. If Alvarez got a goose-egg in round one I would be extremely surprised, because he’s a lefty and a definite contender to take the crown. The Pirates wouldn’t be the best in baseball without him, and he will do his best to represent Pittsburgh Monday night.
- Robinson Cano, Yankees. Two years ago the Yankees slugger won the whole thing, but last year he didn’t hit any homers in a round where he was booed mercilessly the entire time by the fans in Kansas City. Well, this year there’s no controversy over Billy Butler’s candidacy for the Derby, and Cano will get his fair share of cheers in Flushing. As for the actual Home Run Derby, you can’t count him out. He’s got that tailor-made, quick but powerful swing, and the 21 homers he has on the season back it up. He’s a lefty, so Citi Field will be to his advantage with that right-field porch. Expect to see Robinson Cano hit plenty more home runs than he did in Kauffman Stadium.
- Chris Davis, Orioles. MLB’s leader in home runs was two shy of Barry Bonds’s first-half home run record, and he’s had a very impressive year so far with 37 homers. He’s hit home runs in four consecutive games, and he appears to be a clean player in a league where the Biogenesis scandal is raging on, with some of the players who will be participating in the All-Star game awaiting word on a possible suspension. Fans are even talking about Davis possibly breaking Bonds’s single-season home run record of 73, which is unlikely but possible. Once again he is a lefty, so he has the Pepsi porch right there for the taking. If he’s hit 37 homers against pitchers in live games, I can only imagine the damage he could do with a coach just lobbing them in there for a glorified batting practice. He’s got a pretty swing, he’s got definite power, and he’s smart; he has the baseball I.Q. to adjust to Citi Field pretty quickly. Davis is the front-runner among baseball fans, and he has one of the best chances out of the eight participants.
- Prince Fielder, Tigers. Prince has won this contest twice, and he’s gunning for a third title this year. Once again, he’s a lefty so he has a better chance to win this than if he were right-handed (not necessarily saying David Wright can’t win, however). One incredible stat that was tweeted by the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter account: “Prince Fielder is 15 HR shy of passing David Ortiz for most career HR in #HRDerby history.” If you don’t think Prince will get the 15 to pass Big Papi, you should watch highlights from his past performances; he crushes the ball in the Derby.
- Yoenis Cespedes, A’s. Oakland is leading the AL West due in part to the incredible production they’ve gotten from their young Cuban star. Cespedes is a little different from the rest of the group because for a lot of this first half, he’s been home run or nothing: he has 15 homers, but is only batting .225 with 80 strikeouts. 15 of his 69 hits are by way of the long ball, and that’s not the most promising stat. But this year’s group of hitters is so good and so powerful that Cespedes won’t have an 0-fer; he’ll hit at least three or four homers, but won’t compete in the final round.
Winner: Chris Davis, Orioles. Runner-up: Pedro Alvarez, Pirates.
- Bold Prediction: No player fails to hit a home run in first round.